Lesson Three -
Feelings Are a Wave

All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

– Blaise Pascal


Lesson Intention:

When hard feelings hit, the temptation can be to run away from them, and towards something that will offer a sense of relief. This temporary relief can help us ignore the feelings for a little while, but the feelings will come up again later – oftentimes in a stronger form. Furthermore, so many of the activities that we turn towards when we try to avoid our difficult feelings can be harmful: drinking, drugs, sex, shopping, cutting, eating, etc. All of these escapes may help us feel better for a little while. However, we are then not paying attention to the feelings underneath – the feelings that want to be witnessed. When we resist the urge to avoid our feelings or try to fix or control them, and instead choose to acknowledge our feelings and express them, our feelings can move through us, and sometimes we can even feel a cathartic release on the other side. Additionally, extensive research has shown that when we try to avoid difficult emotions, we also separate ourselves from all of the other emotions too, like joy and love. So, what is the alternative? How do we allow ourselves to feel the difficult feelings and to acknowledge and express our emotions? The way to do this is to learn how to allow ourselves to truly feel the feelings, and to trust that these difficult feelings won’t get stuck within us, but will move through us, like a wave. In this lesson, we explore the way creative expression can support students as they feel their feelings.

Social Emotional Learning Goals:

· Recognize the importance of “feeling your feelings” instead of pushing feelings away or ignoring them.

· Learn one technique students can practice when challenging feelings arise – making visual art.


Materials for Lesson:

In Preparation for Lesson:

Prior to teaching this lesson, watch the guest artist video and create your own photo collage that you will share with your students.

Ensure that every student has access to technology that will allow them to create a digital collage using their own photos.

In the case that students do not have access to digital photos, ask them to bring in hard copies of their own pictures ahead of time.

Suggested app for digital collage: Photocollage.com

Lesson Plan:

Display the ‘welcome slide’ from the Lesson 3 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

  • Connect this lesson with the previous one by explaining that today’s lesson offers another alternative to stuffing and silencing emotions. Like the poem, today’s creative activity will support students in telling a story and expressing the emotions that are connected to that story, but will approach this storytelling with a visual medium.  Use the metaphor of a “wave” to describe what it is like to feel feelings as they come up. The discussion of a wave can remain more metaphorical if your students do not have a lot of real-life experience with waves, or you can have a group discussion of how it actually feels to swim in waves, dive into them or under them, etc.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “In the last lesson, we talked about the way feelings can get ‘stuffed and silenced’ because of our culture’s rules and roles that are communicated to us from the beginning of our lives when we are young children. Today we are going to talk more about an alternative to ‘stuffing and silencing’ feelings – learning to be with those hard feelings as they come up. Has anyone ever swam in an ocean? Or gone in a wave pool at an amusement park? You know there is a certain spot where the waves grow bigger and then they break and come crashing down. There are different ways to figure out how to let the waves move past us — swim with them or dive into them to duck under water and let the waves move over us. And sometimes, the waves unexpectedly just knock us down. Some people may stay at the water’s edge to avoid the waves altogether, but then they are not ever going to experience the wave and its power. This is the best way to describe what it is like to feel a feeling and not run away from it – the emotion is like a big wave. It doesn’t last forever. If we are willing to experience it, it moves through us and perhaps can give us more confidence that we can deal with the next wave when it approaches.”


  • Introduce the way the creative activity in this lesson can offer students a new approach to being with emotions instead of ignoring them. Explain that the guest artist, in the following video, will model today’s creative project.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “In the previous lesson, you crafted a poem to tell a story from your life and honor the feelings that are connected to that experience. Today we are going to explore a new method for learning to be with feelings as they come up; we’re going to make a collage as a creative way to tell an important story from our lives. Let’s watch a short video of an artist describing their collage, and then you will have an opportunity to create your own collage.”

Play Guest Artist Video:

*Slide 3

The guest artist shares a collage they designed in order to tell a story about a difficult time in their life. The artist explains the way the collage speaks to both an important memory and also the emotions the artist experienced during that time. The artist describes the way emotions come up when working on creative projects like this, and the way making art offers an avenue for expressing those emotions.

