This issue we continue to look at practical activities that can be used to help young people explore the idea of ’emotional resourcefulness’, focusing on helping students to become increasingly sensitive to other people’s feelings and perceptionsdoc-6987483


This week’s e-bulletin continues our focus on developing ‘self-managers’ – one of the six areas of the QCDA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills framework.

Last time we looked at strategies to help young learners become more aware of the blocks and limiting beliefs that get in the way of their potential, and how these are often reflected and reinforced by the language they use.

The activities shared this week focus on developing the ability to respond more capably to other people’s emotions and behaviour.

We all carry our own realities around with us and see the world through our own filters. One crucial aspect of emotional resourcefulness, however, is empathy – the ability to understand and appreciate how other people see the world, and therefore to modify our own responses to other people’s perceptions and behaviours.

Attitude Seat
This is a useful technique when you want someone to appreciate another’s point of view. Sitting in the Attitude Seat means that you must argue or articulate that point of view in the first person, as though you held it yourself. Young people often find it hard to express a viewpoint that they don’t hold themselves, so explain that having a clear understanding of another person’s argument, ideas or opinions can also help you to become clearer about – and sometimes to modify or refine – your own position.

For a similar activity, enjoyed by younger learners, you will need to collect together a range of old pairs of spectacles. Remove the lenses and attach a tag to each pair. What you write on the tag will depend upon your purpose and the maturity of your class, but possibilities include:

  • the name of an emotion
  • a category of person – old, young, shy, confident, overweight, a newcomer, optimistic, pessimistic, etc.
  • the names of children in your class

As appropriate, have the children don a pair of spectacles and describe what the world feels like looking through different ‘eyes’. When they have done this, invite them also to explore how they would want other people to behave towards them. In this way, children can be encouraged to share ideas regarding the support they, or others, might need in different circumstances.

Devil’s Advocate
A development of the ‘single perspective’ activities, above, is to have two seats facing each other. Two students take these seats and, in turn, express what they think and how they feel about a given situation or issue. At an appropriate moment, have the two students change seats – and therefore viewpoints – continuing the conversation, but now expressing the other’s point of view. This activity works well where you would like your students to explore a contentious issue. Two volunteers at a time could participate, with the rest of the class observing, or you could organise the class into pairs with all students engaged simultaneously. (To create suitable pairings – that is, pairings of students with markedly different viewpoints – you may find it useful to run an Opinion Line activity first in order to reveal the range of opinion across the class – for Opinion Line instructions, see below.)

Following the activity, debrief the class by asking them how they found the Devil’s Advocate experience. For example:

  • Did they find it hard or easy to ‘swap viewpoints’?
  • Why do they feel this was so? Why might some people find it harder than others?
  • Can they think of moments in everyday life when this ability would be useful?

Using three positions is a further, powerful configuration. The Triads activity allows people to appreciate ideas and viewpoints from three different perspectives in turn:

Position 1 involves expressing your own standpoint: seeing, hearing, and feeling things through your own eyes, ears and emotions. What you say will be based on your own principles and priorities.

Position 2, as in Devil’s Advocate, involves stepping into the other person’s shoes and arguing as if you were that other person and held their beliefs. You speak in the first person with as much conviction as possible, modelling the other person’s behaviour as closely as possible.

Position 3 is neutral ground. When you take this position you step back from the argument, detach yourself, become the observer, uninvolved but attentive. By deliberately dissociating from the discussion, debate or dispute you gain an overview of ideas and opinions. This allows you to offer useful feedback and can also provide useful insights into your own thinking with regard to the issue being explored.

Opinion Line
The Opinion Line activity is an effective tool for stimulating the expression, challenge, review and refinement of opinions. It will give students the opportunity to:

  • show how they stand on an issue
  • see the spread of opinion in the class
  • think critically about their own and others’ views
  • demonstrate changes in opinion through physical movement along the Opinion Line.
  1. Formulate a statement that expresses a point of view relating to your current topic. It should be bold and contentious so that it’s likely to stir the feelings of everyone in the class. An example might be: ‘People who damage their own health should pay the cost of their own treatment.’
  2. Clear a space at the side, or across the centre, of your classroom that will serve as a line where students can stand shoulder to shoulder. You can lay a rope on the floor or fix paper tape to the wall.
  3. Mark one end with a sign saying ‘Agree Strongly’ and the other end with ‘Disagree Strongly’.
  4. Explain that you are going to show them an opinion about an issue and that you are interested in their opinions on the matter. When they have had time to think about the statement, ask them to stand on the Opinion Line at a point that shows how much they agree or disagree.
  5. Encourage students to share their views with others close to them on the line. They should change places if appropriate.
  6. Deeper, paired discussion can be stimulated if you split the line at the mid-point and ‘slide’ one half over the other so that a students with more extreme and more moderate views will exchange ideas. This is also a useful way of creating the pairings/groupings required for the Devil’s Advocate and Triads activities, above.

You might wish to encourage the paired discussion (see instruction 6) to aim for consensus. This may involve students rewriting the original statement so that they can both agree. For example, ‘People who damage their own health should be made to pay the cost of their treatment… if they can afford it.’

The activities above are not only suited to PSHEE sessions or for helping individuals to explore and resolve ‘real life’ disagreements. They also work extremely well when exploring different arguments/viewpoints in citizenship, RE or geography, and for exploring ethical issues in science. They also provide a structure for actively engaging students with the competing views of historical or fictional characters.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2010

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.

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