SPARKLERS / Managing emotions

Tones of Emotion

This activity uses colours and NZ Sign Language to help tamariki name emotions. Being able to recognise and name emotions is the biggest step towards successfully regulating them.
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Print me:

There's a few printing jobs to do for this activity, but once displayed it looks amazing. Double check your printer settings for the right sized paper - especially that tricky A3!

Large colour wheel 1/4s – print two sets on A3 (8 sheets total)

Small circles with emotions – print two sets on A4 (8 sheets)

Circle hands: Print one A4 sheet, ideally on card

Why we love it

In order to regulate emotions, tamariki must learn to recognise them and have the language to describe them. Developmentally, children express their emotions using their body and gestures first, which is why incorporating NZ Sign Language is beneficial.

Choosing to use verbal words, colours and/or NZ sign as a way to talk about emotions gives children a wide vocabulary to do so. Also, while validating how children are feeling can help regulate emotions, this can sometimes be difficult to do in a busy classroom. Using colour and sign allows both you and the student to offer ‘clues’ (a sign for example) of what’s going on for them and they’ll know you’ll support them when you can.


Children of all ages can benefit from this activity. If you’re working with year 7 and 8 tamariki we recommend completing this activity (part 1) early in the week (perhaps a Monday or Tuesday), then following up with part 2 (Sliding Emotions) the following day, so you have the rest of the week to reinforce and embed the content or try part 3 (Dramatic Emotions).

If you can, as a lead in to any of these activities, have a late-day movie and screen Inside Out 2015 (Pixar) - it can be downloaded from iTunes for $24.99. Here's the trailer that will make you laugh! And here's the trailer where you can really see how great this movie is for tamariki to learn about their emotions!

We suggest beginning this activity when your students are calm. If need be, try Sleeping Statues first. The reason we say this, is talking about emotions and feelings, can ‘bring feelings up’ and when a child has recently been emotionally triggered, they may be re-triggered, or feel the kōrero is singling them out.

Ask tamariki:

  • What do you know about ‘emotional regulation’. It’s a strange term, isn’t it? - It basically means managing or controlling our emotions.

Let tamariki know that all emotions are okay – they’re just emotions. Even the emotions that seem really big are okay. Let them know that we learn to regulate emotions, just like we learn to read.

There are three things that help.

  1. Recognising the emotion.
  2. Being able to name the emotion, and we don’t always have the words – which is what we’ll look at today.
  3. Then figuring out what helps us with our emotions.


  • Why do you think it might be helpful to know about emotions?
    • We can understand what’s going on in our brains and bodies.
    • We can tell other people how we’re feeling.
    • We can do things to manage how we’re feeling.

And that’s exactly what the science says – if we know the names for our emotions and the ‘clues’ for when they’re beginning and escalating, we can be better at managing them.

What to do


Emotions are often linked to colours.

Think about the movie Inside Out. What were the colours of the characters?

  • Anger – Red
  • Sadness – Blue
  • Joy – Green
  • Fear – Purple
  • Disgust – Green again!

In fact, did you know there was some real psychological research behind the movie Inside Out?

What’s great about the movie is it demonstrates that no emotion is a ‘bad’ emotion. While in the beginning, Joy wanted only joyful memories and thought those were most important, by the end she recognises that it’s important to “feel what needs feeling.” Emotions aren’t bad, they’re emotions, that’s all — and it’s good to experience a full and wide range of them.

What’s important too is talking about our emotions and having as many ways to do this as possible.

Today we’ll concentrate on the names of emotions, the colours we could classify them with, as well as learn the NZ Sign language for that colour.

Why do you think this is important?

  • Talking about emotions helps us regulate them
  • Sometimes it’s embarrassing so having another language around this can help
  • Can act as a code in class or between teacher and tamariki
  • Sometimes we don’t know how we’re feeling, but we know we’re feeling something and having a colour to describe this can be useful rather than having to find the exact right word.

Bring out the A3 colour wheel worksheets, and hold them up as you talk about each of the colours.

Blue - Kahurangi

So in Inside Out, blue was sad. Blue is associated with low mood and low energy. Can you tell me the names of some emotions we might relate to the colour blue?

