Standard Lesson

Using Personal Connections to Build an Understanding of Emotions

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 20- to 30-minute sessions
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Organizing information is a crucial way to recognize material learned, as well as make new material relevant to students. This lesson uses several short sessions and concrete experiences to introduce the abstract concepts of happy and sad emotions to younger students (the lesson can easily be modified for other emotions). In an initial session, students begin making connections to emotions by verbally expressing personal experiences that have evoked happiness or sadness, and they create two-sided masks with happy and sad expressions. Subsequent discussions encourage them to make more general observations about human emotions; and to identify and express their own current feelings. The interactive Venn diagram is used to organize students' observations happy and sad emotions.

From Theory to Practice

  • Vocabulary and concept development is based on solving problems and connecting new information to personal experiences.

  • Students clarify their understanding through informal social interactions and active processing.

  • By having meaningful interactions with language, students can begin to understand the concept of emotions.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability

  • Chart paper and markers

  • Creative materials for making masks (e.g., sequins, beads, foam shapes, markers, buttons, feathers, yarn, plastic eyes)

  • Glue and scissors (for each student, if possible)

  • Masking tape to cover staples (optional)

  • Mirrors (a couple small ones or a large one for a group of students to share)

  • Paper plates (2 per student for happy and sad masks)

  • Popsicle sticks (1-2 per set of 2 plates; staple inside plates with enough of the stick outside of the plates to be used as a handle)

  • Stapler to seal plates together


1. Gather materials for construction of happy and sad masks.

a. Divide materials into those that will be used for making happy masks and those for making sad masks. Brighter colored materials can be separated for happy, while darker colors are reserved for sad.

b. Decide what plates will be used. It is recommended that you use paper plates that are somewhat flimsy; those that are very firm are too heavy for the popsicle sticks.

c. Decide which direction the plate will face. Students can either decorate the bottom side of plates and have the masks curve outward or do the opposite by decorating the topside of the plates and creating masks that curve inward.

d. Decide how the paper plates will be attached to each other. Staples work well, but it is better to cover the staples with masking tape for young children. Glue will also work, but requires appropriate drying time.

2. Decide how you will conduct the activity with the class. You can do the activity as a group and have all students complete happy masks and then sad masks (or vice versa). An alternative is to divide the class, having some students create sad masks, while others create happy masks. When finished, everyone switches.

3. Prepare the language experience activity chart. Divide a large sheet of chart paper into three sections. Label the sections as follows:

  • Things that make me sad are ____________________.
  • Things that make me happy are __________________.
  • Today I feel _______ because ___________________.
4. Create two pointers, one with a happy face, and one with a sad face on it. These pointers will be used to help students track their reading, with the happy pointer for reading about things that make them happy and the sad pointer for reading about things that make them sad.

Student Objectives

Students will begin to build a concrete understanding of the abstract concepts and vocabulary of happy and sad emotions by

  • Verbally telling about a personal experience when they felt happy and sad

  • Observing their own facial expressions with a mirror and representing these expressions through the creation of happy and sad masks

  • Using a shared language experience to solidify and support their understanding as a class

Session 1: Creating Happy and Sad Masks

1. Depending on how you have decided to conduct the lesson (see Preparation, 2), have students gather at their tables with the appropriate art materials for creating either happy or sad masks.

2. As a group, discuss what makes them feel happy or sad. This discussion is an opportunity for students to begin making connections to these emotions by verbally expressing their personal experiences. They will also begin to identify some specific features that are associated with each of the emotions to use while creating their masks. As part of the class discussion, encourage students to reflect upon and respond to each other's experiences.

  • "Can you think of a time that you were sad/happy? What made you feel that way?"
  • "What does your face look like when you are sad/happy?"
  • "What makes you feel better when you are sad?" or "What things make you feel happy?"
3. Explain how students will create their happy or sad masks, and show them the materials they have to work with.

4. Offer mirrors for students to view their own faces as they express different happy and sad emotions, and draw their attentions to facial features, such as lip and eyebrow positions.

5. Give each student a plate and a bottle of glue to begin creating his or her mask.

6. When the plate for the first emotion is complete, the student will then create a mask showing the opposite emotion.

Session 2: Language Experience Activity

1. Have students gather in a group where they can all see the chart paper.

2. Ask students to recall making their masks.

  • "What is something that makes you feel happy/sad?"
  • "Why were you happy/sad?"
  • "Do you think everyone is happy/sad sometimes?"

"Let's make a chart to see when everyone is happy and sad."

