Lesson Six - More Good News: Emotions Can Also Help Us Make Changes in Our Lives

It is only with the heart that one can see...what is essential is invisible to the eye.

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

CREATIVE ACTIVITY - Artist’s Statement

Lesson Intention:

We have discussed that sometimes emotions are asking us to witness and express them, and sometimes emotions are asking us to take action or make a change in our lives. In the previous lesson, we saw the way emotion often shows up when we need to take action or make a change in the world. This lesson is an extension of that idea, but it shifts the focus from a global level to a personal level. In this lesson, we focus on identifying emotion and linking it to something in students’ lives that needs attention and might require them to make a change. Of course, at this age, young people won’t be able to change every aspect of their lives. Students might not be able to move out of an unsafe home or solve a larger problem that is outside of their control. However, this lesson offers the important message that their emotions can help them to see areas of their lives that they would like to change – and in some cases may in fact have some control over changing. For example, anxiety might be tied to taking too many challenging courses at once, and a change in the class schedule might be beneficial. If a young person is engaging in self-harming behaviors such as cutting, an eating disorder, or an addiction to a harmful substance, then taking action and asking for support is a crucial aspect of moving forward on a healthy path.

Social Emotional Learning Goals:

· Recognize that sometimes emotions are messengers which can raise awareness that it may be time to make a change.

· Connect emotions with underlying issues in students’ lives that are calling for attention.


Materials for Lesson:

In Preparation for Lesson:

Prior to teaching this lesson, watch the guest artist video and draw or paint your own art and write your own artist’s statement example.

Gather paper, colored pencils, crayons, or markers for the warm-up activity. If your school does not have access to these materials Kleki.com offers fast access to a digital drawing tool.

Lesson Plan:

Display the ‘welcome slide’ from the Lesson 6 PowerPoint as you begin.

*Slide 1

As discussed in the teacher training, remember to make the suggested language below authentic to yourself and meaningful for your students.


Launching the Lesson:

* Slide 2

  • Begin class with an activity that supports students in taking a quick emotional check-in. Invite the class to ponder how honestly we, as a culture, answer one of the most commonly asked questions in our daily interactions: “How are you?” Share an example of your drawing with the students. Explain that students will answer this question in the form of a drawing.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    How are you today? (pause and see if students actually answer, and how they answer).  Isn’t it interesting that we ask automatically, many times throughout the day, “How are you?” but we don’t actually expect people to answer us, let alone tell the truth. Instead, it is just a friendly automatic greeting that we ask out of habit.. And when we are asked that question, we assume people don’t really want to hear the honest answer. We respond out of habit as well, saying “fine”, or “good” or “okay” without thinking. Sometimes, this makes sense because it doesn’t feel like a safe context or relationship for vulnerability. But, sometimes, it is the result of the cultural message that everyone needs to feel “fine” all the time. This is a missed opportunity to really connect with each other and be honest with ourselves.”

Introducing the Warm-up Activity:

  • Have your students put this concept into practice by actually answering the question of “How are you?” and considering how rare a true, authentic answer is considered in their daily lives.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “Let’s try an experiment now together. Let’s actually answer this question “How are you?” Pause for a second and, in your own mind, think about how you would answer this question honestly. (pause) Okay, does everyone have their answer? Now, I want you to try a new way of expressing that feeling. I want you to draw or doodle your answer. Your drawing can be abstract if you would like. You can also use color and shape in your doodle to show the way you feel. I made a drawing of my own to represent the way I was feeling this morning and I would love to share it with you now. (Shares your drawing with the students). Today I am  feeling_______ and so I chose to draw__________ (Describe the way the colors and shapes and design of the drawing represent your feelings.) Okay, now you will get the chance to make a drawing to answer the question: How are you?”


Warm-up Activity:

Students spend five minutes drawing a picture to answer the question of  “How are you?” and express how they are actually feeling today.

Introducing the Guest Artist Video:

  • Connect this lesson with the previous one by reminding students that the protest art offered a new way of thinking about emotion – as a messenger that points to a problem in the world that needs to change. The protest art was a way of speaking out about that issue or problem. Today’s lesson shifts the focus from what we can change in the world to what we can change in our personal lives.  Explain that the guest artist video will explore this new way of looking at emotion, as a signal to change something in our own lives.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “Thanks for trying that new way of honestly representing emotion through a drawing. Hopefully, you were able to express some of what you were feeling through your visual art. Remember in our previous lesson, we talked about this idea with our protest art as it relates to the emotions we feel about something in the world that we want to change. Today we are shifting the focus to our own lives. I want to make sure it is clear that sometimes emotions arise and it is important that we express them, and find a witness who can listen to us as we share them, but they don’t require us to take any action. We are meant to feel them and simply honor that they are there. That is a really important idea. But, as we discussed in the previous lesson, sometimes emotions offer us information about something we do need to change. Today’s lesson is focused on the idea that emotions arise in order to help us see areas where we can make changes in our own personal lives. We are going to watch a video from a guest artist who feels that her paintings and drawings are often a reflection of her emotions, and those emotions often provide a signal that something needs to change in her life.”

