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Emotional Intelligence: 5 Ways You Can Teach It

Teaching emotional intelligence might be one of our most important jobs, but how many of us are actively pursuing this type of education? 

As teachers, we all know that it’s critical to give our students the tools they need to succeed in life, not just exams.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of how to teach emotional intelligence, we need to understand what it is. Emotional intelligence is understanding, identifying and controlling our emotions but not stifling them. It enables us to better relate to others and communicate about our feelings.

According to experts, emotional intelligence has to do with these five main aspects: self-awareness, emotional vocabulary, active listening, encourage empathy, and managing emotions.

    Emotional Intelligence - 5 ways to teach it

    Look at the world we live in right now, and it’s easy to see that we need to teach emotional intelligence. Experts tell us it is more important than acquiring a high IQ. Our students can’t survive if we don’t.

    Emotional intelligence determines our ability to manage our feelings and relationships. If we as teachers don’t do our part to teach these early on and in the most formative years, our students will struggle later on as adults.

    So, what can we start doing in the classroom right now to begin emphasising the importance of our students’ emotional intelligence? What can we do to ensure that their future is as bright in real life as it looks on paper?


    1 – Focus on Self Awareness

    One of the most important components of emotional intelligence is self-awareness. There’s a lot, as teachers, that we can do to help our students become fully aware of who they are. How do you teach self-awareness? 

    One of the best ways is to pose “self-reflective” questions and then give students time to answer them. Making this type of reflection a journaling activity for students is a smart move and one that can be incorporated into daily classroom activities.

    Are you happy? - emotional intelligence vocabulary

    2 – Develop Emotional Vocabulary

    Helping your students identify how they’re feeling with vocabulary is an empowering lesson. Spending time teaching “emotion vocabulary” allows students of all ages better understanding of how they’re feeling. It also helps them understand how other people are feeling, which is critical when it comes to well-developed emotional intelligence.

    Create a pack of cards that have one emotional word on each. Get two students at a time to role-play the emotion written on the card they choose. The rest of the class have to guess the emotive word. Or split into groups to do it. As a whole class, you can weave in the discussion about the particular emotion word after each role-play. 

    3 – Practice Active Listening

    Rather than resorting to one-sided conversations, as is the case with lectures (which have proven to be an ineffective teaching strategy anyway), find ways to encourage your students to listen knowing that they will need to respond to what they’ve just heard. 

    At its core, active listening is the ability to “genuinely follow dialogue, responding to others using your own body language,” and then being able to summarise back what you’ve heard or learned verbally. 

    A simple listening activity: Give students any message you want but only to one student. That student passes it on to another by whispering the message. The whispered message is repeated until the message has been passed to all students. The last student hearing it stands up and announces the whispered message to the class. 

    Make sure your students know that all communication in your classroom is a two-way street, and giving them opportunities to respond to what you or a classmate have said, is a great first step to teaching emotional intelligence.

    4 – Encourage empathy

    While teaching empathy can seem like a difficult task, it doesn’t need to be. One of the best ways you can explain empathy to your students is that it’s simply “being with others.” It doesn’t have to mean knowing the answer; it just means showing up. 

    New research is showing that “reading not only helps with fluid intelligence, but with reading comprehension and emotional intelligence as well. You make smarter decisions about yourself and those around you.” 

    While all reading is great, fiction and narratives seem to have the most profound effects when it comes to a person’s emotional intelligence. When you can, do your best to use phrases like “I understand” and “I can see” to help students see empathy in action.

    5 – Give Tools for Managing Emotions

    There are a lot of different schools of thought about the best ways to manage emotions. Some of the easiest we can apply immediately in our classroom is teaching students to see emotional experiences as “opportunities” for practice, rather than an immediate threat. 

    Simple breathing exercises, or even stepping outside to get a drink of water, are all recommendations we can give our students to help them have time to process emotions before reacting.

    Teach emotional intelligence right now

    While it will take a little extra work to help our students develop strong EQs, it is something every teacher should be thinking how to. According to Carnegie Institute research, “85% of financial success is due to skills in ‘human engineering’ including your personality, ability to communicate, negotiate and lead.'”

    When you stop to think about why you became a teacher, almost all of us will say because we want to help our students, and the future of our world, succeed. So, if we ignore our students’ emotional intelligence, we’re not fully preparing them for the real world, and we’re not helping to set them up for success as much as we’d like to think.

    Extra Tip!

    Want another quick tool for helping you integrate more emotional intelligence into your classroom and your teaching? Consider adopting the RULER program promoted by Dr Marc Brackett, the Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, who has developed the program to help schools teach emotional intelligence.

    You and your students can use the RULER acronym as a guiding principle for developing strong emotional intelligence. And, since it’s easy to remember, it’s something you can refer to again and again. (Consider even making a poster to display prominently for your students to see! Or make your life easier and download our free Infographic.

    You and your students can use the RULER acronym as a guiding principle for developing strong emotional intelligence. And, since it’s easy to remember, it’s something you can refer to again and again. (Consider even making a poster to display prominently for your students to see! Or make your life easier and download our free Infographic.


    Here’s what RULER stands for:

    • Recognise Emotions
    • Understand the Causes and Consequences
    • Label Emotions Accurately
    • Express Emotions Appropriately
    • Regulate Emotions Effectively
    Emotional Intelligence Infographic

    Teaching students emotional intelligence might not be part of your job description, but it’s something the best teachers will do anyway because they know how important it is to set their students up for long-term, life-long success.

    Spread the word . . .  .

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    sylvias - avatar
    About the author: 5000 Credits 10000 Credits 15000 Credits PRO Badge sylvias Visit My Stall
    I am a K-12 Australian Teacher, with 25+ years of teaching experience. My Honours research investigated how teachers succeed in teaching English in a TEFL context. Originally from the UK, I lived and worked for 15 years in the Pacific Islands. During that time I was Principal of a school for 5 years, training teachers, teaching a class, and building a school from the ground up. I'm now back in Australia teaching and having fun!
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