3. Students will consecutively complete the three statements as you write their exact words onto the chart paper. Begin with the first statement, "Things that make me sad are ____________________." Ask each student to complete the statement as you write what he or she says on the chart paper. Include parenthesis at the end of the statement and allow each student the opportunity to write his or her name on the chart paper after the statement.

4. Once everyone has had a turn, begin the second statement, "Things that make me happy are __________________." Students will once again complete the statement in their own words and label it with their names.

5. Repeat the process using the third statement, "Today I feel ______ because ___________________."

6. Once the chart is complete, have students read their statements one at a time using the appropriate pointer, happy or sad depending on the statement.

NOTE: If your students are capable, you may choose to modify this activity by allowing them to write their own statements onto the chart paper. To further challenge students, you can ask them to create a class poem using the following prompts:

These are things that make us sad: ...

These are things that make us glad: ...

Older students can be challenged to make their responses rhyme as well.

Session 3: Concluding the Experience

1. Gather students in small groups and ask them to discuss some things they have learned over the last few lessons. Ask if they can notice some differences and similarities between happy and sad emotions.

  • "What are some things we know about feeling happy?"
  • "What are some things we know about feeling sad?"
  • "Can we think of any things that are the same between being happy and sad?" For example, students may recognize that both are ways we feel, both can be illustrated using our facial expressions, and both can have similar phyical responses (e.g., crying or wanting a hug).
2. Introduce the interactive Venn diagram, and present a tutorial on how to use a Venn diagram if students are unfamiliar with the concept. Explain the use of each circle to indicate the differences between two things, and the overlapping area between the two circles to indicate the similarities.

3. Label one circle "happy" and one circle "sad." Explain that the space in the middle is for qualities that they share.

4. Depending on the age and abilities of your students, allow students to work in pairs or in small groups of three to four to take turns naming attributes for the graphic organizer.

5. Allow pairs or groups of students to type their own ideas and print a copy of their Venn diagrams.

6. Repeat until all students have had a chance to participate in the Venn diagram activity. Then post the diagrams in the classroom, along with the group members' names.

7. Allow students to discuss what they have learned about emotions by viewing the charts and comparing group ideas.


  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain (Parenting Press, 2000) can be used as an extension to the topic of emotions. Each page is a poem about an individual emotion, so excerpts from the text can be used to keep the focus on simple emotions or it can be used to broaden the topic for older students. This book can also be used to support language development with rhyming, especially if the language experience activity chart has been modified to having students write a class poem with rhyming responses.

Additionally, Parenting Press offers an Expressing Emotions Teaching Plan, if a lesson on how to draw emotions is of interest.

  • For older students or those who are more familiar with computers, the Graphic Map may be a useful tool to employ in future activities. Students can use this online tool to plot the emotions of a character in a familiar text or to assess their own personal emotions during a classroom activity or event. The tool allows students to label each marker with either a happy or sad face or a ranking scale.
  • Art and picture books present abundant opportunities for students to interact with emotion.
  • Many books can be used to emphasize emotions, especially those with vivid images. One example of a book that uses line and color to show emotion is Rise the Moon by Eileen Spinelli (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2002). The vivid illustrations in this book are done by Raul Colon. Additionally, this book is written as a poem, and provides an opportunity to expose young children to some new vocabulary terms.

  • Artwork can often convey emotion through color choice, style of the images, and even the subject matter. If posters or images are accessible, allow students to match images to emotions, or describe the way they feel while looking at a piece of artwork. Several art museums have educational programs that provide activities for students to experience art and to learn more about the creation process. The National Gallery of Art for Kids is accessible online, if you do not have the ability to connect with staff at a local art museum.

  • If your classroom has a dramatic play area, a simple prop box may allow students who learn through experiences the opportunity to solidify their understanding of the emotional vocabulary. One approach would be to provide images of happy or sad situations, and one or two props that allow students to pose as though they were in the image. By providing a prompt for the center, such as "How do I feel?" students can recognize body language and facial features that correspond to each emotion.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Class discussion provides a means of observing entire class development. Take note of those students who can adequately share relevant examples of happy and sad experiences, as well as those who volunteer information.

  • Anecdotal notes and observation during class discussions, constructing of happy and sad masks, and the Venn diagram activity can all be used to distinguish those students who need additional practice from those who have a concrete understanding of the new vocabulary. Successful completion of these activities should be based on the level of the student, and should illustrate that the student has an appropriate level of understanding.

  • Evaluate students' retention and generalization of the lesson's content during future lessons. For example, if a journal is completed every Friday, students can be asked to journal about their emotions. Evaluate the entries to determine whether students are able to include information about emotions even when not directly requested, express their emotions in a different content, and apply the concepts to their personal experiences.

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