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Emotional Intelligence is highly important in a teen’s development. There is considerable evidence pointing to its positive role in helping students deal with stress, develop relationships, and handle the transitions facing them.
Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or a student yourself, you’ve probably become well aware of how it’s been popping up everywhere recently, in lessons, curricula, and even exams.
Here, we’ll look at the fascinating research on Emotional Intelligence for teens and students—why it matters, and how to develop it. Then we’ll dive into an in-depth look at some different ways that teachers and teens alike can take this knowledge and use it in practice.
In that vein, we’ll be outlining some lesson plans and have put together a few Powerpoints that will hopefully make teaching EI easy. Because YES, Emotional Intelligence can 100% be taught and learned.
This article contains:
- Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Teens?
- What Do We Know about EI and Academic Achievement?
- Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Students
- Emotional Intelligence in the Curriculum
- 3 Emotional Intelligence Lesson Plans
- What Does EI Mean for Teachers?
- 3 EI Powerpoints (PPTs) for Teachers
- Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught to Adults?
- Can Emotional Intelligence Be Learned?
- 3 EI Questionnaires For Students (PDF included)
- 5 Emotional Intelligence Games
- A Take-Home Message
Is Emotional Intelligence Important for Teens?
In a handy little nutshell—yes. Just as it’s important for adults, the concepts of social and emotional functioning play a key role in adolescents and teenagers. Emotional Intelligence in teens covers their ability to use emotions effectively and productively in an adaptive way (Sekhri, 2017).
In fact, the concept has become of incredible interest not only pedagogically, but to everyone who’s realized that today’s teens are going to make up tomorrow’s workforce.
Let’s look at how Emotional Intelligence can play a role in students’ lives.
What Do We Know about EI and Academic Achievement?
EI helps us manage negative emotions and our behaviors in response to them. So, does it impact on how teens and students perform academically?
Some research does, in fact, suggest a relationship between Emotional Intelligence and academic achievement (Fallahzadeh, 2011). In one study of Education students at university, Self-Emotion Appraisal and Understanding of Emotion were revealed to have positive significant linkages with their academic performance on assessments (Mohzan et al., 2013).
Later studies support this finding, with Sanchez-Ruiz and colleagues (2014) finding that EI predicted academic performance better than established personality traits and cognitive ability for Cyprus university students.
These are findings that support the premises of Bar-On, developed of the EQ-i assessment, who has argued that “academic performance appears to be facilitated by being able to set personal goals as well as to be sufficiently optimistic and self-motivated to accomplish them” (Bar-On, 2005, p.14-15).
But what about teens specifically? Interestingly, there is also empirical evidence to suggest that teens with EI are better able to make the transition from high school to higher education (Parker et al., 2005).
Results of a study of 1,426 first-year students found significantly higher interpersonal, stress management, and adaptability skills among students who were academically successful in entering university. The authors’ conclusion was that EI has a large impact on students ability to deal with challenges such as developing new relationships and learning to live more independently, amongst other factors.
It is worth noting that while the studies above do provide evidence for some benefits of EI skills for students, they don’t necessarily indicate an academic consensus. As with most areas in the field, much room for future research remains.
Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Students
So interpersonal and emotional management skills may play a pivotal part in helping students better handle the challenging aspects of academic life. But how can we help them develop these skills?
Fortunately for us, it’s not as hard as it may sound. There are several ways that teachers can support students in developing these skills, but we will outline two main ones.
Based on the argument that students’ mindsets, attitudes, and motivations are key to persistence and effort, Busch suggests actively listening to them is critical (Busch & Oakley, 2017). It’s a concept encouraged by other practitioners, such as EI Coach Anne Loehr, who recommends facilitating two-way, truly interactive dialogue with students by:
- focusing on both yourself and the student during dialogue;
- being aware of your non-verbal cues;
- validating that you have listened through appropriate responses; and
- maintaining awareness of the environment.
This approach can be particularly relevant when a teacher may want to deliver feedback and is very much in line with empirical research supporting the link between active listening and motivation (Stone et al., 2009).
