Game: Emotion Uno

Emotion UNO* is a fun and easy therapeutic activity to foster self-expression around feelings.

Therapeutic goal: Self-expression
Objective: To provide an opportunity for self-expression by discussing emotions and thoughts.

Age group: School age/Adolescent

Materials needed: UNO deck of cards


Tell the child that you all are going to play UNO, but add in a few new rules. If time allows, it may be appropriate to play a normal game of UNO before adding in the new rules to provide the child with a refresher on how to play the game.

Explain the new UNO rules to the child:

  • Each time someone changes the color of the deck, they must talk about the emotion related to the new color. For example,
    • Yellow=happy
    • Blue=sad
    • Red= angry
    • Green=jealous or envious
  • Can use prompts such as: “Talk about a time when you felt ____ while [in school/at home/with friends].”


New rules (or prompts) can be adapted for each child depending on their developmental level as well as goals for therapy

You can also come up with different prompts for the extra cards in the deck, e.g.:

Wild card: talk about a fun memory

Reverse card: talk about a change you have liked or disliked; talk about an opposite feeling

*Adapted from



Exploring Emotions in the Body

Somatic Activities for Kids: Using Performing Arts to Explore Emotions in the Body

By Andrew Jordan Nance
July 10, 2019

On my first day of preschool I was apparently not having it. My mother had to drag me to our station wagon as I stubbornly asserted that I was not going to school! My beleaguered mom did the best she knew how, convincing me that I was going to have a good time and telling me to be a big boy. As my tears dried, she eventually coaxed me to get in the car and go to Calvary Nursery School.

These days, as a Mindfulness Instructor, I am using different techniques than my mom.

Somatics and Emotions

Whether we notice it or not, our emotions cause sensations in our bodies. Difficult emotions can make us feel uncomfortable: our bellies tighten, our heart races, we might feel hot. The body dislikes discomfort, sees it as a threat, and wants to expel or run from it. When we have a cold, we sneeze or our nose runs. When we have a tickle in our throat, we cough. When we are full or nauseous, we remove it in some manner. The body engages with emotions in much the same way. When we are nervous, we might shake or laugh. When we are angry we might punch, yell, or run to release the discomfort it creates. When we are sad, we expel tears and sounds.

One definition of somatics is “the body as perceived from within.” Looking inward allows us to start noticing and labeling our internal experience. Then we can realize that we have been hooked by, and identified by, both our internal and external experiences. We actually become anger or sadness and are at the mercy of that emotion. A kind of desperation takes over. Our minds and bodies think of ways to shake off the difficult emotion.

In these emotional moments, if we can name how we are feeling and notice the corresponding sensations in our bodies, then we can tame and have some distance from it. As a result, we can think more responsively, rather than reactively. Then, we can decide what to do next in a more measured way.

Somatic Activities to Try in Your Classroom

Mindfulness training and Performing Arts training are very similar: both invite you to be in the present moment, using your mind, heart, and body to do it, so that you can more fully connect to the given circumstances. Here are a few fun, performing-arts-inspired activities to help you and your students become familiar with the sensations that come with emotional states.

Name That Feeling

A game about naming what we are feeling and where we feel it in our bodies.

Before class, (or with your class) write down as many emotions as you (or they) can think of on separate slips of paper. Put each strip of paper in a bag or a bowl. Here are some examples of feeling words that you can use.

Explain to your students that our emotions are like storms that pass through our bodies and if we can notice these storms brewing in our bodies, we can tame the storm, so it can pass through us more gently and quickly if we choose.

Start by demonstrating how to play the game:

  1. Pick a piece of paper with an emotion on it. Make sure the audience cannot see through the paper (perhaps covering it with your hand).
  2. Strike a pose or do a movement that shows how that emotion makes your body, face, and heart change. Ex: Anger might make your shoulders high, fists clenched, face tight and pinched.
  3. See if they can guess what emotion you are trying to convey, saying things like “warmer” or “colder”. If it is an unusual word, give them the first letter, etc.
  4. Describe where you feel this emotion right now: I feel this emotion in my face, belly, legs, etc.

After one or two times of you leading, have one of the students who quietly raised their hand to guess your emotion come up and act out another emotion. Once they’ve assumed the position, you can ask the “actor” where he/she feels this emotion in their body. Then ask the audience what emotion they think is being shown. Bring up the guesser, or a person who has not yet gone. Most students will want to be the “actor” but don’t force anyone. Discuss as a class as desired.

Mindful Breathing Game

Mindful Breathing Activities: Download

  • Divide the class into three or four groups of four to five individuals each.
  • Ask them to select four our five Breathing Activities, depending on how many people are in each group.
  • Give groups 5 to 10 minutes to rehearse how to demonstrate each breathing activity.
  • Invite one group at a time to go in front of the class and perform what is written on their cards.
  • Invite the audience to guess what breathing activity they are demonstrating.

Emotional Musical Chairs

In this video, I demonstrate another fun game of emotional musical chairs that uses singing and drama to explore emotions.  {link at Mindful Arts San Francisco}

Supporting Students and Big Emotions

We can take these newly learned skills and apply them to supporting students having big (and small) emotions.

Before responding to a child’s needs, remember to first put on your own oxygen mask! Take a deep breath, wiggle your toes, and check-in with your body, heart, and mind to proceed skillfully.

When working with kids, well-meaning adults, including myself, instinctively try to get right to the “story.” “What happened?” The child usually responds, “That kid took my toy/ made fun of me/ or called me a name.” In that moment, the child can be built up as the hero and the other child, the villain. This further attaches them to the story rather than more deeply understanding the emotions that led to the moment in the first place. While getting to the bottom of the story might be important, I’ve learned that in order to really get to the bottom of what’s going on, we first have to go inward.

