Emotional Intelligence: 5 Ways You Can Teach It

Emotional Intelligence - 5 ways you can teach it

We want our students to thrive in whatever they choose to do. A big part of that, requires that we teach our students to grow in emotional intelligence. Learn five ways to teach it and get a FREE downloadable infographic to keep it in your memory.

Whatever the reason, some students can seem to lack sympathy for others, which make it difficult for them to get along with their peers. Lack of emotional intelligence can also limit adult life in careers our students might want to follow.

As teachers, we all know that it’s critical to give our students the tools they need to succeed in life, not just exams. Therefore, teaching emotional intelligence might be one of our most important jobs, but how many of us are actively pursuing this type of education? 

Emotional Intelligence - 5 ways to teach it

What is emotional intelligence

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.

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. 

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 emotional intelligence, it is something every teacher should be thinking how to do.  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.

 RULER stands for:

  • Recognising emotions
  • Understanding the causes and consequences
  • Labelling emotions accurately
  • Expressing emotions appropriately
  • Regulating emotions effectively
Emotional Intelligence Infographic


Download a FREE copy of my infographic to display the RULER acronym in your classroom.

You can use the RULER acronym as a guiding principle for developing strong emotional intelligence. It’s easy to remember, and it’s something you can refer to again and again.

Teaching students emotional intelligence might not be part of our 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.

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