Self Awareness Moments

Self Awareness Moments help students navigate strong emotions and difficult situations to make better decisions
307 teachers like this strategy
Self-Awareness Moments Hero Video.mp4

About This Strategy

Self Awareness Moments are a tool that helps students press the pause button between a challenging feeling and their first impulse. Students experience stress, anxiety, and frustration for a variety of reasons throughout the day; self awareness moments teach students to breathe, calm down, regulate their emotions, and think clearly about their options before responding. This helps students avoid reacting impulsively or reflexively and possibly making the situation worse. This strategy will help you teach students, and yourself, to use and practice Self Awareness Moments during difficult situations.

Plan It

  1. Start by using the planning template to begin thinking about how to best support your students with self awareness skills.

  2. You may want to try out some of the strategies for yourself and consider how you respond to different situations. Students learn how to handle intense emotions by watching how adults act when they experience those same emotions. Teachers frequently have moments that trigger their emotions, whether it is a student misbehaving, an administrator asking for additional time, or a parent frustrated with something from class. Self Awareness Moments help teachers handle strong emotions so that they can make better decisions for themselves and their students.

  • If you start to feel frustrated or angry towards a student, identify the mental or physical signals that you are getting emotional. For example, your heart might beat fast or your face might turn red.

  • Take a Self Awareness Moment:

    • Take a deep breath

    • Ask yourself how your best self would react without escalating the situation

    • Decide what to do, or what strategies to take, to be your best self

For young students, their first instinct when a peer is misbehaving is often to "tell on" the student, or "tattle." "Teach, Don't Tell" is a way to help students support one another in moments of frustration.

  1. Teach a mini-lesson on what it means to teach someone and when it is appropriate to teach vs. tattle. 

  2. Ask students to brainstorm what it means to teach a peer, such as reminding them of expectations, supporting them to solve the issue, or giving them an example of how to behave. 

  3. When students are inclined to "tell" on a peer, give them reminders and encouragement to "teach" their peer instead.

  4. Teach students the steps to "think like a turtle" to control their feelings and calm down:

    • Stop: Recognize your feelings, think "stop," and pause and maintain a calm body.

    • Tuck: Tuck inside your "shell" and take 3 deep breaths to calm down.

    • Think: Come out when calm and can think of a solution or a way to make it better.

  5. Help students brainstorm ideas for when they need to "think of a solution":

    • Get a teacher

    • Ask nicely

    • Ignore

    • Play

    • Say, "Please stop."

    • Say, "Please."

    • Share

    • Trade a toy/item

    • Wait and take turns

    • Etc.

  6. For students who struggle to identify a solution, consider providing students with a cheat sheet, or checklist, of suggested compromises for them to reference.

  7. Monitor students' early signs of escalation (facial expression, body language, voice). Reflect the child's feelings using a calm and soft voice. For example, say, "You are feeling mad." Cue the child to use a self-regulation technique when necessary.

  8. When students use the turtle technique, recognize their effort and praise when they stay calm.

    • Later, take time to debrief with the child, co-teachers, and parents to better anticipate triggers and plan how to use techniques next time.

  9. Involve families: consider teaching parents about the "turtle technique" so that they can use it with children at home.

Practice It

  1. Introduce self-awareness moments with your students. Self-Awareness is defined as being aware of one’s own emotions, actions, internal thoughts and the resulting behaviors or actions.

  2. Guide students in a lesson about Self Awareness Moments. First, ask students to identify what emotions they feel throughout the day and what causes these emotions.

  3. Then discuss the situations they encounter regularly that make them upset, frustrated, angry…

    • These situations could be thoughts (i.e. worrying about an upcoming test), other people's actions (i.e. a friend says something that hurts your feelings), places (i.e. being in an uncomfortable space like the principal's office), or an event (i.e. seeing your parents argue before school).

    • Ask students to imagine they are in one of those situations, and to describe how they typically respond. Consider having students respond in writing, drawing, or role-playing to the following questions:

      • What are they thinking?

      • What is their body doing?

      • How are they showing their feelings (words, volume, face, etc.)?

  4.  Introduce the idea of stopping, or pausing, to breathe. Ask students why breathing is important, and how they feel/what they look like after they stop and breathe. Consider having students draw what they look like after stopping to breathe.

  5.  Have students brainstorm how their "best self" acts in challenging situations. What character traits does their "best self" have? What actions does their "best self" take?

  6.  Ask students to brainstorm strategies they will use during their next Self Awareness Moment. It might help to prompt them with the sentence starter, "It helps me when I am mad if I…" Students should describe how each strategy works.

