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Teaching Emotional Skills and Self-Awareness In Schools

Tools for teaching awareness and empathy

The innovation provides exercises for developing emotional skills and self awareness and demonstrates how these skills can be integrated into the school day and teaching.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






March 2017
Everyone can learn to be present in the moment. The idea is simple. Our mind creates challenges because we are not used to being still – therefore we need continuous training.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

The modern world is fast paced and full of stimuli that are a source for stress for adults and children alike. It is necessary to practice skills for living in the middle of it all, to be able to distinguish the essential as well as get along with yourself and others.

For this reason, schools should look for ways to invest in a stress-free learning environment, teach emotional and social skills, how to build self-confidence and take care of the general well-being of yourself and others.

This is all related to the practice of mindfulness, in other words, practicing emotional skills and self-awareness.

Emotional skills and self-awareness mean being aware of your own and others’ feelings, an ability to identify and name them, and having control over responsive and behavioral patterns. Good emotional skills and self-awareness help us in social interactions and have more empathy towards ourselves and others.

Good emotional skills and self-awareness help the student to focus their attention on a specific subject, focus on what is important, and calm the body and mind in different situations at school. The student also improves in identifying their harmful or misleading thoughts and learns to consider actions and behavior instead of responding impulsively. All this increases collaboration skills and promotes learning.

At Kilonpuisto School, the aim has been to invest in students' emotional skills and self-awareness by building a suitable learning module for each teacher. It includes individual exercises and guidelines for long-term implementation. In addition, the exercises include learning about strengths.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Developing emotional skills and self-awareness from an early age as part of daily school life is a new and interesting approach.


Students’ self-knowledge and self awareness increases and managing everyday life becomes easier.


You can use familiar stories related to students’ social settings and close environments in the exercises. The most important resource required is time for doing them.


Implementation steps

Assessing prior knowledge
Use a questionnaire to assess the students’ prior knowledge and thoughts on emotional skills and self-awareness. The questionnaire aims to assess students’ awareness of their actions and their ability to name emotions, feelings and strengths, among other things.

Create a survey for the students. Ask them about their preconceptions on emotional skills, self-awareness skills and strengths. You can add some information or descriptions of everyday situations regarding the topics to help in student self-assessment. The student will be evaluating how they act and react in these everyday situations.

For example: I offer assistance if I notice someone needing it. The student will evaluate themselves on a scale from 1-5.

The students repeat the questionnaire after finishing the module. You don’t have to wait until the very end of the module – you can also use the questionnaire for assessing levels of understanding and knowledge at different stages.

Mindfulness exercises
Do mindfulness exercises with your students 2–3 times a week for about two weeks. For example, you can use the following: body scan meditations (13 minutes) or breathing exercises (3 minutes).Body scan meditation, 13minutes

The aim of the exercise is not just to relax the body, but relaxation is a pleasing by-product. The main purpose, like with mindfulness exercises in general, is to focus on the present moment, in a curious and kind way. If your body feels tense or you have aches, just practise letting go of these sensations after acknowledging them.

The exercise can be done either lying or sitting down. Having some exercise mats or pillows and blankets in the classroom is a good idea. You can teach the exercise to the students and advise them to do it before going to bed if they are having difficulties falling asleep. This exercise is referred to as beditation in some contexts.

If someone falls asleep in class while doing the exercise, there is no need to worry. For some students, falling asleep may be embarrassing. On the other hand, especially high school students might try to get a reaction out of the teacher by bragging about falling asleep. Again, there is no need to pay much attention to this.

A recording of the exercise available here.

Three minute breathing exercise

The exercise is adaptable and can be done with the younger students, as well.

The breathing exercise consists of three parts:

  • observing

  • focusing

  • widening attention

The exercise can be done, for example, between lessons one or more times a day. The main thing is that the exercise is done regularly and with purpose.

You will need a quiet place for the exercise. Because it is impossible to find a completely silent place, consider distractions as challenging and reinforcing factors for the exercise.

Let your mind wander – that’s what meditation is about. There are days when it’s harder to focus and stopping for a moment feels uncomfortable. There is no need to feel discouraged since progress happens in small steps.

A recording of the exercise available here.

Keep an emotion journal that everyone can independently fill in, based on their observations. You can download the template here:

Talk about emotions and feelings
Have a talk with your students about emotions, feelings, strengths and bodily sensations: what kinds are there?

Write them down and put the words up in the classroom for everyone to see.

Put your feelings into words
Build vocabulary relating to strengths, emotions, feelings and bodily sensations and make them a part of daily life. You can use vocabulary based on the talk you had with your students to explore everyday situations.

Example 1: Use vocabulary on strengths, emotions, feelings and bodily sensations in a conflict situation.

Example 2: Emotions and feelings can addressed in everyday situations in the classroom. If teaching material, for example an image or text, handles feelings in some way, you can go through the material together with the students:

1. How is the character feeling?
2.In what part of the body?
3.How does it feel in the body?

Mindfulness session
This exercise is based on the previous steps. The aim is to increase students' awareness of their own body, bodily sensations, feelings, emotions and thoughts. In addition, the aim is to find constructive behavioral patterns in difficult situations.

Reserve at least one whole lesson for the first session. The more you repeat the exercise, the more of the previously mentioned skills the students will learn. Later the exercise can be done as a shorter version or you can focus on just a specific part of the mind and body.

The steps for the mindfulness session

1. Choose a discussion topic.

The topic can be anything discomforting or difficult for the students. You can also choose a topic from a story or tale.

The Ugly Duckling can be a good story to start with. Read the story up to a point where the main character has a hard decision to make.

2. Write down the titles

Write down bodily sensations, feelings, thoughts and actions so that everyone sees them. Do not draw the arrows yet.


Clockwise: Bodily sensations, Feelings, Thoughts, Action

3. Feelings

Ask your students what kind of feelings they think the character is experiencing at the present moment. Also ask your students to give reasons why they think so.

4. Bodily sensations

Ask what kinds of bodily sensations are related to the feelings and emotions the character could be experiencing and write them down:

- Where do you feel fear in the body?
-How would you describe the sensation?
-Is it neutral, comfortable or uncomfortable?
-How strong is the sensation on a scale of one to ten?

Customize the questions to suit students’ development stage.


Go through each emotion and feeling and ask what it makes us think. For example, fear can make you think “It’s not even worth trying” or “I can’t”. Write down the answers next to thoughts.

6. Action

Ask your students how they think the character would react to these thoughts. Write down the answers next to action.

7. Conclusions

Explain that when something happens, we react to our bodily sensations, feelings and thoughts and we act upon them. It is not easy to say what happens first. In a real-life situation it is hard to act rationally precisely because sensations, thoughts, feelings and actions fuel one another.

Draw the arrows at this stage to illustrate a cycle that can be hard to break.

ugly duckling.png


Return to the part of the story where you left off before the exercise. Now recall that the character is feeling a certain way and is experiencing certain bodily sensations and feelings.

Together, think about what kind of strengths could help the character in the situation and how. Write them down next to the cycle.

9. Go through the strengths.

10.Finish the story.

You can include the students as you go along. At first, you can have your students think about feelings, thoughts and body sensations in small groups or with a partner.

Examples of mindfulness sessions
Repeat the same questionnaire as in step 1.

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