Recognizing and expressing emotions is a skill that can be practiced to build empathy and emotional intelligence. In this exercise participants get to safely explore a variety of emotions, practice non-verbally communicating them, and practice recognizing them in others. As we play the game we also develop an elaborate list of emotions (similar to the emotion wheel) to refer to in further emotional work.

Participants are divided into teams. Teams face each other and position themselves so that everyone can be seen. I like to have half of the team sitting in chairs, and the other half standing behind them. I call out reasons to scream or to show a big emotion, and participants on team one have three seconds to pose showing their emotion in the given situation. While they freeze showing the emotion the other team tells them what emotions they think they see while I compile a list of these emotions.

Sample of play:

Lisa: Team one please show us the scream or emotion of being on a rollercoaster. One, two, three, freeze! (they do) Team two, please tell us what emotions you see
Members of team 2: Fear, excitement, anxiety, boredom, etc.
Lisa: Team one, are you surprised by the observations? Was the other team able to accurately tell the emotion you were trying to convey?

Continue until each team has had multiple chances to communicate a variety of emotions, and until we have compiled a thorough list of emotions. I like to take suggestions for reasons to scream, but here are a few to get you started:

You open the door and everyone yells, “surprise!” It’s a surprise party for you.
There are a bunch of zombies coming your way.
Your crush just walked in the door.
Your worst enemy just won the lottery.