What You Can Do to Bring Emotional Intelligence Lessons into the Classroom

by Andy Minshew


You may be aware of a student’s IQ, but what about their EQ (emotional intelligence quotient)? Emotional intelligence is different from cognitive ability, but it can be just as important.[13] If you can teach your students how to recognize and regulate their emotions, they’ll be better prepared to focus and reach their potential both inside and outside the classroom.
Read on to learn more about emotional intelligence and how it can increase your student’s academic and social-emotional abilities. Then, discover a few strategies and activities you can use to improve your students’ emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

First, a brief definition of emotional intelligence: it is the ability to have awareness of and manage your feelings. Additionally, emotional intelligence involves using your emotions to plan and meet your goals.[5] Like your IQ, everybody’s EQ (emotional intelligence quotient, or the measurement of their emotional intelligence) can range anywhere from low to high—and it’s not necessarily connected to cognitive abilities.

Emotionally intelligent people can function both intrapersonally and interpersonally.[1] Intrapersonal functioning means a person has an accurate perception of their own emotions and can use that to navigate their life.[9] And interpersonal functioning means they can understand other people and communicate well with them.[9] While these skills are connected in many ways, a student may thrive in some areas of emotional intelligence and struggle in others.

According to Yale psychologist and social-emotional expert Peter Salovey, the five main examples of emotional intelligence are:[15]

  • Knowing your own emotions
  • Managing emotions
  • Self-motivation
  • Recognizing emotions in others
  • Handling relationships

When talking about a student’s academic ability, their cognitive intelligence is usually the first thing that comes to mind. But many educators argue that a focus on only cognitive ability is too narrow to measure a student’s ability and undermines the importance of emotional intelligence. Social-emotional development can be just as crucial, and a high IQ isn’t necessarily a guarantee of academic success.[6]

For example, a student can be academically gifted but lack social skills.[6] If they don’t know how to cooperate with others, they will be unable to make use of all the opportunities available to reach their academic potential. To perform their best in school, students need to develop both emotional and cognitive intelligence skills.

How Is a Student’s EQ Linked to Academic Achievement?

On an individual level, strong emotional intelligence is linked to better learning and academic performance.[4] Students are also more likely to make stronger friendships with their peers and communicate well with others.[2,11] And because developing emotional intelligence is linked to stronger stress management skills, students are better able to avoid getting overwhelmed with school or other responsibilities.[2]

On a whole-class level, teaching your students to develop emotional intelligence can significantly improve your classroom environment.[3] Teachers who prioritize teaching emotional intelligence report lower levels of behavioral issues, classroom bullying, and chronic absenteeism.[13] Additionally, for earlier grades, teaching emotional intelligence can help younger students adjust to the classroom in their first year of school.[10]

In a nutshell, the benefits of teaching your students emotional intelligence skills include:

  • High academic performance
  • Strong social skills
  • Better stress management
  • Regular school attendance
  • Fewer behavioral issues

While strong emotional intelligence is linked to social-emotional and academic development, the reverse is also true. Statistics show that students with low emotional intelligence skills have lower overall academic achievement, even if they have strong cognitive skills.[9] One way you can help all students reach their potential in the classroom is by teaching and encouraging emotional intelligence.

How to Increase Your Classroom’s Emotional Quotient

Children learn how to gain emotional intelligence from two main sources: their teachers and their parents.[15] This means that one of the best ways you can promote emotional intelligence in your students is by setting a good example.[3] Be mindful of your own emotions and try to maintain them in the classroom. Research shows that teachers higher in emotional intelligence are able to improve their student’s social-emotional skills and reduce behavioral problems.[12]

Additionally, be open talking about feelings in class to give students space to express their own emotions.[15] If a student is upset or frustrated about something, let them know that these feelings are okay. Teach them skills for managing their negative feelings and recognizing when they feel unhappy. This will help children strengthen their emotional intelligence so that when they’re overwhelmed in class, they know how to calm down.[11]

If students misbehave, try to correct their action with a positive example rather than shaming the student.[9] For example, if a student is using their phone in class, you could say, “Let’s focus on the lesson right now, okay?” instead of, “You shouldn’t have your phone out right now.” This will help students learn which actions are and are not appropriate in the classroom without internalizing their actions or emotions as shameful.