Play Guest Artist Video:

*Slide 3

Guest artist describes a recent show at a gallery that had a central theme. All of the artwork pointed to one main idea. When she was writing her artist’s statement to correspond to her paintings, she realized that her artwork was helping her see an area in her life where she needed to make a change, and encouraging her to ask for the support she needs in order to make that happen.  The guest artist explains that art can offer insight into these unacknowledged issues in our lives. Reflecting on our artwork by writing the artist’s statement is a way of noticing the message that is expressed within the art.

Introducing the Creative Activity:

  • Like the guest artists, students will create an artist’s statement that corresponds to the drawing that they created at the start of the class. In their statement, students reflect on the way their drawing might point to an emotion they are feeling and that this emotion might be the showing up because something in their life is not working and requires attention. If their drawing from the warm-up activity at the start of class does not speak to an aspect of their life that is calling them to make a change, invite students to create a new drawing that does represent an emotion that calls for reflection and change. Then, invite students to write an artist’s statement about that drawing.

    Examples of What You Could Say:

    “We’re going to use the guest artist’s story as inspiration for today’s creative activity. The guest artist explained the way she doesn’t always notice an issue or problem in her daily life until she looks at the themes that emerge in her paintings and drawings. As she notices these emerging patterns in her artwork, she is able to observe areas of her life that are calling for greater attention. Maybe this is true for you too? I wonder, when you look at the drawing you made at the start of class, are you able to see an area of your life that might require additional attention? Remember, the focus of our lesson is the idea that sometimes emotions are calling on us to make a personal change. Does your drawing help you notice an aspect of your life that you might need to take action to address? Remember the artist in the video used the artist’s statement as a way to think through the message of her drawing. We are going to write an artist’s statement in order to explore our drawings and uncover what they might be telling us about an aspect of our life where we need to make a change. If you are having trouble with this concept looking at your original drawing from our warm-up activity, you can also draw a new picture if you’d like. Here is the drawing I made and my accompanying artist’s statement.”


Creative Activity:

* Slide 4

Students write an artist’s statement to describe the drawing they created at the start of class in response to the question, “How are you?” In their artist’s statement, students describe their artwork. How does the artwork express an emotion? Does it use color or design to speak to specific feelings? Is the drawing connected to a specific experience, memory, or challenge?  Students explore the way their artwork contains an important message for them about their life, something they want or need to change. Finally, they begin to reflect on the steps they can take to address this concern. Do they need to reach out to a trusted mentor for support? Do they need to make a change in their school or after school schedule in order to alleviate anxiety? What steps can they take to begin making changes in order to feel better about their life? Give students 10-15 minutes to work on this.

Lesson Closure:

  • Invite students to share their drawing and artist’s statement with the class. They can read their artist’s statement aloud or just give a general sense of what they learned about themselves as they composed the statement. This might be a creative activity that is a little more vulnerable for students because it could potentially point to difficult issues in their life, so, as always, students can decide if and how much they would like to share. 

  • Because of the possibly sensitive nature of this lesson, it is important that the resource page is accessible to students. Also, this may be a lesson where students are reminded that they can always come chat with you privately after class if they would like.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “Thank you for taking the time to reflect on your artwork for this activity. I know it can be difficult to look at the parts of our lives where we might need to take action. I want to mention that if, as you were writing your artist’s statement, you realized you need extra support but you don’t know where to get it, I am always available if you’d like to chat with me individually. Also, on the curriculum website there is a resource page that is accessible to you to access. My hope is that at this point in the curriculum we all feel comfortable sharing some of what’s on our mind with each other. But, of course, you always get to choose! Would anyone like to share their artist statement or did anyone have a moment where they discovered something new about themselves?”

Supplemental Information:

If you or your students would like to learn more about the ideas in this lesson, additional resources and third party links are included below.

  1. Marshall Rosenberg developed a framework called Nonviolent Communication in order to support people as they identify the way emotions are connected with unmet needs. The framework involves four stages: identifying emotion, communicating those feelings to others, identifying the way those emotions are tied to unmet needs and making a request to get support with meeting those needs. There are many online sources that describe how to support youth with practicing these steps, and his introduction of the method is also an incredibly useful text for teachers hoping to teach these methods to their students. One book by Marshall Rosenberg that teachers might want to explore is Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Compassion.

  2. Frank Warren created  an art project where he invited anyone to write a secret on a postcard and mail it to him. His instructions to participants were to write a regret, fear, betrayal, desire, or confession. They could reveal anything as long as it was true and they hadn’t shared it with anyone before. He shares many of these postcards on his website and in the book called PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives. Though many of these postcards may not be appropriate for school, they could  help normalize the unique challenges that young people are experiencing.