Tech Tuesday: Supporting Narrative Development and Emotional Vocabular - MindWing Concepts, Inc.

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Tech Tuesday: Supporting Narrative Development and Emotional Vocabulary

by Sean Sweeney February 18, 2019 3 min read

Ariel Davis NPR illustration

Illustration by Ariel Davis for NPR

I’m a big NPR person. It’s a great resource for listening, and for narrative! This past month I was intrigued by a feature on “EMOTIONAL GRANULARITY”—being able to name or describe your emotions more specifically. The author described an increase in stress in his life being alleviated by his working on “learning more emotion words and emotion concepts from one’s culture.”

There was research to support his assertion that this self-identification was of help; according to Kashdan, Barrett, and McKnight (2015)…

…“evidence suggests that interventions designed to improve emotion differentiation can both reduce psychological problems and increase various strands of well-being.”

We can reframe this information in the light of what we might usually address as speech-language pathologists and literacy interventionists:

  • Narrative complexity involves a movement toward the “landscape of consciousness” and describing characters’ and self-awareness of specific emotions and thoughts in response to events.
  • SLPs have a long history of working on emotional vocabulary within our objectives for students with social learning needs.
  • The above, as described, sounds an awful lot like a Zones of Regulation® Tool (which also aligns well with the use of Story Grammar Marker®): name your emotion, if even just internally, then work to “tame” it and move back to the Green Zone in-the-moment.

In any case, the piece inspired me in some of my activities with elementary, middle and high school students, so here are some ideas for you (also aligning with SGM’s resources related to teaching and branching from the 6 Universal Feelings, see also the Feelings Poster).

YouTube provides a great tool to set context for these kinds of activities. In one group, we have been working within a Star Wars theme. In this clip, Luke receives a demand from his uncle that causes him great annoyance; he’d much rather tinker with power converters than go erase the brains of what he thinks are boring old droids! The clip was a context to pick apart this part of the story with SGM:

  • Setting: His uncle and aunt’s home on Tattoine
  • Kick-Off: After his uncle buys new droids (R2-D2 and C-3PO), he asks him to go get them erased instead of playing around with power converters
  • Feeling (Internal Response): annoyed, frustrated
  • Thought Bubble: Thinks that the droids are just boring old machines
  • Plan: To do what his uncle asks him to do because he and his aunt act as his parents
  • Direct Consequence: Luke follows the demand, which leads to adventure.

As a simple visual support guiding the activity, my students added to a Pic Collage describing different kinds of anger:

Emotions Pic-Collage image

This is a co-created image with Pic Collage, made as students contributed ideas. It is also very easy to hand the iPad to students to engage them by typing in the visual. To start, create a Freestyle collage, tap the + in the lower left corner, Web Search for “angry emoji,” select and add an image, and double tap to set it as the background image. Then tap anywhere on screen to add text.

This lesson leads to more lessons. Searching YouTube for a particular resource along with an emotion word such as “anger” can lead you to additional motivating examples. Within Star Wars, you could consider where anger goes, as it becomes an integral plot point, or explore other emotions such as surprise and excitement (view the end of the clip).

In another group, we have been using American Ninja Warrior as a motivational tool. This led to similar lessons around anger using this news story and video (then making a similar Pic Collage describing frustration vs. outrage) and analyzing the surprising, shocking outcomes which sometimes occur when a favorite contestant doesn’t make it through the course or an easy obstacle!

In each case, it is a great idea to use the same context to elicit and scaffold personal narratives from students, or connections to other events. In our region around Super Bowl time my students easily connected to the emotion of outrage, describing Saints’ fans sense of unfairness at their result and the ever-present outrage when the Patriots keep winning. As we say, Go Pats! Patriots logo


Sean Sweeney
Sean Sweeney

Sean Sweeney, MS, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and technology specialist working in private practice at the Ely Center in Needham, MA, and as a clinical supervisor at Boston University. He consults to local and national organizations on technology integration in speech and language interventions. His blog, SpeechTechie (, looks at technology “through a language lens.” Contact him at

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