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Education Can Change the World

Emotional Intelligence - 5 ways you can teach it

“Would it kill you to be a little kinder?” Baron, a detective, told his partner, Darwin. The pair had been questioning an eyewitness to a terrible crime; the ordeal had shaken her up, yet Darwin treated her coldly, speaking to her as if she were a lowly person. 

Baron and Darwin made an unlikely match – Baron was high in emotional intelligence while Darwin seemed as if he were devoid of it, often meeting new people with a cold shoulder. Yet Darwin was extremely intelligent in other ways.

“It absolutely would,” Darwin said dramatically. “I would die on the spot.”

Baron rolled his eyes. Must he always act like this? 

I know that it’s just a story but think about 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.

I have five ways to teach emotional intelligence plus one extra tip with a FREE downloadable infographic to keep it in your memory.

We want our students to thrive in whatever they choose to do. A big part of that I believe, requires that we teach our students to grow in emotional intelligence. Let’s look back for a moment, at our two detectives.

The two made their way back to the police station, bickering all the way there about Darwin’s seemingly black hole in his chest where a heart should be. 

Baron, had a hard time believing that someone couldn’t be sensitive to others or their own emotions. He went through several theories, running them by Darwin. Each of them was shut down immediately without consideration or thought. 

“If you worked half as hard with our cases as you are with figuring out my life, we’d solve them so much faster,” Darwin joked as he grinned, taking a jab at his partner. Baron huffed as he went back to the paperwork that he had to fill out, Darwin’s situation still on his mind. What could Baron do about Darwin’s insensitivity? Surely, some people could learn emotional intelligence.

Baron sighed, forgetting all attempts to learn more about Darwin and trying to help him. Instead, he focused on the case at hand and turned to look at his partner with scrunched brows. “So, what did you think of the eyewitness? Did you believe her?” 

“I don’t know yet,” Darwin said, shrugging. “She seemed suspicious.” 

“What makes you say that?” Baron asked, tilting his head. “She seemed scared to me.” 

“I need more evidence.” 

With that, Darwin shut down the conversation about the woman; to Baron, it seemed exceedingly obvious that the woman, who went by the name of Annabelle, was shaken up. But, to Darwin, it seemed much more than that. Perhaps he was seeing something that Baron wasn’t? Or maybe it was that Baron was more attuned to people’s emotions than Darwin was. 

Whatever the reason, Darwin seemed to lack sympathy for others, which made it difficult to gather all the information from people who were turned off by such behaviour. More often than not, their witnesses refused to speak to them if Darwin was there.

We can see from this account how lack of emotional intelligence can limit adult life in careers our students might want to follow. So, let’s teach it!

Emotional Intelligence - 5 ways to teach it

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.

Looking at the world we live in right now, 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, and not deficient like Darwin’s. 

There are five main strategies backed by research, to teach emotional intelligence: self-awareness, emotional vocabulary, active listening, encouraging empathy and managing emotions. Plus an extra tip called the RULER program, with a handy Infographic to remember what you learned.

 – 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. 

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

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.


Here’s what RULER stands for:

  • Recognise Emotions
  • Understand the Causes and Consequences
  • Label Emotions Accurately
  • Express Emotions Appropriately
  • Regulate Emotions Effectively
E.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 20000 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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