Building Emotional Literacy with Books

Great stories do more than build word skills.
They can build feelings skills.

Curious about how to build emotional literacy with children? The great place to start is a feeling book! Literature is an essential tool for teaching young children emotional literacy skills. Through books, characters show what feelings look like and model how to react to emotions. Reading a feeling book lets you model feelings and engage children in conversations and activities regarding their own feelings.

Check out these four fantastic steps to take when reading feeling books with young children.

reading with a babyStep 1: Choose the right book.

It is important that the books you choose highlight one or more emotion. For infants and young toddlers, look for books that label feelings by showing a face and providing a correlating emotion word. For older toddlers, preschoolers and school-agers, look for books that not only label a feeling but also teach how to appropriately manage and respond to the feeling.

Also, consider feeling books that teach children one or more of the following:

  • All feelings are valid; it is what you do with them that matters.
  • Feelings can change, and that is okay.
  • Sometimes is possible to have more than one feeling about the same experiences.
  • It is okay to feel different than someone else about the same experience.
Step 2: Make a plan.

It is crucial that you read the book before reading it to the children. Creating a lesson plan will allow you to identify the emotion words you want to highlight and the questions you want to use to engage learning.

Questions to ask yourself as you create your lesson plan:

  • What emotion word(s) do I want to teach?
  • How do I want the children to learn from this story to appropriately manage the emotion?
  • How will I model the emotion to the children?
  • What questions do I need to ask before, during, and after reading to engage children?
  • How will the children practice the emotion?
  • What activities will help support the children’s understanding of the feeling(s)?
Step 3: Read the book together.

Stop and ask questions before, during and after the story. When appropriate, model the answers to the questions you are asking. Consider reading the book more than once!

Here are ideas for questions you can ask children:

  • Before reading:
    • “How do you think the character is feeling?”
    • “What can you see that shows the character is feeling that way?”
    • “Can you show me what the feeling looks like using your body?”
  • During reading:
    • “How do you think the character is feeling now?”
    • “How would it make you feel if _____?”
    • “What would you do if you were feeling that way?”
  • After:
    • “Did the character’s feelings change or stay the same throughout the story?”
    • “How did the character change their feelings? Do your feelings ever change?”
    • “How do you calm down when you’re angry, sad, frustrated, mad, etc.?”
Step 4: Engage the children in an activity.

After reading the book, choose an activity that will invite the children to act out the story or practice the skill. The purpose is to create opportunities for the children to practice labeling emotions as well as actions and expressions for responding to emotions. Here are some ideas for activities:

  • Sing emotion songs. For example, If you’re Happy and you Know It. You can add different emotions to the song, such as: angry / stomp your feet or sacred / hide your eyes.
  • Provide mirrors at the drawing center. Have children make emotion faces and draw their self-portrait.
  • Ask children to show you an emotion with their bodies. For example, say: “Only using your face, can you show me what frustrated looks like?”
  • Act it out with puppets. Model acting out the book with puppets and allow children opportunities to act out the story with the puppets during centers.
  • Make emotion faces out of play dough. Draw different emotion eyes on pieces of cardstock and laminate. Have children make mouths, noses, eyebrows, hair, etc. out of play dough.
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Jamie Le Sesne Spears supports early learning programs in their efforts to provide inclusive, supportive education and care statewide. Her passion for effective practice is rooted in her seven years of experience educating children with varying abilities as a preschool and kindergarten educator, as well as a behavioral technician. She has also created and implemented curricula, monitored student progress, and pursued family engagement practices. Jamie earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Miami University and her Master of Education in special education at Indiana University, IUPUI. During her master’s program, Jamie helped develop trainings focused on equity, early childhood education, and inclusive practices. Working with children with dis/abilities is one of Jamie’s strongest passions, and she enjoys volunteering with local churches to develop inclusive dis/ability ministries. Read more of her early ed insights here!