By Gabriela Garibotto and Noelia Garfinkiel , Educa.ideas Educational Consultant

21 November 2022 - 17:30

Two children reading

British Council

Gabriela Garibotto and Noelia Garfinkiel have taught English as a Foreign Language for 20 years. They are the founders of Educa.ideas Educational Consultant. Here they explain how teachers can use books to develop students’ emotional intelligence and make some recommendations for digital platforms you might like to use in the classroom.

Most people are familiar with the term ‘emotional intelligence’, often know as EI. It’s the ability to reflect on and manage one’s own emotions, while being able to relate to the emotions of others and use this ability to build better relationships. Its value in the workplace and in personal relationships has become generally understood. 

We often think that some of our co-workers, friends and family are blessed with natural emotional intelligence. Of course it is something that each of us can learn to develop.

As English language teachers we've found that language learning can help to develop the EI of our students. Better still, focusing on the emotions in literature can increase the engagement of our students with the business of language learning! Students at all stages of education can benefit from this approach.

We have developed several classroom tactics, that can get students thinking about the emotions and relationships found in books.

We use four pillars to do this:

1. Allow the students to explore their emotions through a story.

2. We break down the story’s emotional content with a variety of activities.

3. We use interactive and dynamic activities.

4. We encourage students to lead the way, choosing the books they read and how they interact with each story.

We work with several different digital platforms, which young people love to use. Book Creator is one of our favourites. You can create up to 40 books free of charge.

It allows us to scan a book and record ourselves reading it, so students can listen anytime. We also use the platform to create interactive pieces of content, which help children engage with the emotional content of books.

We like to work with ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’ by Giles Andreae. It's a colourful picture book that encourages children to accept diversity, in themselves and others, while encouraging self-esteem.

We created a game using Book Creator, where we added pictures from the book, and asked students to put the pictures in the correct order. Then they had to write captions to tell the story, while making sure their focus was on the emotional content of each picture. 

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In another popular activity, we ask children to work in pairs, each acting a main character from the book. One of the characters will talk about their emotions and the other character devises questions and advice for their fellow character.

We asked the students to talk about how they related to the feelings of the book’s character. We encouraged them to share a time when they felt they did not fit in, and to describe how they dealt with the situation and who helped them deal with their emotions.

To help the students develop their empathetic skills, we ask them to think about how they would help a friend in the book character’s situation. Students can deal with the task in several ways, including creating an infographic or making a comic.

Video can be a great way to generate a discussion about a book. We added the TEDx video ‘We are all different and that’s awesome’ to Book Creator and asked our students how the video content related to the book.

Another app you may know from the workplace is Padlet, often used to create online greetings cards for colleagues. We have used Padlet by uploading images from a book and adding questions about the character’s feelings at that point in the story. Our students can add their thoughts to the images. This is a fun way to get them thinking about the emotions in the book, and to explore how the characters could successfully deal with the issues and feelings they face.

We also like using Flipgrid, which is an online video discussion platform, where teachers can start discussion and learners reply with short videos. This can be done in class or as homework. 

We have talked a lot about using digital platforms to bring alive the emotions in books and to encourage students to think about this important side of literature. Apps and online work are great ways to interest your class, but paper books are still important. So too is the physical activity of writing with pen and paper, or drawing and painting, these are all invaluable activities when helping students express how they feel. Drama too has its place in the classroom. Helping children act out scenes from books can successfully explore the emotions of a book’s characters.

Our students have enjoyed creating ‘sketch notes’ - creating visual notes using a mix of handwriting, drawings, and details such as shapes, arrows and boxes. Think of the illustrated meeting notes you might have seen used in your workplace. This is a great way to encourage students to be creative, while exploring emotions.

Teachers often ask us how to choose the best books for their classes. We always tell them to be confident and trust their own judgement, as they understand their class and the sort of issues that their students are facing in school and in their personal lives. Teachers will also know what is age appropriate for their students and the cultural context of their school. 

Asking children what they would like to read is also useful. Ask them what authors they like and if they have any book recommendations. Talking about their interests is also a good way to find inspiration for book choices. Giving your class a choice of books and letting the class choose the book to use for your EI activities can be a great way to get them engaged. 

We hope you agree books are the ideal way to develop emotional intelligence in the classroom, while building the foundations of vocabulary and grammar. And we hope you are ready to explore some of the digital assets that are available to help you engage today’s digital students. 

The authors spoke at the British Council's World Teachers' Day online event for 2022. A global event, designed to reach every teacher in every part of the world. It took place on Saturday 1 October, starting in Vietnam at 03.00am UK time and ending in Mexico at 22.00pm UK time, offering an amazing 19 hours of online professional development. You can see all the webinars on TeachingEnglish.

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