Professional Development

Shedding light on Emotional Development

Jasmin Silver

As part of our recent Life Competencies teacher validation survey, we have been asking teachers about how confident they feel teaching different life competencies. Results so far suggest that Emotional Development is the area teachers feel least confident about. This blog aims to shed some light on this foundational life competency.

What do we mean by Emotional Development?

In a nutshell, Emotional Development refers to the abilities we can develop to manage our emotions, understand others’ emotions and build meaningful relationships with other people. Take a look at the Cambridge Life Competencies Emotional Development booklet for more detail.

Why focus on Emotional Development in teaching?

We know that emotions play a big part in learning. If we are experiencing positive emotions, we are more open to learning whereas if we are experiencing negative emotions (e.g. fear, anger, sadness, etc.) we are less likely to learn as well.

Why might this be?

Let’s take a look at an example with the emotion of fear: Many of us have experienced being in a class where the teacher goes round asking each learner in turn to answer a question. For many of us, until it is our turn, we focus almost completely on checking that we have a good answer so that we’re not embarrassed by saying the wrong thing. That is to say, we fear saying something wrong, and so all our attention is spent on avoiding this. But that means that we can’t focus on what any of the other learners are saying and we miss an opportunity to learn from our peers. Indeed, we might as well have stuck our fingers in our ears until it was our turn.

So how can teachers help reduce negative emotions and increase positive emotions amongst their learners? In the example above, the common practice of asking learners to share their answers with a partner before sharing with the class can be very effective. By first sharing answers with somebody else, they can check their answers in a less pressured environment than in front of the whole class and so will be less anxious about sharing their answers when called upon by the teacher later on.

But we can go a step further by helping students manage their own emotions.

‘Three good things’: a practical idea on how to integrate Emotional Development into your classroom

One way you can help learners manage their emotions is by regularly incorporating the ‘Three good things’ activity into your classes. This is an evidence-based technique from the field of positive psychology to promote positive emotions both in the short-term (immediately after doing it) and in the long-term (if done regularly). It’s an activity that can be done quite quickly, for example as a starter to a lesson or as a short piece of homework. Here’s how it works: Learners write down three good things that have happened to them that day. They should also write down why those things happened and why they feel good about it. It’s important to stress that the things learners choose can be big or small. For lower level learners, this could even be done partially or fully in their L1 rather than in English. Here’s an example:

Good thing Why it happened Why I feel good about it
1.     I didn’t miss the bus today even though I was running late. The bus driver saw me running and waited for me. The bus driver was so nice.
2.     I passed my English test. I studied a lot for the test. I’m proud of myself. I feel like I’ve achieved something.
3.     Ella helped me finish my homework. Ella is a good friend. I feel like I have good friends who will help me when I need them to.


If you would like to find out more about Emotional Development and how to integrate it into your classroom, please take a look at our Cambridge Life Competencies Emotional Development booklet.

Want to have your say on teaching Life Competencies? Our teacher survey is open until 16th February! Take the survey here.

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