Self Awareness Exercises
If you’ve read any of our other articles on Emotional Intelligence, you’ll already know that there’s ample scientific evidence of anxiety being triggered by negative self-talk (Kross et al., 2014).
Because self-awareness involves becoming attuned to our internal dialogue, exercises to help build self-awareness can be a first step toward challenging these irrational processes (Ciarrochi et al., 2002). Helping students develop self-awareness, therefore, is one means of helping them deal with challenges like exam stress or test anxiety.
Returning to Busch’s recommendations, this could involve getting students to keep a diary. It’s one way to help improve their meta-cognition, by inviting them to notice patterns or trends in their thoughts and behavior (Tanner, 2012).
Emotional Intelligence in the Curriculum
Stepping back for a moment, it’s easy to see that Emotional Intelligence for teens and students has become an incredibly popular topic. And one critical premise of recent years is the idea that EI should be infused into all areas of the curriculum, not dealt with in isolation (de Klerk & Le Roux, 2007).
This means that recent decades have seen a lot more focus on how we can integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) initiatives into curricula.
So, while we couldn’t possibly list all the different ways that schools have gone about revamping their curricula, one well-known example comes from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
If you haven’t already heard of RULER, it’s the name given to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence’s SEL approach. The aim of the program is to help schools blend EI principles into their curricula. Through teacher training, coaching support, and evidence-based resources, RULER is designed to inform classroom teaching all the way from preschool up to the high school level.
It’s one example of how schools and pedagogy are already very much on the bandwagon with the benefits of EI for teens and students. If you’re interested in learning more about the tools and skills that the approach imparts, you can visit their website.
3 Emotional Intelligence Lesson Plans
Ready to start designing your own lesson plans? Here are three examples that you can use. We’ve tried to link them to the implications above, as well as cover some of the social skills that are so central to SEL.
1. Self Talk: How Thoughts Affect Feelings and Behavior
This lesson plan comes from the book Boost Emotional Intelligence in Students by Drs Elias and Tobias. It aims to assist students in Grades 5-9 to come to terms with the impact that our thoughts can have on our feelings and behavior. It does so by helping teens develop an awareness of when thoughts and self-talk may be having a negative or irrational influence on the way they act.
Part 1: The teacher introduces the concept of self-talk. Discuss the idea that we often talk to ourselves about the way we feel, and that these internal dialogues often play a part in how we behave.
Part 2: The Sharing Circle itself invites students to put up their hands if they sometimes talk to themselves.
Even if there are no volunteers, emphasize the fact that we do all have internal dialogue, despite not always being able to recognize it as such. Ask the students to think about whether their self-talk is kind (nice, positive) or critical (negative) and invite them to give some examples of what their self-talk might sound like when they are facing a tough situation.
Here an ice-breaker might help, if you describe a personal example, such as (Elias & Tobias, 2018):
“This is going to work out well for me,” and “This is not going to go well.” or
“This is fun,” and “I hate this.”
Part 3: The third part is the skill introduction, during which the teacher will explain that self-talk is the way that we say things to ourselves mentally, and can often be about who we are or what we are capable of.
Describe that self-talk can have a strong impact on how we feel and behave and that this can vary based on whether our self-talk is negative or positive. Where we are able to turn negative self-talk positive, we can start to have control over how we feel. The authors even provide a text that you can adapt (Elias & Tobias, 2018, p.62):
“Your self-talk can tell you how you are feeling and how to react, even when you’re not aware of it. Sometimes those thoughts can become negative and harmful, so it’s important for us to be aware of them. That can be difficult because there are so many distractions in life, from homework to social media. We sometimes need quiet in our lives in order to tune in to our self-talk.”
Here, you can bring the discussion back around to the examples that they put forward in the sharing circle, and illustrate how vicious negative thought cycles can occur. This example from the authors may help (Elias & Tobias, 2018):
bad thing happens → we feel bad → we use negative self-talk → we feel worse →we react based on our negative feelings → more bad things happen
Acknowledge the reality that negative things do occur and that feeling bad about them is natural. Emphasize that it’s when we repeat these negative thoughts and allow them to take over, that situations can become worse.
