Emotional intelligence: why it matters and how to teach it

Active listening

The skill of active listening is a key part of helping create genuine two-way communication – and it is about far more than just paying attention. It involves genuinely following dialogue and responding to others using your own body language, then being able to demonstrate that you have understood by verbally summarising back key messages that have been received.

In the classroom, this can affect how students take on feedback from teachers. A recent review found that 38% of feedback interventions do more harm than good. This may be in part because people often make common mistakes when receiving feedback – misinterpreting it as being a personal judgement on who they are, for example, and thinking about when the speaker will finish talking so they can reply instead of listening fully to what is being said.

A vocabulary for feelings

Researcher Lisa Barrett states that interpersonal skills can be enhanced by helping students increase their emotion vocabulary. Encouraging students to understand the difference between “sad”, “disappointed” and “upset” acts as springboard to develop appropriate strategies for each. In short, every emotion word you learn is a new tool for future emotional intelligence.

A simple way to introduce this to students is to play the alphabet game: as a class you see how many different emotions you can come up with for each letter of the alphabet. Afterwards, discuss the differences between each, what might prompt the emotions, and how students could individually respond. If looking for inspiration on this, we recommend this poster as a possible starting point.

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