Lesson Idea: Parsing Feelings in English


This was an emergency exam prep lesson and it ended up being one of my favourites ever. I used it with my middle ability KS4 English group because I had had enough of my students telling me that the [quote] had a 'positive feeling' or made the audience feel 'shocked'. They simply didn't have the vocabulary or confidence to talk about emotion or feelings in a sophisticated way, much less in connection to a text. Now, as I said, I used this for KS4, but it would absolutely work at KS3 -- in fact, the earlier that kids learn to talk about this the better. Having the vocabulary to talk about emotion helps people parse feelings and be mindful about them which is incredibly important for life

Here's how it works. Configure your room in such a way that kids can sit in groups of three or four. Put a big piece of paper in the middle of each group. On each paper, write down six major emotions mind-map node style: 

Set a timer. For ten minutes, get students to brainstorm specific emotion words, and then plot them on their group's emotional map. So, for example, draw a line connecting 'Joy' and 'Surprise'. Plot 'Delight' on the line. Is it closer to 'joy' or 'surprise'? Are any other emotions mixed in?
What would you call a mix of fear and anger? Or sadness and disgust? Give them dictionaries, word lists or whatever other support you think will help with your particular students, but give them as much freedom to discuss this as you can. 

You can even have some words on the board for students to plot -- words for complex emotions like 'nostalgia', 'horror' or 'bemusement'.

Don't forget about degree. Have a line coming off of 'Joy' that starts with 'content' and ends with 'ecstatic'. Modifiers are fine of course. 

When your ten minute timer goes off, half of the kids in each group rotate to another group. Manage this in whatever way works for your students. Now they have a chance to extend the maps with their new groups. Meanwhile, you can, if you so choose, sneak around with a copy of the discussion rubric, or you pull out your high ability students after the first round and make them into spies *ahem* I mean TAs.

At the end of the lesson, you will have some pretty intense posters to hang on your walls and you never have to read about 'positive' and 'negative' feelings again (English teachers, you know what I mean). They have the opportunity to name, recognise, and practice describing complex emotions in a way that will be really useful when it comes to looking at effect in texts, and it's a lovely way to introduce semantics to students in a way that is completely rooted in their own experiences. 

For extra credit, give the students some tools to use this in everyday life. Next time they are feeling overwhelmed or upset, suggest they go back to the map and use it to parse their emotions. It's a useful distancing technique and encourages mindfulness - think, instead of react. 


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