Better Behavior Toolkit: Emotional Literacy

Emotional Literacy or Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and express your feelings as well as identify and express the feelings of others. Just like walking and talking these skills are developmental and must be taught and practiced. This skill is also a prerequisite to emotional regulation, successful interpersonal skills and problem solving, thus one of the most important skills learned during the early years. (Denham, 1986)

This emotional development happens gradually and is usually linked closely to children’s language development. The desire to express thoughts, needs, and feelings with others motivates children to develop and use language.

The development of speech and language includes…

  • Receptive Language, which is the ability to comprehend language and includes listening to, recognizing, and understanding the communication of others, and is developed first.
  • Expressive Language is the ability to express wants, needs and feelings using words, phrases, or sentences. It also includes gestures and facial expressions.

Once children develop enough language for simple communication, they can simultaneously begin to build their emotional vocabulary. Learning feelings words are easy to teach because your facial expressions will go along with the words to aid in the connection in the brain. For example, when you say “happy” your face is smiling, laughing and your voice will sound light. This vocabulary can be taught directly in isolation or incidentally through play and activities.

As children develop vocabulary it is critical to introduce them to general emotion words (happy, sad, mad, etc) and then a variety of shades of meaning for emotions (excited, furious, embarrassed, etc). Labeling children’s emotions allow them to begin to identify their internal state, which is fundamental in them beginning to learn to regulate their emotions. Being aware and verbalizing that they are “angry” is an important step before teaching children to regulate themselves or calm down in place of throwing a tantrum.

It is also important for adults to empathize with the feelings of children. This is how they will eventually learn to empathize with the feelings of others. They can learn to read physical features and body language as well as the tone of voice to determine how someone is feeling. So when a child is sad, the adult can say things like “Your head is down and your mouth is frowning, do you feel sad? What made you feel sad?” This follow up reinforces that usually a feeling is created by a happening or situation, or person.

Older children can learn that they have a choice in how they react to situations to empower them to not let situations or other people determine their state, but that they can choose their feelings and emotional state regardless of what may be happening around them. What a gift THAT is!!! There are probably many adults who would benefit from learning that lesson as well! 🙂

According to Joseph & Strain (2002), for emotional vocabulary to effective adults must first spend the time necessary to build positive relationships with children. This is the foundation necessary to maximize influence to build emotional vocabulary…and ALL learning!

The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning is a great place for parents and teachers to access strategies and materials. Among other useful resources, there is a book list for feelings, emotions and relationships. Click the link under the picture to get the free 6 page PDF list!

In conclusion, the importance of devoting planned attention to teaching emotional literacy cannot be overstated. Children do not come already wired with it. Denham (1986) finds that we may expect fewer challenging behaviors and more developmentally sophisticated and enjoyable peer relations. What a wonderful world this would be if everyone was socially and emotionally regulated! We have the power…one child at a time!!


Denham, S.A. (1986). Social cognition, prosocial behavior and emotions in preschoolers. Child Development 57 (pp 194-201)

Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2002). Building positive relationships with young children. (Click HERE for the article)


How Labels Can Limit Children


At times we are quick to assign a label to the actions and behaviors of children. Whether the label is positive or negative it can have lasting effects on their future. Words like bossy, violent, mean, disruptive, out of control, or attention seeking are thrown around as easily as boy and girl without a thought of how that label could seep into the spirit of a child and create a self-fulfilling prophesy. The tendency then is to focus on the negative labels and begin to look for confirming evidence of it. This can prevent us from seeing any positive qualities in a child (which by the way they ALL have) and limit our expectations of them. I wonder how many CEOs may have been labeled bossy or activists labeled disruptive as children?

Even positive labels like smart, talented, confident or kind could also put children in box that may be difficult to live up to consistently because after all, they ARE children. As they grow and develop their personalities and characteristics may change and they may resent the label even if it is a positive one.

In some cases medical diagnoses are necessary to allow children the support and accommodations they need in order to achieve their best. Be clear, there is a difference between a diagnosis and a label. But in the same way, a diagnosis should not define a child- it’s not “who they are”. A diagnosis only details what is needed for them to achieve. It is the same as being near-sighted, which allows for glasses in order to make up for the medical deficit of blurry vision.

All children deserve the chance to develop into the amazing human being they were created to be. We MUST be careful with our words, labels, expectations, and the overall effect we have on them. Be careful with labels, and only when necessary, label the behavior or deficit…NOT THE CHILD.

Let’s make sure we aren’t killing the spirits of children before they ever get a chance to emerge. We don’t have the right to do that. So to be safe, let’s just not label. When we see a behavior that is counterproductive, let’s teach a skill or behavior to replace the unappealing behavior. That is our job anyway…isn’t it?

SEE the child, don’t stigmatize them!

Food for thought, now you do the dishes! 🙂


The Power of Social Stories!

Social stories are a very effective way to teach and reinforce routines and expected behaviors in the classroom and at home. Children love to read, retell, and listen to stories which makes this an ideal method to teach routines, expectations, and social skills. The story format disarms children since you are not correcting or scolding them, and they can be more receptive to seeing the characters in the stories make mistakes and solve problems. Children can identify with the feelings and behaviors of those characters and are introduced to a new way of responding and reacting in similar situations.

