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Emotion Continuum

Research proves that self-regulation and empathy are teachable skills essential to success in the classroom and in the 21st century workforce. While activities that build social-emotional skills are traditionally relegated solely to the younger years, people of all ages benefit from an environment that supports their emotional needs and development. Through this challenge, students build their vocabularies and build productive strategies for communicating feelings and needs to adults and to one another.

What you will need

Time estimate
​~80 minutes total

Budget at least 20 minutes to plan and 60 minutes to teach (potentially over several days)



downloaded activity directions (below), 1-2 sheets of chart paper, ½ sheets of construction paper (80), markers, clothespins, clothesline/ tape/staples

ONLINE MATERIALS: You can create an emotion continuum using a wide variety of collaborative online tools. If students submit words to describe their emotions you can generate a word cloud from their comments. You can collect emotion-images students create either via drawings or photography and then arrange them in an online space like Jamboard. See our samples here.


  1. Set up: Post 1-2 sheets of chart paper in a visible spot. (Use a google doc or online white board for this if you are teaching online.) Clear enough space for students to place up to 80 half-sheets in a line. (Online you can organize them via programs like Google slides or Jamboard.)  Download the activity directions sheet found above.

  2. Use the activity directions sheet to create an emotion continuum with your students. After you have hung the continuum up in your classroom (or observed students organizing their images/ideas online) have a discussion. (You can process the activity right away and/ or throughout the year.) You might ask questions like:

    • How did you decide what order to put the emotions in?

    • What discoveries did you make during this activity?

    • What questions did you find yourself wrestling with?

    • What skills did you have to use to complete this activity?

    • Why might it be useful to know a lot of different words to express how you are feeling?

    • How will understanding your peers’ emotions change your behavior?

  3. Keep the emotion continuum up and use it throughout the school year. (In an online setting this may mean going back to it collectively at least a few times a week before class starts.) Establish a habit of inviting students to move their clothespins (or online sticky notes) at the beginning of the day and after lunch. During or after an activity that is particularly challenging or exciting or frustrating, consider inviting students to move their clothespins. Remember to move your clothespin, too.

  4. Let students know that each person is welcome to take her/his clothespin off the continuum if she/he doesn’t want to share how she/he is feeling at a particular moment. Consider putting a jar or box next to the continuum for this purpose.

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Great Job!

Athena describes how she creates the classroom conditions where empathy can thrive. She says, “We spend the first six weeks – and actually, most of the first trimester – building the community. And that involves building the classroom. Everything around the room is theirs. Everything was their decision. It goes back to that trust – they know what they’re going to find when they come in every morning. And since they’ve set up the space, it’s really child-friendly.” The Emotion Continuum is a key element of her classroom.


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challenge in action

Emotion Continuum

Emotion Continuum

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Did you like this challenge and want to try another?

​The Poster Analysis challenge will help you to explore the implicit and explicit messages in your classroom.

Lunch Date challenge asks you to eat lunch with a group of students, without talking about school.

Join the discussion!

How can you modify this activity so that older students see its ongoing value?

If you’ve done this with students before, how can you apply it to your school’s staff?

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