I’m careful not to minimize a child’s experience or get rid of the emotion. Instead, I approach them with a sense of curiosity and care. Rather than saying, “it’s not that big a deal that the other child is bothering you, just ignore them,” we can be in the moment with the student, and gently invite the student to explore their internal experience.

When working with a child who is having big emotions, I first try to get curious about what they are experiencing. I might say something like, “looks like you’re feeling really frustrated.” Or I might invite them to tell me what they are feeling. “Do you feel that emotion in your face? Or hands? Or in your belly?” “Do you feel warm or cold?” “You want to try to take a few deep breaths with me?” “Nicely done!” I always praise them for this awareness of their internal landscape.

This technique has a somewhat remarkable effect of validating what the child is experiencing without trying to get rid of it so that they feel seen, heard, and safe enough to calm themselves down. Yes, the child’s mood often dissipates, but that is not the goal. The goal is to be with what they are experiencing in the present moment. It usually creates the outcome of them being able to make more skillful choices on their own as to what they want to do next. In these moments, I try to remember that every emotion is ok, every action is not. We can be as angry or as sad as we want, but it is not in our best interest to act out violently in most instances.

The challenge for the Mindfulness Instructor and the student is to learn this new habit of becoming curious about the body’s discomfort – not wishing to get rid of it, but naming it and dropping into the physical sensations of what arises in the body. This has the natural effect of taming and easing the discomfort. The next time you, or one of your students, are experiencing a big emotion, try leaning into it. Difficult emotions are challenging, and becoming adept at working with them is transformational. Realizing that ALL emotions are just as transitory, beautiful, and valuable as dark clouds moving through a bright blue sky is a valuable life-skill that has the potential to transform lives.

It might also have helped my mom get her child into the station wagon on the first day of preschool.

For more resources like short videos, mindful activities, and Mindful Arts Breathing Cards go to Mindful Arts SF.

Andrew Jordan Nance is the author of Puppy Mind and Mindful Arts in the Classroom. He is the founder of Mindful Arts San Francisco, whose mission is to provide volunteer mindfulness educators to teach at San Francisco public schools through the San Francisco Education Fund. 

Visiting the Lion Mind

Adapted from Center for Adolescent Studies

The metaphor of the Lion Mind as a way to describe mindfulness comes from Larry Rosenberg’s book, Breath by Breath. The metaphor is simple and only takes a minute present. Hold up a pen or meditation bell (the stick used to strike the bell), and tell the group to imagine it’s a bone. If I’m standing in front of a dog and I wave the bone in the dog’s face side to side, and then toss the bone a few yards away, what will the dog do? “Chase the bone,” the group often yells back.

But what if I’m standing in front of a lion? And I wave the bone in the lion’s face from side to side, and toss it a few yards away. What will the lion do? “Eat you!” is often the resounding response. The fact is that the lion may eat me. The lion could eat met. But the there’s a fundamental difference between the mind of the dog and that of the lion. The dog has tunnel vision and can’t see beyond the bone. It becomes simple: If I control the bone, I control the dog’s reality.

Of course, it’s fundamentally different with the lion. The lion sits upright as I wave the bone, eyes looking beyond the bone and directly at me. The lion has poise, understands the bone is just a small piece of a larger reality, and therefore has much more autonomy. The lion can go after the bone, can sit there and stare at me, can eat me.

The “bone” is what gets related to our experience. When anger arises, what type of mind, the dog or the lion mind, do we employ? When we’re extremely anxious, are we chasing the bones of worrying thoughts, or sitting with autonomy? Sometimes we can get caught up in the bones of our own stories, thoughts, images, sensations, and emotions.

By remembering the image of the lion sitting there and being present and non-reactive, we remind ourselves of the state of mind we’re trying to cultivate with mindfulness. Not necessarily relaxed, but present, with a non-reactive and non-judging attitude. That’s what awards us with the true power of mindfulness. To face whatever “bones” get thrown our way.

You might follow up with a discussion about what particular “bones” are relevant in the students’ lives presently. What are the triggers they are dealing with most? That makes the metaphor real and applicable. It takes the focus away from meditation, which is easy to conflate with relaxing or trying to calm down, and points it toward the symbol of the dignified lion being non-reactive and poised. I then use the lion mind terminology as a language thread throughout the rest of my work with the group or individual. It can be more helpful than the word “mindfulness” for remembering the actual concept and practice of mindfulness.

When I check in with youth about situations they’ve been struggling with I can say, “What mind were you in? The dog mind or the lion mind?” and they understand exactly what I’m talking about. That is ultimately one of the goals in teaching mindfulness to teens; that they remember and understand what mindfulness is so they have more of a chance of actually employing it when most needed.

I highly recommend taking from this metaphor what you like, tweaking it if necessary, and catering as much as possible to the unique needs of the youth you work with.



Visiting Monsters!

Kristi Harnishfeger, an elementary school teacher in Michigan, devised a different way to think about monsters. A multi-day lesson with her third grade students incorporated the use of adjectives, emotions, and Zones of Regulation. You could accommodate for any age.

1) Students pick an emotion, title the top of their papers with that emotion and the word Monster.  Ex: Happy Monster.

2) They draw that monster and label body parts using different adjectives to describe it.

3)  Read the book Anh’s Anger to the students, and discuss how all emotions come and go, as previously read about in Visiting Feelings.

4)  If you use Zones of Regulation, discuss which colored zones they think their monsters are in. The children color their picture backgrounds with that color zone.

Kristi found this project a good reference point for her students when talking about their emotions and understanding the different Zones of Regulation.  She said it was “super fun” for her to teach this too!