Advanced SEL Tip: Share Our Anger Triggers

Once your students have identified their personal anger triggers, have them share those triggers with each other. This can foster empathy, increase students' awareness of themselves and others, and reduce conflicts.

Note:  Most of our SEL Tips can be applied immediately in a wide range of classrooms. This tip is best applied in classrooms where there is regular instruction in SEL (such as Morningside Center’s 4Rs Program) and where you’ve already created a positive classroom climate and sense of community. Before applying the tip, students will need to have been introduced to the idea of “anger triggers,” and will have identified their own anger triggers (that is, the words and actions of others that make them feel very angry, very quickly).  If you are using The 4Rs, see Lesson 3 in the Feelings unit for a good introduction to anger triggers.

Two of the key competencies of social and emotional learning are self-awareness and awareness of others. As we teach SEL lessons regularly, everyone’s skills in these areas will start to blossom.

One of the most powerful self-awareness skills is identifying our own anger triggers. As we begin to acknowledge the things that get under our skin and learn various methods for cooling down, our interactions with others can truly shift.

But what if everyone in the classroom was aware of everyone else’s anger triggers, not just their own? In 4Rs classrooms, I’ve found that when students share their anger triggers, it can foster empathy between students and build not only students’ self-awareness, but their awareness of others.

This tip will give you some simple ideas to help everyone in the classroom share their anger triggers, develop awareness of these triggers, and collectively create a peaceful classroom climate.

Creating an Anger Triggers Book for the Classroom

Once students have identified their own anger triggers, let them know that you will create an Anger Triggers Book for the classroom. Each student will have their own page. On this page they will list their personal anger triggers and give some information about why they are triggered by these words or actions. They can also illustrate their page.

When students have finished creating their personal anger triggers page, allow each student to present their page to the class. Allow other students to ask the presenting student clarifying questions. Then coach the presenter to ask his/her peers if they can try to keep these triggers in mind. After getting a commitment from their peers to try to do this, the presenter can put their page in the Anger Triggers Book. This process of sharing personal pages, asking clarifying questions, committing to an expanded awareness of others, and compiling the Anger Triggers Book can be stretched out over a period of a week or so.

Once your Anger Triggers Book is complete, it can be used in many ways.

1.  When students are having trouble cooling down, invite them to read their own anger triggers page as a way of helping them identify and communicate what is upsetting them.

2.  When students are triggered by a peer, they can ask that peer to read their personal anger triggers page. This may help their peer to empathize and make adjustments to their own words and actions.

3.  When students share that they are in conflict, invite them to read each other’s personal  anger triggers pages. This may help students realize how they triggered one another and feel a greater sense of empathy for each other. They may simply be able to apologize and move on.

4.  Before starting group work, invite all members of each group to read each other’s personal anger triggers page to help foster empathy in the group and create a peaceful collaboration.