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SEL Spotlight

What’s Your Emoji? Use Embodied Learning to Boost Self-Awareness

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Self-Awareness starts in the body, so it only makes sense that embodied learning techniques are the most effective way to build Social & Emotional competencies such as identifying emotions and self-perception.

This month, we share an activity called “What’s Your Emoji” that helps students explore how emotions are shown and felt in their bodies.

What’s Your Emoji?

Start the activity by asking students to consider this prompt: “Emotion is a word that describes the feelings you have. How does your face show emotion? How do other parts of your body show emotion?”

You can help them generate some ideas with additional prompts that have them think about how different parts of their body show emotion. For example: Who can show me happy hands? Proud shoulders? Sad feet?

Alternately, you can use the visual cue of common emojis as a focal point for the activity. You can draw a few emojis on a board or even make emoji masks (see bonus craft at the bottom). When you point out a specific Emoji, students can react by physically showing the associated emotion with their whole body.

Once students have generated some ideas, have them work with a partner and take turns showing an emotion and having their partner guess what it is.

After they have had a chance to work with a partner, gather the students in a circle so everyone can see each other. Go around the circle and give everyone a chance to share an emotion by showing what it looks like in their body. The rest of the class can then mirror this back by imitating their movement and facial expression.

This helps students get in touch not just with what their own body feels like in relation to different emotions, but also helps them tune into the physical cues of others.

See It In Action

In this video, the teaching artists of Dancing with Class demonstrate a version of “What’s Your Emoji”. This is a flexible game that leaves lots of space for improvisation and customizing to the needs of your students. 

Take Time to Reflect

Conclude the activity by prompting students to reflect through discussion or a short journal entry on what their body feels like when they are showing the emotions they select. By thinking about what an emotion feels and looks like in their body, they become more self-aware and attuned to their emotions.

Make it a Daily Check-In Strategy

You can extend this activity by making the physical expression of an emotion part of a daily check-in with students. As you greet them, you can ask students to show you how they are feeling, and even reflect on why they may be feeling that way. Keep an emoji chart nearby and students can look to that if they are having trouble finding the right words to express their emotions.

BONUS CRAFT: Emoji masks

Here’s a quick and easy way to make emoji masks to use as props when playing “What’s Your Emoji?”

Supplies: Yellow poster board or construction paper, crayons/markers, glue and popsicle sticks.

Maximum Preparation:  Cut out 4 large circles from yellow poster board or construction paper. On the back of each circle, write out one of the 4 emotions: happy, sad, OK, or mad. On the front of each circle (using crayons or markers) draw in the appropriate face to match the emotion written on the back.  After you have created your “emoji,” take a large popsicle stick and glue it on the back of the circle being careful not to block the word.


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Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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