Introducing the Creative Activity:

  • Share your collage and invite students to make their own collage by using a free photo editing app, for example photocollage.com. Or if you are choosing to have the students create physical collages, go over the materials they have to work with.

    Examples of What You Could Say:

    “Like the artist in the video clip, I made a collage myself to illustrate the story that I wrote about and shared with you the other day in my “I could tell you…” poem. Remember I wrote about __________(refer to the story you told in your poem). Here is my collage. I want to tell you about a few of the pictures I chose for my collage_____________(describe why you chose those images).  Now you have the opportunity to choose a story you want to tell and express it in a collage form as well. You might choose one of the stories you wrote about in the earlier lessons and tell it in this new way – through pictures. Or a new story may be coming to mind. I’m going to review a few ways you can gather pictures (i.e.  iphoto, Instagram, photo library on your phone or computer). Once you’ve chosen your pictures, you can creatively decide how you want to arrange them in a way that helps you to tell your story.”


Creative Activity:

* Slide 4

Students work on their collage independently for approximately 20 minutes. If you have additional time to devote to this creative activity, and students are engaged and need more time, you might consider extending this part of the lesson. Circulate the room and support students with any hiccups they run into with the technology.  You may want to play music as students work.

Lesson Closure:

  • Lead the class in a short reflection about the way making a photo collage brought emotions to the surface. Invite students to share their collage with the class and to reflect on how this process felt to them. As always, you are encouraged to individualize the discussion based on your classroom community.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “Let’s take a look at the art we just created. How did it feel to make this collage? How do you feel when you look at it now? Would anyone want to share your story and your collage with the class?”

Introducing the Expert Video:

  • Explain that there are moments when intense feelings arise, but expressing them through a creative channel is not possible or doesn’t feel like the most authentic response. In these cases, there are many other ways of being ‘with’ feelings rather than trying to push them away in order to feel better quickly. Describe the WAVE acronym as another approach to intense feelings.

    Example of What You Could Say:

    “At the start of today’s lesson, I explained that we were going to try a new approach to experiencing intense feelings. Then, we explored the way making a collage can allow us honor and express those feelings. I know that it is not always possible to drop everything and create a collage or write a poem or honor feelings through a creative channel. Also, you might be like me, and feel that it isn’t always helpful or authentic to process those feelings through art. So, I am going to share another way you can be with your feelings instead of running from them or trying to feel better fast. I have a short video clip of a new guest expert who is going to share a little about the WAVE approach to approaching intense emotions”

Expert Video:

In this video, the guest expert describes the WAVE acronym. When difficult feelings arise, rather than pushing them away, you can follow this three-step method: 

When feelings arise….

Acknowledge what you are feeling.  Notice that you are experiencing an emotion and/or a physical sensation. You might even say to yourself: I am feeling really sad or angry or panicky. Notice where you feel it in your body. For example, it might feel like a buzzing or a tightness in your chest. The label doesn’t have to be accurate but just noticing that you are feeling something intense is an important part of this approach. 

Value the feeling. Instead of pushing it away, welcome the emotion as an important part of your life experience. You might even speak kindly to the feeling by saying, “You are welcome here. You belong here.” 

Encourage yourself. Next, speak kindly to yourself. You might remind yourself that you can survive this intense feeling, and that it will pass over you like a wave. You might encourage yourself by reaching out to a trusted friend for support. You might encourage yourself by taking care of yourself in another way- with a snack or a glass of water. You might encourage yourself by simply placing a hand on your heart and saying, “I can survive this. It will change. I am safe.”

Reflecting on Expert Video:

After the video clip, invite students to share their reaction to the video and to share if they have a personal connection to the video clip. Did it resonate with them? Remind students that there are many ways to approach intense emotions and that making art or using the WAVE method are just two options. The curriculum will explore several additional approaches. The hope is that even if all of the methods do not feel authentic, at least one will resonate.

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. Although meditation was not specifically addressed in this lesson, a respected and widely praised  app called Headspace offers meditation videos that can support students with this lesson’s learning goals. *we would like to ask headspace which video clips they want included.

  2. Krista Neff has developed several exercises that can be used to offer compassion to oneself  in the midst of difficult emotions. Many of these meditations can be accessed on her website Self-compassion.org.