The site below is a great one-stop shop for social stories and explains why, when, and how to use them. The also have TONS of examples of free social stories. Even better, they have an abundance of images you can use to create your own indivualized stories!! Click the link below the picture to check it out!! 



Top 10 Must Have Literacy Books — For The Love of Literacy

I love everything about reading. I love reading, I love teaching reading and I love reading about teaching reading. 🙂 Here are my top 10 books that I believe that every literacy leader should read. I have read most, and I have a couple that are on my summer reading list. 🙂 Teaching with Intention: […]

via Top 10 Must Have Literacy Books — For The Love of Literacy

Sight Words on a Ring II — The ESOL Mentor Teacher

As a follow up to my previous post on sight words on a ring, I have created a PDF of Kindergarten and First Grade Sight Words. If you would like a copy of the PDF, please email me. The yellow cards are for Kindergarten students. The green cards are First Grade students. The combined yellow […]

via Sight Words on a Ring II — The ESOL Mentor Teacher

Student Agency vs. Reading Instruction — Making Good Humans

It is no secret that this year I have been trying to create a classroom culture that respects and supports’ my students’ agency in their journey as learners. One of my biggest challenges this year has been figuring out how traditional approaches to reading instruction can fit within a model designed to help students take back ownership […]

via Student Agency vs. Reading Instruction — Making Good Humans

Reading is Supposed to be Quiet, Right? Wrong! — Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree

In our classroom, I utilize a reading workshop model. A mini-lesson followed by independent reading and guided reading. I’ve always wondered how I could make independent reading more robust. I love the “why” of independent reading but there were always a few students who weren’t totally into it. Given that so much time is spent independent reading […]

via Reading is Supposed to be Quiet, Right? Wrong! — Sweet Tea and a Live Oak Tree

12 Tips for Powerful Guided Reading Teaching!

By Irene Fountas, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Director/Author/Professor The following are some guiding principles from Irene Fountas that may help you get more power in your teaching: Notice the student’s precise reading behaviors. Eliminate ineffective behaviors and help the reader do what proficient readers do. Select a text on which the reader […]

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 2.24.26 PMvia Twelve Tips for Powerful Teaching in Guided Reading Lessons — Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Guided Reading Self-Assessment: Test yourself!!

Imagem-blog-Geopi-CamilaΟ  I use an assessment to determine the levels of my students (Assessing Reading Progress: Setting Goals & Monitoring, The most important focus for guided reading success, )

Ο  I group my students based on their reading levels or needs (How to group students, How do I find out what my students need? The most valuable resource for literacy instruction)

Ο  My groups are made of less than 6 students (Teachers can respond to children’s reading more effectively. Amendum, et al., 2009)

Ο  I know the reading behaviors needed for my students to reach their next level (Guided Reading freebies!  The most valuable resource for literacy instruction)

Ο  I know the text characteristics for all the levels represented in my class (F & P Guided Reading Text Level Descriptions)

Ο  I select books based on appropriate text characteristics for each level (Find information for selecting appropriate texts here)

Ο  My students reread previous books for the first few minutes of the lesson (The Power of Rereading)

Ο   I use running records to assess my students’ growth or frustration once a week, per student (Running Records Resources, Running Records App)

Ο  I move students based on the results of the weekly running records (Assessing Reading Progress)

Ο  My book introduction allows students to access the text, but leaves them work to do (How to Craft Strong Book Intros for Guided Reading)

Ο  I take anecdotal notes while students are reading and note strengths and weaknesses (Observing and Noting Reading Behaviors)

Ο  I engage groups in conversations about the text

  • Literacy develops best through social interaction and dialogue with others (Dowhower, 1999)
  • Teachers should make a shift from asking predetermined questions designed to ensure that the students arrive at the “right” meaning to facilitating conversations that encourage students’ exploratory talk as they arrive at a deeper meaning (Gavelek and Raphael, 1996)


Ο  I have a variety of appropriate independent, shared, or project-based activities for the remainder of the class that keep them engaged while I am working with my groups (What does research say about literacy centers?,  Powerful resource for small group instruction)

Ο   There are no interruptions during my guided reading lessons from the remainder of my class (How do I organize my classroom for small group instruction?, 3 ways to ensure success at small group and center time, Powerful resource for small group instruction)

Ο  I make sure when my groups leave the table they are applying what we practiced during guided reading (Critical component for guided reading success)

How’d you do?


10 Best Practices for Brain Compatible Teaching!

  1.  Learners need to feel safe

  2. Learners need to have structureScreen Shot 2017-05-04 at 3.10.31 PM

  3. Learners need novel activities

  4. Require frequent responses

  5. Allow appropriate wait time

  6. Combine content with music or movement

  7. Provide water every 10 to 45 minutes

  8. Offer fresh or dried fruits

  9. Create a relaxing atmosphere that feels “homey”

  10. Allow students to make choices