Creating Safe Spaces

Kathleen Witte
Do you have students who don’t do what is expected of them? Or just behave differently than usual? There could be many reasons why students behave the way they do. However, one important teaching strategy that I found very helpful when teaching elementary students is the following: Identifying and regulating emotions by using different colored zones 
This idea is adapted from the zones of regulation concept which you can find out more here:

How did I introduce this concept to my class? How did we use it? And what impact did it have?/How has it changed my classroom environment?

As a class, we explored different emotions that one can have. This can be done through a charade game where one student expresses that emotion and the class guess what that emotion is. 

We sorted emotions into different zones.
Blue = rest area: sick, tired, bored, exhausted
Green = go: calm, concentrated, content, good, proud, okay
Yellow = slow: frustrated, worried, sad, excited, silly, overwhelmed, scared
Red = STOP: terrified, angry, mad


As a class, we created posters for each emotion. This can be done by drawing them or making a collage. Then, we put them up on the bulletin board for everyone to be visible. I believe having children create their own visuals makes it more meaningful to them. They really enjoyed it, too. 


Students took a photo of themselves and placed it on the emotion that they were feeling (identifying emotions). (We used velcro to be able to change the placement of photos.)
We would do the feeling check-in in the morning and at the end of the day combined with a reflection. I also reminded them of strategies they could use to come back to the green area and we discussed what and how a specific strategy helped (regulating emotions). 
Students themselves would change their photos to a different emotion during the day. I thought that was great and showed me that they started to become more aware of their own feelings. 


As a class, we discussed, brainstormed, and created visuals of different emotion regulation strategies. Other tools we used were the ‘wheel of choice’ and the ‘peace space’ for students to learn to use coping strategies more independently. 

What impact did it have?

As students became more aware of their own feelings, they were able to respond to challenging situations more effectively and confidently. As every student placed their photo on a feeling, students could now see what each student was feeling. It also changed our classroom atmosphere in the sense that students were more empathic with one another and reminded each other of the different strategies when they could see a peer being sad or frustrated.

Final Thoughts

I highly recommend using these ideas. However, students need practice, time for reflection, and reminders. It took some time to figure out strategies that would work for each student until they independently applied them. Reflections also allowed them to become more aware of their feelings and what strategies worked or not. 

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