This can be developed further through the use of examples and inviting students to give positive alternative self-talk alternatives. At the end of the lesson, emphasize again that the first step to challenging negative self-talk is to become aware of it.
2. Facilitating Mindfulness
If you can’t see yourself motivating teenagers to meditate with you—let alone in a classroom setting—don’t worry. This Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) lesson from Edutopia.org is more about helping teens and students facilitate mindfulness for the first time. As you work through it, you will hopefully be able to see that it has strong links with the concept of emotional perception (Mayer & Salovey, 2006).
Step 1: Invite the students to form a circle of chairs. Get them to put their feet flat on the ground and open the session by starting a discussion about the benefits of mindfulness. It may help if you begin by pointing out that mindfulness is not limited to meditation, but has other advantages. Aukeem Ballard, the creator of the exercise, mentions using the following: “It is not strictly meditation, but rather a practice in supporting your mind to take care of yourself.”
Step 2: Encourage students to get on board with the activity, or offer them the chance to opt out. If you are already familiar with your class of students, you may already have a good idea of how to get them to participate meaningfully.
Step 3: Share the personal benefits that mindfulness practice has had for you. You may wish to relate a personal anecdote where a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction exercise or similar approach has helped you overcome negative emotions.
Step 4: Outline and justify each step as you proceed. Start with asking your students to close their eyes and take three slow, deep breaths in and out. You can do this as a group and reflect together silently before you move on to asking them to reflect.
The subject of this reflection may vary. One idea is to start by asking your students to reflect on their current state. How they are feeling, and validate that feeling without any judgment. You may then want to move on to a specific theme that you have prepared for the rest of the lesson.
Step 5: Each step involves balancing the time that you spend giving instructions with your students’ reflection time. Ballard uses this line as an example: “Now we are going to hold that focus for a little while. We just focus on where our air is entering and exiting our body.”
Step 6: Address only behaviors that are ‘unsafe’. You may choose to respond to giggling or messing around simply by reinforcing the mindfulness; reiterate the goal of the current stage in a calm and gentle way.
Step 7: Reflect on the exercise and gather feedback. The idea behind this step is to make sense of the whole mindfulness exercise. Students may feel more comfortable talking to a classmate, while you can also let them know that direct feedback is welcome.
3. Social Communication Skill: Assertiveness
This exercise from NobelCoaching.com is designed to help an individual teen or student develop assertiveness. Nonetheless, it can be easily turned into a larger group activity if you ask students to work with a partner. This allows them to appropriately express how they feel while building their self-confidence and self-esteem.
If we return to the MSC Model for a second, this is related to the ability to manage relationships by attending to their socioemotional or interpersonal context.
Saying no to others can sometimes be difficult, but necessary. This exercise asks teens to start a dialogue that involves asking someone else for something—while expressing their feelings.
To start the exercise, create a ‘list of social challenges’, and construct a deck of cards from this. Each challenge should ideally reflect teen-relevant social situations and be tailored to their age. Each student will then pick out a card at random and carry out the challenge either over the next day or a few days—this will vary as per your schedules.
The exercise also lists some social challenge examples, including (NobelCoaching, 2018):
- Contacting your favorite shop’s customer service and requesting information about a product that you’re interested in;
- Finding out X new facts about a classmate; or
- Giving someone an honest compliment.
As a critical last step, open a dialogue with the student about how they felt as a result of the challenge. Ask them to think of different ways they could have expressed themselves, made their request, or asked a question. What were others’ reactions?
What Does EI Mean for Teachers?
Based on what we’ve already looked at in this article, it’s clear that EI is becoming an increasingly important part of curricula. It suggests a growing trend towards lessons and approaches that are either designed to teach or informed by Emotional Intelligence principles. If not both!
But what can teachers expect? Well, first, teachers now have lots more available resources than they did when the famous marshmallow experiment was brand new (Shoda et al., 1990). These resources and a strong understanding of what Emotional Intelligence involves mean that educators can now access and implement evidence-based strategies for:
- Classroom management;
- Feedback for collaborative classrooms (n.d.);
- Managing bullying (EI.Yale.edu, 2019);
- Supporting students with test anxiety;
- Fostering creativity; and
- Much more.
