• Rachel Yehl

Ideas for How to Start Your Tutoring Session: Let's talk about emotions

We’ve all had those nights at Project Purpose. Your student walks in and he is clearly upset and in a bad mood. Maybe she got in trouble at school. Maybe something happened on the school bus. Maybe he got into a fight on the walk to CCS. Maybe she’s mad at you because you arrived at 4:33, 3 whole minutes late. Sometimes their bad mood is a total mystery.


Has your student ever come in looking like this?



Or maybe he starts his homework like this.

Your students' bad mood causes a spiral of events. He walks into the school in a huff, barely saying hi to you. She goes to a classroom and pulls out her homework, but refuses to show it to you. Talking about the situation seems futile. However, there are strategies that we CAN USE that WILL make these situations better! I promise!


Be Proactive

When your student walks in angry, sometimes that’s the worst time to start talking about emotions and their attitude. The BEST tool that we can use is to establish a routine for how we are going to start tutoring on the GOOD DAYS and the bad ones. Try to structure your time so that you never just dive right into the homework. The 5-10 minutes that you spend having your student share about his or her day could have a huge impact on him or her.


Ask Questions that Get Students Thinking about Their Day

Some questions that you can routinely ask that open up for specific answers include:

1. Talk about what someone did to you this week that helped you and that you appreciated.

2. What is one thing that you can do today to ensure a successful time at tutoring?

3. What can I as your tutor do to make this session more successful?

4. What is something your looking forward to at school this week?

5. What’s the biggest challenge for you in completing your homework?

6. What’s something you need to have to have a successful day?


Remember: The best strategy is to ask questions like this before the bad day comes, so that your student is more likely to be willing to talk. Try to start each session by asking one or two questions. You’re letting your student know that you care about their emotions and well-being.


Model How to Answer

Most students are going to clam up and give short answers when you first start asking questions that get them thinking about their day.


You may need to answer the question for them, from your perspective. What do you need to be successful? Spend a few weeks modeling good answers that provide meaningful information.


Use images or pictures. Give students a visual of answers that they might be able to choose from, leaving an open space for “create your own answer.” See below for ideas.


Feeling out the Mood

Students often struggle to self-identify their emotions. Anger, fear, sadness may all mean the same thing.


Try using an emoji/smiley face chart like the one below that allows them to identify their emotion. After they choose their emotion, DO NOT ASK WHY. A better questions is- What happened that made you feel that way?


Many kids can connect with emojis. They might even enjoy this visual. There's lots of emoji emotion charts online that are available.


Try using the metaphor of weather. Ask, “If you were the weather forecast, what type of weather would you be?” A sunny day is very different from a thunderstorm! You can use a visual like the one below to help. Again you may need to model how to respond to this question. Ask, "What happened that made you feel that way?" Give time for your student to think.



Try to focus on the cause of the emotion. What does your student need? This visual may help provide language that your student can use.




An emotion wheel can be used for older students who may not know the word for the emotion they are feeling.





When The Bad Day Comes

When your student finally does come to Project Purpose after having a bad day, hopefully you have been able to establish a routine that gives space for discussion.


To help give your student space to share why they are angry/sad/scared/frustrated here are some questions that you can use. Avoid the why questions as they will give you the answer "I dunno..."


What happened?

What were you thinking about at the time?

What have you thought about since?

Who has been affected by what you have done? In what ways?

What do you think you need to do to make things right? (**This is the big question. It brings about restoration.)


If your student is upset because they have been hurt be another:

What did you think when you realized what happened?

What impact has this had on you and others?

What has been the hardest thing for you?

What do you think needs to happen to make things right? (**The big question that brings about restoration)


The whole point of discussing students’ emotional well-being is to help them through those tough times. It's certainly not an easy task, but it's just as important as accomplishing that math homework or reading a book.

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