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10-15 minutes (can be extended if desired)


Primary / Junior / Intermediate


Paper, drawing or painting materials, mirror


To help students identify what certain emotions look like based on facial expressions

  • If students do not have mirrors, first start by partnering them up.
  • Have a bowl with basic emotions (happy, sad, scared, angry, jealous etc.) filled out on pieces of paper, or a list that they can choose from. Ask each student or pair to pick an emotion.
  • In pairs, a student demonstrates the facial expression associated with the emotion they chose, while the other student draws their partner’s facial expression. Partners can switch roles after a set amount of time.
  • If working individually, students can use the mirror to imitate the facial expression associated with the emotion they chose and draw their facial expression.
  • Have the class guess the emotions being expressed in the portraits.

Lead a follow-up discussion:

  • Are some emotions easier or more difficult to demonstrate/recognize than others? Why?
  • Why is it important to be able to recognize someone’s emotions based on their facial expressions?
  • Are there other ways of identifying a person’s emotions?
  • Have students look through old magazines to identify emotions that are demonstrated by facial expressions (e.g., find a picture of someone who is smiling to demonstrate ‘happy’).
  • Have students work in groups to create an emotions collage.
  • The practice can be extended by encouraging students to talk about ways to manage strong emotions (e.g., things they can do, things the educator can do to help).

Children proficiently recognize emotional expressions, and they increasingly use emotional information to understand their environment, and navigate social interactions with their peers, as they get older (Batty & Taylor, 2006). The extent to which students understand emotions in themselves and others, is highly related to the quality of their peer interactions, and their propensity to engage in prosocial behaviours (Caputi, Lecce, Pagnin, & Banerjee, 2012).

Batty, M., & Taylor, M. J. (2006). The development of emotional face processing during childhood. Developmental Science, 9(2), 207-220. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2006.00480.x

Caputi, M., Lecce, S., Pagnin, A., & Banerjee, R. (2012). Longitudinal effects of theory of mind on later peer relations: The role of prosocial behavior. Developmental Psychology, 48(1), 257.