3 EI Powerpoints (PPTs) for Teachers
If you would like to start with an introduction to Emotional Intelligence and its concepts, we have put together some Powerpoints to help you.
1. Emotional Intelligence in a Nutshell: Swinburne University
This presentation is a nice primer for the EI concept, which outlines the different facets in an easily-understood way. The slides start with a simple definition, then outline examples of EI, and conclude with some activities to encourage involvement from your class.
Download the presentation from Swinburne University.
2. Emotional Intelligence Training Program for At-Risk Youth in High School
If you are looking for some ideas for your own presentation, this EI Powerpoint from the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA) may give you some good ideas.
This presentation provides an overview of EI and invites students to reflect on their own feelings and behavior. EI training is broken down into three stages within this resource: Self Awareness, Emotion Management, and Relationship Building.
Access the presentation by the CCPA’s Shelley Skelton.
3. Challenging Negative Thoughts: University of New Hampshire
This is a template on Thought Replacement Strategies from the University of New Hampshire. You can use this for inspiration if you are thinking about putting together a presentation that will allow you to work through exercises with your class.
The idea behind this presentation is that we can learn (and teach) methods for challenging negative thoughts, as well as self-talk to develop greater EI. It introduces the idea of identifying and acknowledging cognitive patterns in order to replace them with more useful ones.
Download the PPT from its source.
Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught to Adults?
Emotional Intelligence can be taught to both adults and teens. EI is very often a critical part of many leadership development initiatives, and EI benefits in the workplace are very widely acknowledged (Ovans, 2015).
In fact, we’ve already put together some resources to help you explore this topic in more depth. If you’re interested in finding out how EI is developed, and how you can get started, here is a good place to start!
Can Emotional Intelligence Be Learned?
Absolutely, Emotional Intelligence is as easy to learn as it is to teach. There are myriad ways to develop your Emotional Intelligence Skills, both at work and in daily life. and later in this article, we’ll introduce some EI games that aim to do just that.
Just like other skills, though, there’s no magic bullet for learning Emotional Intelligence skills. You can start by trying out different approaches, and once you’ve found something that works for you—practice is the key.
3 EI Questionnaires For Students (PDF included)
1. The Quick Emotional Intelligence Self-Assessment
The Quick Emotional Intelligence Self-Assessment is provided by the San Diego City College MESA (Mathematics and Engineering Science Achievement) Program.
Based on an EI Model developed by neuroscientist, and educator Paul Mohapel, it’s a forty-item self-report questionnaire that assesses four key areas. These are Emotional Awareness, Emotional Management, Social Emotional Awareness, and Relationship Management. Amongst his other noteworthy credentials, Paul Mohapel is also a certified facilitator in the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory.
For each domain, students can rate their own strengths for different statements on a 0-4 Likert scale, with 0 being ‘Never’, and 4 being ‘Always’. At the end of the EI questionnaire, a total score for each domain allows the test-taker to assess their strengths and identify potential areas for improvement. Students are also able to reflect on their Emotional Intelligence strengths in practice through a few free-form questions underneath.
Here are some example sentences that students use to assess each domain:
1. Emotional Awareness
My feelings are clear to me at any given moment;
I am able to stand apart from my thoughts and feelings and example them; and
Even when I’m upset, I’m aware of what’s happening to me.
2. Emotional Management
I can accept critical comments from others without becoming angry;
I control urges to overindulge in things that could damage my well being; and
I maintain my composure, even during stressful times.
3. Social-Emotional Awareness
I usually know when to speak and when to be silent;
I am able to be supportive when giving bad news to others; and
I care what happens to other people.
4. Relationship Management
I am able to show affection;
I find it easy to share my deep feelings with others; and
I am able to talk someone down even if they are very upset.
You can download an adapted version of the assessment here.
2. Global Emotional Intelligence Test: GlobaLeadership Foundation
This 40-item questionnaire from the GlobaLeadership Foundation is based on Goleman’s (2002) Emotional Intelligence Competency Model—the 4-factor model. It’s super-simple to fill out, with only two response choices for each question. And like other tests, participants are encouraged to give their initial reaction rather than think too hard about how to answer.