  • Depressed
  • Sad
  • Tired
  • Bored
  • Whakamā

Give the NZSL for Blue - and let them try it.

Ask what they feel about the sign for ‘blue’ when they think about being a bit sad?

Green - Kākāriki

Joy has a green dress in Inside Out, but green is usually associated with feeling okay and calm. What other emotions can you think of that might be green?

  • Happy
  • Focussed
  • Ready to learn

Give the NZSL for Green - and let them try it.

Again you might ask how they feel when they sign this.

Yellow - Kōwhai

Yellow is normally associated with ‘heightened’ emotions, so we’re feeling something and we’re really aware of it, but we’re staying in control (mostly!).

What emotions might be associated with yellow?

  • Worried
  • Frustrated
  • Wriggly
  • Excited

Give the NZSL for yellow - and let them try it

Red Whero

Red is associated with ‘big’ emotions and sometimes the emotion can feel like it can take control of us.

What emotions might be associated with red?

  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Frustration
  • Wanting to yell and hit

Give the NZSL for red - and let them try it.

Split the class into two colourwheel ‘teams’ and give each one a set of the A3 worksheets, and one set of the A4s – so they’ll have a full circle of the A3 colours (red, green, yellow and blue) and four sheets of the small emotions circles.

Explain they’re each going to make an Emotional Colour Wheel, adding the appropriate emotions to each section of the wheel. Tell them if they cut out their four quarter circles, these will combine to form their team’s colour wheel. You’ll have two wheels for your classroom!

Ask teams to divide into 4 sub-groups (so you have eight groups altogether) and say that each group will need one A4 sheet of the small circles.

Each group will need to:

  • Research (where necessary) and add definitions for each of the emotions in the small circles
  • Choose the colour they think best applies to each emotions. Add colour to those they're confident about, and a star to any they're unsure of so they can discuss them with their broader 'team'.
  • Cut out the circles

If you want to give them a clue, say that each group will have at least two of each colour. Explain that some emotions can belong to two colour groups, but to just come to the best decision they can.

Once groups have completed the above, ask teams to regroup, cut out their large quarter circles and tape the back of them together (or glue them to a large piece of card).

Suggest each group share the emotions they had and which colours they chose. If the team agrees, these emotions can be glued to the quarters of the circle in the appropriate colour zones.

Remind tamariki that many emotions can ‘travel’ across two colours, for example excitement may be yellow (mild excitement) or red (near uncontrollable excitement!).

Generally (and for your eyes only!), we’d expect the colours associated with each emotion to be similar to:


  • Depressed
  • Sad
  • Ngenge
  • Bored
  • Whakamā
  • Disappointed (can be to RED)
  • Upset
  • Rejected
  • Devastated (can be RED too)
  • Apprehensive


  • Happy
  • Focussed
  • Attentive
  • Ka pai
  • Calm
  • Satisfied
  • Curious
  • Friendly
  • Thoughtful
  • Sympathetic


  • Energised
  • Restless
  • Worried
  • Excited
  • Surprised
  • Fearful
  • Embrarrased (can be RED too)
  • Uncomfortable
  • Hohā
  • Spiteful (can be RED too)
  • Love (can be RED too)


  • Angry
  • Enraged
  • Infuriated
  • Jeaslous
  • Disgusted
  • Anxious
  • Humiliated
  • Shocked
  • Overjoyed
  • Shame (can be BLUE too)

Regroup then ask 1-2 students from each team to present their poster. You may like to have both teams up at once so you can build a kōrero around any differences, and which emotions were challenging/easy to choose a colour for, involving those in the class who had that emotion.

We recommend displaying the circles immediately, and adding an arrow ‘hand’ (printed on card from the worksheet) to each. ,Secure this with a pin so it can spin like a clock.

Reiterate that emotions can be stated as colours, for example "I was in a blue mood this morning but I'm feeling pretty green & ka pai now."

Explain that you might check in with how people are feeling using the colour wheel and if it’s too hard to talk (because sometimes it is) tamariki are welcome to let you know how they’re feeling, using the circle hand or NZ sign language.

Finish by having another practice of the NZSL colours.

What now

If you have a year 7 or 8 class, try:

Or if you’re working with younger tamariki, some activities that also focus on emotions include:

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