Heretolisten.org is a resource for caring adults—the front-line staff in schools and community based programs—to help teens who are struggling with difficult emotions.
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Help Teens Identify Their Feelings
Read and Talk About It
Elizabeth Johnson, Education Director, Youth Communication

Being able to name feelings helps teens to express and understand themselves. When the emotions are particularly big and overwhelming, putting a word to them offers a needed sense of control and a door to understanding. Our teen writers effectively describe their emotional experiences in their stories, offering a model to the teen reader. The following activities can be done separately, together, or in partnership with a “Write About It” or “Express It” activity.

What the Writer Is Feeling

Directions:

1. Before reading a story, share the “Feelings Vocabulary List” with the teen(s) you are working with.

2. Give instructions for reading with a purpose:

  • As you read, notice when the WRITER is feeling an emotion.

  • Write an “F” in the margin next to that text for “feeling.”

  • Pause periodically to check in by asking what readers have coded with an “F” and why.

3. After reading the story, have teens use the “Feelings Vocabulary List” to go back and match words to the text they coded. Support them in choosing several feeling words for each spot in the text and writing them in the margins.

4. Together, share the selected feeling words and discuss the following questions:

  • Of the words you chose, which one best captures what the writer was feeling at that moment? Why?

  • How did you know the writer was having that feeling (text clues)?

  • Are some feelings more intense than others? Explain.

  • What do you think was going on in the writer’s body with these feelings (physical response to the emotion)?

  • How did the writer express these feelings? What do you think about that? Did it work? How do you know?

  • How did the writer manage (or regulate) these feelings? What do you think about that? Did it work? How do you know?

5. Close by asking the teens if they have ever felt one of the emotions the writer felt? Invite the sharing of personal stories. Now, use the same questions you asked about the writer and ask the teens to respond from their own personal experience.

What the Reader Is Feeling

Directions:

1. Before reading a story, share the “Feelings Vocabulary List” with the teen(s) you are working with.

2. Give instructions for reading with a purpose:

  • As you read, notice when YOU are feeling an emotion. This may be a feeling that comes up responding with empathy to what the writer is feeling or because you are being reminded of your own experiences. Maybe you don’t even know why you are having that feeling.

  • Draw a heart in the margins of the text whenever you notice your own emotions (any symbol, such as a star, will work; try having the teens choose one of their own).

  • Pause periodically to check in by asking if readers have drawn a heart and, if so, where. (Tell the teens they can share why during the reading, or reserve it for a discussion afterward.)

3. Next, have teens use the “Feelings Vocabulary List” to select words that describe the feeling they were having while reading that text. Write these in the margins of the story.

4. Invite sharing of those feelings. It is enough to be aware of our feelings and to name them. But if the door opens to going deeper into the “why” of that feeling, thoughtfully go there. When our feelings are triggered it is usually because our response is calling up an intense or meaningful past experience.

Elizabeth Johnson
All Activites for Youth are created by Elizabeth Johnson, Youth Communication's Education Director. She specializes in social and emotional learning and literacy development and offers story-based professional services for educators. For more information, contact Elizabeth at ejohnson@youthcomm.org or 212-279-0708 ext. 103.
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(AFY-10-30-2014)

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