Some example questions and answers include (GlobaLeadershipFoundation.com, 2018):
- I generally
- allow my emotions and moods to impact my behaviors
- keep my disruptive emotions and impulses under control.
- During changing situations, I always
- work hard to try and keep up with the demands
- smoothly handle multiple demands and shifting priorities.
- When obstacles and setbacks occur in pursuing my goals, I always
- readjust the goals and/or expectations
- persist in seeking the goals despite what has happened.
- I always
- give customers what they ask for
- understand customers needs and match products/services.
- I always communicate in a way
- that everyone understands what I am saying
- that seeks mutual understanding and full information sharing.
- I always
- go along with the changes being driven by others
- recognize the need for changes and remove barriers.
In total, the average time needed to complete the test is about ten minutes.
Take the GlobaLeadership Foundation Emotional Intelligence free test.
3. Test Your Emotional Intelligence: Greater Good Science Center (UC Berkeley)
As you may know from some of our other articles, Perceiving Emotions is one of the four EI components proposed by Mayer and Salovey in their original model (2006). This was later developed into the Mayer, Salovey & Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) (MHS.com, 2018a).
This quiz by the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) is about interpreting nonverbal cues, so to take the test, you simply read others’ emotions from photos of faces. Interestingly, it even covers the actual muscles that get to work when we’re expressing sadness, happiness, disgust, flirtatiousness, and more.
Take the test here.
It should be noted that while these may draw on evidence-based measures, they aren’t intended as formal assessments. They can, however, offer some insight into the general question types commonly used in professional instruments.
5 Emotional Intelligence Games
Just like the EI literature (and the questionnaires above), Emotional Intelligence games can be found based on various frameworks. That is, some center on developing the 5 EI components popularized by Daniel Goleman, some on the 4-component MSC model, and some may take a more general approach.
First up, two group activities or games from the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP). The first one looks at Managing Relationships, and the second is designed as a Self Awareness activity.
1. Managing Relationships: Turning Complaints into Requests (IIRP)
This relationship management game is focused on communicating our issues to those around us. It centers on the way we choose to express ourselves, and how this impacts on our likelihood of reaching a successful resolution through relationship management.
For the activity, participants list some issues that currently are bothering them—there’s no issue too big or small for this exercise. They then select one thing to discuss with the group, and everybody should have the opportunity to share their specific issue.
Person A’s issue may be – “This room is a mess”; and
Person B’s issue could be – “I’m still waiting for your report”.
The facilitator discusses how the ways in which we communicate with other people often influences their willingness to help us solve our problems. Rather, we focus on the actual need, whether it’s for a tidy room or for someone to give us their report. Then instead of complaining, we make a request.
The main part of this exercise is going around the group and allowing participants to transform their issues from complaints into requests. For example:
Person A’s complaint becomes – “Could you help me with tidying up this room?”; and
Person B’s request would be – “Would you please be able to give me your report?”
2. Self Awareness: Emotions Faces (IIRP)
This game uses ‘Emotions Faces’, created by Adele Lynn, author of the book Quick Emotional Intelligence Activities for Busy Managers. If you prefer, you can create your own chart for this game. In this activity, the therapist or facilitator will hand out colored sticker dots to participants, who place them on the chart to identify their feelings.
This then is repeated across several days in order to look at how our feelings change over the period.
While the game itself is simple enough, the idea is to guide and encourage participants in discussing how our emotions at a certain time can influence the way we perceive events and other people.
This discussion should also cover how our feelings and moods can be ‘contagious’ to those around us.
In this amazing PDF, you can find the Emotional Intelligence game amongst many others. You can also download the ‘Emotions Faces’ chart itself in the Quick Emotional Intelligence Activities for Busy Managers ebook, which is available on Amazon.
3. My Colored Hat
The My Colored Hat exercise is quite a popular game and one you may already have come across in our article on How to Improve Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace. In case you haven’t yet bumped into it, this exercise is covered in depth in the blog post above, or you can find the original activity here.
