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In this activity…

Students identify the function and importance of emotions. They then work collectively to create an Emotional Intelligence Charter that will be signed, followed, and referred to for the duration of the school year.

And the point is…

Throughout philosophy, literature, religion, and science, emotions have long been identified as an “internal inconvenience”; as something that gets in the way of intellectual intelligence, rational thought, power, and success. To debunk these misconceptions, students need to understand the function of emotions and how, at their highest level, emotions are essential for survival. By creating an Emotional Intelligence Charter, students commit to creating the best possible emotional climate for the school year, which helps students feel capable of living out their permission to feel.

Materials: Projector, Chart paper, markers


It’s not enough to simply identify the consequences of not feeling. What are the benefits of feeling? What are emotions important for?

Pose these questions to students and welcome their responses for a couple of minutes before formally explaining the five key areas of life where emotions matter most, as outlined in the ‘READY’ section. Download and use the slideshow to support your explanation of the importance of emotions with regards to attention, memory, and learning; decision making; relationships; health; and creativity.

Next, check-in with students to see if they are now “convinced” of the importance of emotions and the benefits associated with feeling.

Tell students that, in order to learn more about their emotions, they need to become emotion scientists.

They need to learn how to ask the right questions to understand their emotions, how to become more precise in recognizing their own and others’ emotions, and they need to look for themes that are underlying behaviour.

Let students know that over the next couple of classes they will learn how to become an emotion scientist by using a framework for building emotional intelligence skills. Briefly explain that this framework is remembered by the acronym RULER which involves recognizing, understanding, labelling, expressing, and regulating emotions.

But, before you dive into the nitty-gritty details of this framework, you need to make sure that you create the best possible emotional climate in the classroom. You do this by creating a classroom Emotional Intelligence Charter.

An Emotional Intelligence Charter is a written document detailing how everybody in the classroom wishes to feel. The Charter is made by answering two basic questions. Exploring these questions as a class builds understanding and empathy for the needs of every student and creates transparency for the expected behaviours.

Here are the steps to creating your class charter:

  1. How do we want to feel as a class?
    Ask everyone to write down their “top five” list of feelings. Then, create a master list of feelings that includes everyone’s top five feelings and discuss each word. Do any of the feelings have similar meanings? Can you choose just one? Which feeling is more foundational (i.e. is needed to feel the rest)? Narrow the list down to the “top five” class feelings.  
  2. How will we feel this way?
    For each feeling, identify one or two specific, observable behaviours that each student would have to do to have or cultivate that feeling. Be as specific as possible to provide direction and clarity. For example, it would not be sufficient to “be nice” in order to feel lively. Being nice can mean different things for different people or perhaps even different things for the same person at different times. Instead, students should think about behaviours like holding the door open, smiling and saying “good morning”, or participating in class discussions in a certain way.
  3. Pull all the pieces together to create a living document.
    On a large poster paper, create a class Charter with the headings:
    • As a class, we want to feel…
    • To have these feelings we will…
    • If we need support, we can…
    • Signatures

Make sure that every student signs the Charter once it is complete.

This Charter can be as simple or creative as you and your class would like, as long as it has the above-listed components. There are two additional points that you need to be aware of to maximize the benefits and success of this activity:

  1. Make it public.
    Post the Charter in a visible area in your classroom so that students are continually reminded of their commitment to creating this emotional climate. Think about hanging it near or on the classroom door so that it is one of the first things they see when they walk in the classroom.
  2. Keep the Charter alive
    About once a month, during a class meeting, review the Charter and think about what’s working, what isn’t working, what needs to be changed, or where the class might need to focus their attention. Add to or modify the Charter as needed.

An example class charter has been provided for you in the downloads section on this page.


Why do I feel the way I do?

That’s a really good question! Emotional intelligence is not just about recognizing your emotions, but also about understanding why you feel the way you do. In other words, you need to understand and explore the story behind your feelings in order to appropriately express and regulate them. Feelings can be influenced by environmental factors, relationships, physical health, self-awareness and self-concept. We will consider all of these things in greater detail when we talk about the ‘U’ of RULER, which stands for understanding emotions.

Is it normal for me to have a hard time identifying my feelings?

Unfortunately, it is quite common for people to struggle with each of (or any combination of) the components of RULER: Recognizing, understanding, labelling, expressing, and regulating emotions. This is not your fault. It simply reflects the lack of value that we have placed on emotional intelligence in the past. You can’t know how to do something (even if that something has to do with your emotions) if you never learned how to do it. A big barrier for a lot of people is that they feel like they do not have the language to articulate their feelings. For example, if you don’t know what it means to feel alienated, despair, despondent, hopeless, sullen, or desolate, then all of the nuances that distinguish these feelings will go unnoticed and everything gets lumped under a more familiar word, like depressed. Hopefully, we will be able to build our emotional intelligence skills as a class so that talking about feelings and feeling feelings will become as natural as the singing alphabet.

Is it bad to feel negative emotions?

No, negative emotions are important and serve many beneficial functions. A common misconception is that we should feel happy all the time, or that we should only feel positive emotions. In reality, you can think of feelings as similar to the food you eat – everything is healthy in moderation. Just like it wouldn’t be healthy to eat ice cream for every meal, every day of the week, it also wouldn’t be healthy to feel depressed or sad all day, every day of the week. However, a balanced intake of ice cream is healthy and, it might even be beneficial when you consider the relationship or personal benefits that may arise from going out for a treat with your best friend. Similarly, it’s important to feel a balanced array of positive and negative emotions. Believe it or not, negative emotions have many benefits. Evolutionarily speaking, negative emotions like fear, anxiety, or depression were survival mechanisms. These emotions provided us with important information, like that there was danger and we needed to run, or that we were lonely or low in energy and needed to connect and refuel. Today, we know that anger serves as a powerful motivator, anxiety helps you find new ways to approach problems and challenges, guilt inspires you to change negative behaviour, sadness helps you pay more attention to detail, and jealousy motivates you to work harder. Although you wouldn’t want to feel these emotions all the time, you can hopefully see why it’s important to feel a balance of positive and negative emotions. The next time you need to edit an assignment for school, you might even want to listen to sad music to prime yourself to pay more attention to detail!

Won’t other people think that I am weak if I admit that I am feeling bad?

Would you agree that being honest about the way you feel makes you vulnerable? Do you remember what we talked about in one of our first lessons about vulnerability? We discussed how it takes an incredible amount of courage to make yourself vulnerable. So, with that in mind, being honest about your feelings, even when they are unpleasant ones, is an incredible act of courage and bravery. Every student in this classroom has learned about the relationship between vulnerability and courage and is a part of these lessons so you can be assured that, at least within this classroom, no one will think differently about you if you are not feeling great. In fact, someone may even look up to you for your ability to be courageous and honest.