Emotional Literacy

What would you do if you someone bullied you and you didn’t know the words to use to talk about it? How would you let someone understand how you were feeling?



Children who haven’t yet developed emotional literacy (the skills that allow them to recognize, understand and express their emotions) grapple with this challenge all throughout the day— after all, they can’t leave their emotions in their backpack!

One of the major goals of the Arthur Interactive Media Project is to help students develop their emotional literacy. The interactive and classroom session activities are designed to help children build the skills that will allow them to become more comfortable recognizing, managing, and expressing their own emotions as well as the emotions of others. Research studies have shown that children who have a strong foundation in emotional literacy benefit in multiple ways throughout life, for example they “tolerate frustration better, get into fewer fights, and engage in less self-destructive behavior than children who do not have a strong foundation. These children are also healthier, less lonely, less impulsive, more focused, and they have greater academic achievement.”1





Developing emotional literacy skills is just like developing new language skills or reading skills—it takes time and practice. In the early years, children begin to build an emotional vocabulary as adults recognize and label emotions for them—such as happy or sad. But as children grow, they need to develop the language that allows them to recognize, understand and express a more complex range of emotions on their own—such as anxious and scared and proud.



One of the best ways educators, caregivers, and parents can help children gain these skills—and a robust emotional vocabulary—is to offer them rich opportunities to read, view, and discuss various emotions. The familiarity of Arthur and his friends along with the one-on-one buddy interactions provide all children, including those who are less apt to share in a group setting, the opportunities they need to gain practice sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Here is an example from the AIM program that gives buddy pairs the opportunity to discuss characters’ feelings as they work through the empathy-based interactive comic, “So Funny I Forgot To Laugh”. Watch the video. How do you think SueEllen feels after she finds Arthur’s drawing?

Opportunities for building children’s emotional literacy can occur throughout the school day. Use these activities to help you extend the learning, or create your own activities as moments occur organically throughout the day:

Feelings Chart. Download the “Feelings Chart” from page 64 in the AIM Teacher’s Guide. Keep the chart posted in a clearly visible area. Add new faces as children discuss (or emote) feelings in cross-domain activities. Here are a few examples:

Feelings chart

Feelings chart

  • Art: Play a piece of music. Have children draw and/or write how the music makes them feel.
  • Reading: Read a book about emotions and have children talk about times they have felt the same emotion mentioned in the book.
  • Morning routine: Start the day asking each child to tell the class how they are feeling and why they think they are feeling that way. (Don’t pressure those who are uncomfortable. You can ask them individually or wait until the routine becomes embedded and they feel more comfortable.)
  • Throughout the day: Use the Feelings Chart to remind students of various emotions and relate them to their own lives or activities being conducted in the classroom.
Feelings Activity Ideas. (AIM Teacher Guide, p. 21)

Feelings Activity Ideas     (AIM Teacher Guide, p. 21)

Home Connection. The more opportunities for practice and discussion children have, the faster they will develop their emotional literacy skills. Create a home connection with families by sending home a Feelings Chart and the feelings activities so family members can continue the learning with opportunities to practice emotional literacy skills at home, too!



1. Fostering Emotional Literacy in Young Children: Labeling Emotions. G. Joseph, G., Strain, P., Ostrosky, M.M. (2005). Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning: What Works Briefs Series, Brief 21.

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