Emotional Intelligence Activities for High School Students

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Emotions are difficult to understand in oneself and in others. The activities offered here will help your high school students improve their emotional intelligence by allowing them to explore emotions in themselves and others.

High School Students and Emotional Intelligence

High school can be a very emotionally challenging time for teenagers. It isn't just the environment changing; teens are going through major biological and hormonal changes during these years that take time to get used to. It doesn't come as a surprise that learning to understand and deal with the emotions that are stirred during this time can be difficult.

The activities offered here are designed to help high school students explore their own emotional intelligence and understand more about how they relate to others. Please use caution and discretion as you participate in these activities; be aware of students who may be vulnerable.

Emotion Words Spectrum

This activity will illustrate to students that words have meaning as they compare words to each other.


  • Notecards/Index cards
  • Whiteboard


  • Write a general emotion on the board, like Happy.
  • Instruct your students to call out suggestions for words that mean happy in any extreme, such as:
    • Ecstatic
    • Amused
    • Content
    • Excited
  • Write these words on the board as your students suggest them.
  • Now, divide your class into groups of 5-6.
  • Hand out the notecards.
    • Alternatively, have your students tear a single piece of paper into 6 rectangles by folding it in half and then thirds and tearing along the folds.
  • Instruct each group to write down all the words on their cards.
  • Now, each group will work collaboratively to organize the words into a spectrum of extremity.
  • When everyone is finished, ask a group to go to the board and number the words in order from most extremely happy to least.
  • Ask for the other groups to confirm or dissent the first's decisions.
  • Allow all the groups to identify their own rankings and then conduct a class discussion on why the rankings were different.
  • Repeat these steps for the emotions sad and angry. Include other emotions if you choose.
  • Finally discuss:
    • Do people sometimes use strong words when their emotional reaction does not match the strength of the word?
    • Why?


  • Encourage your students to brainstorm ways of responding when someone is using triggering words but may not truly be as emotionally impacted as the words imply.

What Does Your Body Say?

Words are only part of our ability to convey and understand emotions. This activity focuses your students on body language.


  • Scenario cards giving instructions for a small group of students. Here are a couple of examples:
    • In the hallway at school. A student has dropped all of their books. Other students look on. Some help others don't.
    • In a private family living room. A teenager has been caught coming home after curfew. He/she has had a great night, but is now in trouble. The parents have been worried because the news reported an accident involving a teen matching their child's description.

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