In a nutshell, however, this goes as follows:
- The facilitator, teacher, or therapist makes (or buys!) some colored hats in 4-6 different colors, one for each participant;
- Assign a different emotion to each hat and tell everyone involved which stands for which;
- Each player then chooses the colored hat that best represents their current mood and wears it, as everyone gathers in a circle.
The idea behind the game is then revealed; it draws on the theory behind cognitive restructuring. The premise is that we can differentiate between and manage our emotions according to their usefulness and appropriateness.
Those with a negative emotion-colored hat acknowledge the negative feeling, then set it to the side. Those with a positive emotion-colored hat should be encouraged to express that emotion and describe it with the others, allowing themselves to appreciate the feeling.
When everybody has had a turn, we return to the negative emotion hats and confront the feeling that it represents. Essentially, we find an adaptive way of dealing with it. The key goal is to explore ways in which the negative emotion can be replaced with a positive one.
4. Eye Contact/No Eye Contact
In her blog, Creative Arts Psychotherapist Jude Treder-Wolff shares this brilliant game from training and consulting providers Lifestage. This is an improvisation-based exercise that has its scientific base in several empirical studies supporting the importance of eye contact in social interactions and empathy (Wesselmann et al., 2012; Montague et al., 2013).
The dual goals of the game are for participants to experience the effect of eye contact in silent interpersonal interactions, and its effect on our emotional states and connections (Treder-Wolff, 2014).
Stage One: The facilitator begins by asking the group participants to imagine that they are in a public and open area—such as an airport or gallery. Armed with sticky notes, they then walk around the area for 1-2 minutes, during which time they make zero eye contact with others.
They make notes of any emotions they become aware of during the time and post the notes at a certain point on the wall. This note-taking and posting exercise is repeated after the next two stages.
Stage Two: Participants repeat the 1-2 minute exercise, this time seeking eye contact with others, but then looking away instantly once it is established.
Stage Three: Participants carry out the exercise again, this time searching out eye contact and pairing up with the first person to respond in kind. They walk alongside that partner and both avoid eye contact with all others.
Lastly, the group reforms a circle and everybody looks down at their shoes. The facilitator can count to three, on which everyone will look up and actively seek out eye contact with someone else. If they do so successfully, they high five.
The game raises several discussion questions as a key part of the activity, which can be guided by the notes. Some of these questions are (Treder-Wolff, 2014):
What feelings are evoked by each stage?
How does this apply to life in the real world, e.g. what is our emotional reaction to people who look away rather than make eye contact?
What might it mean for client/student contact to make solid eye contact?
Find the full exercise, and more, here.
5. EQ for Success
Those of you after a more competitive type of Emotional Intelligence game may like EQ for Success, a card game from Play Therapy Supply that’s designed for ages 14 and up. That having been said, it’s also possible to play this game as a cooperative version.
EQ for Success is based on Goleman’s 5 factor model of EQ. Each player receives a card with a picture of a brain on it, and space for tokens to be placed on top. Participants then answer questions from five decks of cards, each of which stands for one of the five EQ components: Self Awareness, Emotions Management, Self-Motivation, Relationship Skills, and Empathy.
There’s also another deck with a slightly more educational component, too. When any card is picked by a player, another participant asks that person an EQ question, and the first player has to give possible answers. By winning tokens with correct answers, they can fill up the Brain Card, and the first person to do so completely wins the game.
If that’s too cut-throat for your liking, EQ for success can also be played cooperatively, where participants fill up two Brain Cards collaboratively.
You can buy EQ for Success at Play Therapy Supply.
A Take Home Message
In this article, we’ve considered the role of EI for teens, with a special look at how it impacts their lives as students.
Due to there being so much practitioner and academic interest in the area of teen and student EI, we can definitely expect a lot more to come in the near future. Lesson plans, empirical research, and pedagogical initiatives like the Yale RULER approach have already paved a solid path forward for those of us interested in helping our teens develop. It’s a promising area!
If you have already used any of the lesson plans or exercises that we’ve put together, we would love to hear about it. Please also feel free to share any experiences that you have had in teaching Emotional Intelligence in the comments below. Happy teaching!
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