Emotional Literacy Support Assistance


There are always children and young people in schools facing life challenges that can affect their well being and sometimes detract from their ability to learn. ELSA is an initiative developed and supported by educational psychologists. It recognises that children are more able to learn and happier if their emotional needs are also addressed.

ELSA Sessions

ELSA Sessions will take place in a calm, safe, designated room. The sessions should be fun and use a range of activities, including games, art and craft. It’s a chance for the pupil to talk about themselves and what is important to them. After meeting with the class teacher and SENDCo we assess the pupil’s needs and possible focus for work by filling in a referral form that has a scaled questionnaire. This provides information about the pupil’s emotional literacy skills. We also talk to the child in the first sessions to find out how they are feeling and see if they can identify what skills would improve their well being. We can explore areas they might need to focus on and then agree on a target skill or skills.

A new emotional literacy skill might simply be to widen their ‘emotions vocabulary’ and get them to recognise how they feel and name the feeling. It could focus on learning to identify unhelpful or negative thoughts or use a set of calming strategies when they feel anxious or angry.

Parents and carers can suggest ideas for the focus too and will be able to look at the folder of work if their child wishes to share it at the end of the sessions. Sometimes it’s helpful to share the ELSA focus with parents as they can support their child at home and encourage them.

Supporting - not fixing

ELSA programmes run for 8 weeks and at the end we assess the pupil again to see if they have been able to start using their new skills. Small steps changes are the aim which should build the child’s confidence and give them a feeling of control. ELSA work cannot ‘fix’ all of the pupils problems, but offers support towards change and a chance for them to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. Often by helping them to think through one problem they can apply new confidence to other areas of their life.

After ELSA

It takes time to change behaviour and ways of thinking and I will keep up a dialogue with the pupil to see how they are getting on after any programme has ended. It might be that they need further emotional support and then a second programme might be arranged.

I will be happy to share information with parents and carers about helpful books and resources that might be relevant. Please email me with any questions . I am happy to meet with parents at any stage in the programme.

I’m Kate Gunn, I work as the Elsa ( Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) at CPS. I am really enjoying working with the children in their Elsa sessions.
We hope that Elsa courses will support children in their emotional well-being. We believe that when children feel better about themselves and have a safe space to talk and be listened to they
will be in a much better place to get the most out of school and be able to work well. Children can be offered Elsa for many reasons and hopefully enjoy their course while learning a new emotional literacy skill.

ELSA for Home

ELSA stands for Emotional Literacy Support Assistant. Lots of children have tried ELSA out and hopefully they've enjoyed it and built on their emotional literacy skills.

What is emotional literacy and why is it important ?
Emotional literacy (or emotional intelligence) is the ability to express emotions appropriately, have the resilience to cope with difficult emotions, have empathy and it helps with social skills. Children learn naturally over the years by experiencing what makes them feel different emotions, watching how we deal with our emotions, and learning about themselves as they go. We can assist this process with some awareness of how to help them develop these skills.

This pack has lots of the tasks and approaches I use in ELSA. Children really enjoy discussing emotions and often have great insight and ideas themselves. I hope some of these tips and ideas can help at home too

Mrs Gunn 

Ten Emotional Literacy Tips

1. Emotionally check-in

Do a regular emotional check-in.
Try the zone chart or 3 emotions today sheet

6. Accept your child’s feelings

Accept and validate their feelings - some worries may seem exaggerated to adults but they can be very real for children

2. Careful of your language around emotions

All emotions are acceptable and normal. There are no good/bad emotions but some are nice,
some uncomfortable. Separate the behavior from the feeling

7. Talk about the body

Emotions can be powerful - talk about the clues their bodies might give them about their feelings (see Body sheet)

3. Build their vocabulary

Use lots of different words for feelings. Try grading them - e.g. ‘feeling cross’ right up to ‘furious

8. Talk about triggers

Encourage them to be curious about why they feel something - they may discover what triggers the feelings

4. Role model feelings

Use appropriate examples to model your own feelings - 'I felt frustrated doing that - it was hard’ etc (although save the bigger issues for yourself like money, health etc! Small scale is best)

9. Understand the emotion/action link

Thought - creates a feeling - results in an action See sheet

5. Show empathy

‘That must have been difficult’, ‘I wonder if you felt afraid 

10. Build in problem solving

Notice when they are solving something themselves - look at the coping skills sheet - which ones suit which emotion ? Create a family sheet!

The Zone Chart

Great for fridges and walls ! Put a copy up at home and use it to talk about your day. Sometimes using a colour can be easier than finding a word. You can be in more than one at once. Watch out for yellow zone - just like the traffic lights it signals a change is coming - will you tip into red (the BIG feelings) or green (calm and happy)

This is where the feelings go in the 4 different colours. There are obviously many more emotions but we focus on these main ones on our school chart.






Today I felt........ because...........

Can you choose 3 or more feelings you have had today ?

Can you say what was happening to you ?

Sometimes finding 3 emotions in one day can unlock what has been happening more than just asking ‘ how was your day?’

Today I felt

A game to build those emotion words!

You can also use this chart to play ‘I’m a Potato’! You must choose an emotion ( but don't tell your partner which one).Then you must say ‘I’m a Potato’ in that emotion. Can your partner guess which one you've chosen - can you act it out ?Use  your face, body and voice

I'm a potato

How am I feeling

The sensations in our bodies give us clues - they can tell us how we are feeling.

It’s good to recognise a ‘worry tummy’ feeling, or when you can spot the sensations of feeling stressed.

A good exercise is to ask ‘ Is it an emotion pain or a physical pain?’ 

Have a go at distracting yourself - I use a book or the tv - if your pain disappears it’s probably an emotion pain!

Try a few questions to get children used to the idea there are different reasons for discomfort e.g

I fall down - is that emotion pain or physical pain?

I lose something precious- is it an emotion pain or a physical pain? 

Thought - Feeling - Action 

The things that happen around us give us different feelings.Thought Feeling Action

It’s good for children to understand the links here. When they understand this they can question their thinking . What could I think instead? Can I look at this another way?

Thought Feeling Action
Coping strategies & Coping Skills

Coping strategies.

Coping strategies are things we do to manage our feelings in a healthy way. They can be anything from recognising you need some space, to going outside and exercising if you feel overloaded. I get children to create their own and we sometimes use the zone chart to think of things that might help us manage different feelings. 

Coping strategies can also include doing some work ( to get your thinking brain working again ) or tidying something, or even knowing when to ignore a feeling and ‘put it in your pocket’ for later

Coping Strategies

Coping skills - everyone join in (even the pets!)

What does everyone choose to do when they are feeling …. Add some ideas underneath each face- everyone could contribute and everyone's may be different. One person might go for a walk if they is feeling overloaded with small worries. Someone else might choose some ipad time. Some things might not be immediately obvious or seem like a coping strategy , like taking a bath or organising something but if they change your mood they may be considered !


Coping Skills

In Elsa we learn about the Fight flight or freeze response. This helps us to understand what is happening inside our bodies when we are VERY angry stressed upset or worried. 

We still have the same brains as early man that developed to help keep us safe. It has a small area called an amygdala ( like a beeper) that alerts us to danger

Look .. your beeper or amygdala is sending out a warning! The messages stop going to the thinking brain and animal brain is in charge!

The special Fight, Flight or Freeze chemicals are being made very quickly in your body when your beeper sends out the warning

We talk about how we can get our thinking brains back in charge 

What would you do ? 

Don’t forget that sometimes our beeper goes off even when we are actually not in danger but we just don’t feel safe.

Your Brain