Coloring Our Emotions

If you try this activity with your students, we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Discipline: This activity can be applied in any class or subject area.

Age level: All (with some adaptations for younger students)

Materials: paint chips from the hardware store

Time: 15-30 minutes (or longer if you build out some of the activities) 

Recognizing, talking about, and respecting our own and others’ feelings is vital to building mutual respect in the classroom. But our emotions are intangible and very personal things so it can be hard to find the vocabulary to really discuss them. This series of activities offers students the chance to practice mapping their emotions onto something more concrete – color – and then using color to explore what emotion looks like on a spectrum. 


What to do: 


  1. Provide students with a wide array of paint chips that show colors on a spectrum. Have them pick a color that best represents how they are feeling right now. You can spread these paint chips out in an open space in your classroom, tack them to a bulletin board, put them in the middle of a carpet, etc. 
  2. Invite students to stand in a circle and share their name, the color they chose, and a gesture that expresses the emotion they associate with that color. The rest of the group repeats the name, color, and gesture three times. 
  3. Have students walk around the room (or better yet outside!) and look for all the places where they see this color, in its various hues (you may need to talk about what hues are). 
  4. Bring the group back together and have them think about how the emotion they attached to that color also exists in them at many different levels of intensity. Looking at their paint chip, have them write something in each box that describes what is happening when their emotion is at that level of intensity. For example, if the emotion they chose was happy, at its most intense they might write “when it’s my birthday and I get the thing I wanted most.” In the middle, it might be, “when I’m running around at recess with my friends.” And then at its least intense, it might be, “When the temperature of my oatmeal is just right.” Have students partner up and discuss what they wrote. 
  5. Debrief as a class: 
  • What did you notice? 
  • What is it like to think about your emotions in this way? 
  • How might you use something like this with your students? 


Understanding emotions is key to learning how we navigate relationships with each other. Giving students multiple opportunities to think about how they feel, articulate it, and share their thinking with you and their peers builds trust, self-awareness, and community. You could use pieces of this full activity as a warm-up in class, as a writing exercise, as an art project, and more. But at its core, it’s about doing some self-reflection which is really important to healthy social and emotional development. Also, mutual respect is grounded in the belief that all feelings matter, that I see you as you are and welcome you with whatever feelings you bring into the learning environment and an activity like this also validates that.

Standards Addressed by these Activities

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.

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