Fostering emotional literacy in teenage boys is that aim of the programme developed by educational psychologist Tina Rae and SENCo Lisa Pedersen. Here they describe it

We developed a programme called Boys’ World for a group of boys in a pupil referral unit (PRU). Its aim was to ensure that boys had access to experiences that encouraged them to develop the skills of emotional literacy within a solution-focused forum, which rejects the notion of compulsive competition.

The programme was delivered over 12 sessions and, after its trial, we felt that the issues and content covered were pertinent to all boys. After working with further small groups of boys, we have now compiled a 12-session programme suitable for either small groups or whole classes of boys at high school level.

Each Boys’ World session includes an introduction, a brainstorming activity, a quick icebreaker, circle talk, a problem scenario, a range of activity sheets for students to complete, and a final plenary session. The main objectives are to:

  • encourage students to become more aware of the importance of supporting each other and the benefits of forming strong and positive links with other males
  • develop students’ understanding of emotional literacy and the importance of being aware of their feelings and managing them effectively
  • raise students’ self-esteem and confidence
  • develop students’ awareness of what it is to be healthy, and the way in which engaging in risky behaviours can mitigate against both mental and physical wellbeing.

As with all such programmes, it is important to ensure that appropriate support is provided for individual students who require it once the sessions have been completed. It may be helpful to provide some weekly tutorial support for targeted individuals should they request it. It will also be helpful to encourage the boys to continue with problem-solving group work, providing a support network for each other, which can be further supported by adults within the school.
In the longer term, we hope that school staff will become more aware of the need to promote the self-esteem and emotional literacy of boys in particular, and of the need to guard against stereotyping, which can lead to aggressive behaviours and mental ill-health. Maintaining and fostering this kind of emphatic and solution-focused problem solving will hopefully go some way to achieving such a goal.

Twelve sessions to build emotional literacy in teenage boys

The Boys’ World programme for high-school boys aims to develop their confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness. Each session follows a similar structure and includes: a short introduction, a brainstorming activity, a quick activity in pairs, circle talk, a problem scenario to consider as a group, activity sheets and a plenary. Over 12 sessions, the following themes are explored:

1. Identity
Students are asked to focus on what factors influence their identity. Students discuss the influence of music, media and sports and identify different aspects of themselves.

2. Appearance
Is there such a thing as an ideal-looking person? Are people penalised for not conforming to stereotypes? In this session, students are asked to explore their feelings about appearance and the influence their appearance can have on others.

3. Girlfriends
This session explores the different relationships that boys have with girls and how these differ from same-sex relationships.

4. Friendships and peer pressure
The types of peer pressure that boys can feel are explored, as is the impact of gangs. The purpose of the session is to improve a boy’s ability to cope with these peer pressures.

5. Sex
The aim of this session is to develop a positive attitude to their bodies and understand what safe sex means.

6. Problem solving
This session explores the skills students currently have for solving problems and how they can develop these skills. Students are also helped to think about how their body, thoughts and feelings change when a problem arises and how they can identify these changes.

7. Talking about feelings
Do boys talk less about their feelings than girls? This assumption is explored in this session, along with the strategies that the students currently have to discuss their feelings.

8. Drugs awareness
The uses of both legal and illegal drugs are explored, as well as the effects on mind and body.

9. Tolerance
What does being tolerant mean and when are people not tolerant within our society? Students’ responses to others are explored, and there’s discussion of  how we can combat different kinds of intolerance.

10. Crime and punishment
Why do people commit crimes? Does punishment always work? In this session, students are asked to consider how a victim of a crime, the perpetrator and an observer might feel about different types of crime.

11. Future goals
Students are asked to imagine their preferred futures in this session to develop SMART targets.

12. Evaluating progress
This final session evaluates what students have learned about themselves and how they now feel about the topics they have covered during the course.

Worksheets for each of these sessions can be found in Developing Emotional Literacy with Teenage Boys, by Tina Rae and Lisa Pedersen. The toolkit (which includes a CD-Rom) is published by Sage Publications

For practical advice on how to inspire your male pupils at school, for both early years and secondary, take a look at Teach to Inspire Boys.

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