And finally, if you are a school administrator, plan an emotional intelligence training session for your faculty. Explain to teachers what emotional intelligence is, a few ways they can measure emotional intelligence in their students, and activities they can play in class to increase their students’ emotional quotient. Emotional intelligence training and SEL programs are not only linked to a positive classroom environment, but they also improve overall academic performance.[11,13]

5 Activities to Improve Emotional Intelligence Skills

Teaching emotional intelligence provides students with skills that will help them for the rest of their academic career and beyond. Alongside academic subjects like math or science, plan lessons that teach students how to recognize and manage their feelings.

Try these five social-emotional learning activities to help your students develop healthy emotional intelligence skills:

  • Monster Match Game: With this emotional intelligence game, students learn how to recognize different emotions by matching colorful monster pictures.
  • Emotional Intelligence Read-Along: As a class, read one of these picture books that teach emotional intelligence, then discuss what your students learned from the book.
  • Five-Minute Mindfulness Meditation: This age-appropriate meditation teaches elementary students how to clear their minds and focus on the present.
  • Asking for Help Worksheet: For some children, asking for help can be tough. This worksheet is a great way for students to practice asking for help while decoding a riddle.
  • Calm-Down Kit: This activity (#8 on the list) will show you how to stock a kit full of calming items and exercises to help students when they are overwhelmed.

Plus, check these activities to teach students with autism emotion-regulating skills like calming down, communicating with others, and creating goals in class.


  1. Brackett, M.A., Rivers, S.E., and Salovey, P. Emotional Intelligence: Implications for Personal, Social, Academic, and Workplace Success. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, January 2011, 5(1), pp. 88-103.
  2. Cherniss, C. Emotional Intelligence: Toward Clarification of a Concept. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, June 2010, 3(2), pp. 110-126.
  3. Nizielski, S., Hallum, S., Lopes, P.N., and Schütz, A. Attention to Student Needs Mediates the Relationship Between Teacher Emotional Intelligence and Student Misconduct in the Classroom. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 2012, 30(4), pp. 320-329.
  4. Seema, G. Emotional Intelligence in Classroom. Advances In Management, October 2012, 5(10), pp. 16-23.
  5. Salovey, P., and Mayer, J.D. Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from yale.edu: http://ei.yale.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/pub153_SaloveyMayerICP1990_OCR.pdf.
  6. Serrat, O. Understanding and Developing Emotional Intelligence. Knowledge Solutions, pp. 329-339.
  7. Ioannidou, F., and Konstantikaki, V. Empathy and emotional intelligence: What is it really about? International Journal of Caring Sciences, 1(3), pp. 118-123.
  8. Cory, E. Leading with Emotional Intelligence. Retrieved from yoloda.org: https://yoloda.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/EITC-Leading-with-EI-2010.pdf.
  9. Jordan, D., and Métais, J.L. Developing Emotional Intelligence in the Classroom. Teacher Education Quarterly, 11(24), pp. 1-5.
  10. Hamre, B. K., and Pianta, R. C. Can instructional and emotional support in the first‐grade classroom make a difference for children at risk of school failure? 2005, Child Development, 76(5), pp. 949-967.
  11. Wilson, H. K., Pianta, R. C., and Stuhlman, M. Typical classroom experiences in first grade: The role of classroom climate and functional risk in the development of social competencies. The Elementary School Journal, 2007, 108(2), pp. 81-96.
  12. Fredrickson, B. L., and Branigan, C. Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought‐action repertoires. Cognition & Emotion, May 2005, 19(3), 313-332.
  13. Six Seconds Staff. A Case for Emotional Intelligence in Our Schools. Retrieved from 6seconds.org: https://prodimages.6seconds.org/pdf/case_for_EQ_school.pdf.
  14. Curci, A., Lanciano, T., and Soleti, E. Emotions in the classroom: the role of teachers’ emotional intelligence ability in predicting students’ achievement. The American Journal of Psychology, 2014, 127(4), pp. 431-445.
  15. Goleman, D., and Early Childhood Today Staff. Emotional Intelligence in Early Childhood. Retrieved from scholastic.com: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/ect-interview-daniel-goleman-talks-about-emotional-intelligence/.
  16. Rivers, S. Preventing Bullying using Emotional Intelligence Training. Retrieved from yale.edu: http://ei.yale.edu/preventing-bullying-using-emotional-intelligence-training/

More education articles