  7.  If students are stuck, consider providing some examples, such as:

    • Take 3 deep breaths

    • Think before I speak

    • Close my eyes and relax my body

    • Say I feel mad

    • Walk away

    • Count to 10

    • Visualize a peaceful place

    • Use positive self-talk

    • Use "helping words" instead of "fighting words" (i.e. "Can you please give me more space? Thanks!" instead of "Move!")

  8. When they finish, ask students to choose a strategy that they think will work best for them in moments of frustration or anger.

  9. Have students describe what the outcome will be if they successfully use a Self Awareness Moment.

  10. Have students role-play using their strategy in a variety of scenarios. Introduce the example scenario and have students imagine how they would feel. For example:

    • You forgot your homework folder at home when an important assignment is due

    • Your peer is blocking your locker and taking too long

    • Your peer keeps tapping their pencil

    • Have students share with a partner how they felt, what they were thinking, and what their face and body were doing.

    • Have students continue the role-play, and begin using their Self Awareness Moment strategy.

    • Have students reflect with a partner on the strategy they used and how it worked.

Reflect and Refine

  1. Think about the following questions on your own and then discuss when your students

    • What is working or what is successful?

    • What is not working or not successful?

    • How do you know?

    • What do you need to change and why?

  2. Going forward, remind students to use their Self Awareness Moment strategies in difficult situations.

    • Consider meeting individually with students who struggle with emotional regulation and helping them identify strategies for their emotional triggers.

    • You may consider having students create a signal to tell you when they need to "take a moment."

    • Occasionally, have students reflect on how well they are using Self Awareness moments and brainstorm additional strategies to add to their toolbox. Students may want to set self awareness moment goals on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. 

    • Remember to acknowledge and praise students who effectively use Self Awareness Moments!

Special Education Modification

Nedra MassenburgDEMO
Special Education Specialist

Using Self Awareness moments to help students recognize the early warning signs of intense emotions that manifest in their bodies and minds can be an excellent tool to support all students with disabilities.   In particular, this can be a key tool in proactively helping to support students with behavioral and emotional impairments who may struggle with self-regulation.  

Use of Self Awareness moments by students requires significant executive functioning (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.), reading and verbal expression skills.  In order to support students with disabilities in these areas, consider the following modifications:


  1.  Knowledge of student disabilities is a key piece of information teachers need to implement self-awareness well. Before finalizing plans for use of them, teachers should consult with special education department administrators or specialized teachers for information on specific disability types.   They should ensure they are clear on IEP goals and requirements and how they present in a classroom.    

  2. Students with disabilities that impact their ability to emotionally regulate may need more support initially in identifying the emotions they are feeling. Build-in extra time to:  help these students identify how they are feeling and connect these feelings to emotional vocabulary,  brainstorm strategies that work well for these learners to de-escalate, and agree with the student how they will signal to you if they are beginning to feel emotionally dysregulated and how you will remind them to take a self-awareness moment if you see they are beginning to be upset.

  3. Depending upon the number of students with disabilities in a classroom and the intensity of their needs, a teacher may consider building in more time for the explicit teaching of how to effectively use self-awareness moments.  In particular, teachers should ensure building in role-playing and feedback opportunities for the first few round of self-awareness use in a classroom. See the resources in the resource section below for more information.

  4. Provide sentence frames such as: “when I feel angry, I will…”

EL Modification

This strategy guides learners in a practice of reflection which empowers learners to self-regulate and remain engaged in learning.

English learners may be required to use all four domains of language, reading, writing, speaking, and listening during lessons and activities. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:

  1. Pre-teach important vocabulary. Ensure learners understand vocabulary they will encounter during gratitude activities. Consider providing home language translations. See the "Vocabulary Strategies" resource in the resource section below.

  2. Preview Self Awareness Lesson. Provide learners with the questions they are to consider (upsetting situations, feelings, role-play scenarios etc.) and have them draft responses in advance. Provide familiar graphic organizers and word banks for written responses. 

  3. Provide models. Give learners multiple examples of situations at school that may be frustrating and how they may be solved. Provide visual or video representations. 

  4. Provide a variety of ways to express learning. Learners at lower levels of proficiency may benefit from drawing, matching challenges with solutions or emotions, filling in the blank with a word bank to describe scenarios.

  5. Create an anchor chart. Post strategies that have been collected by the class with pictorial representations. Refer to them when reminding learners to take Self Awareness Moments. 

  6. Provide sentence frames such as: “when I feel angry, I will…”

Tech Tools

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame Street

  • Sesame Street's newest human resident, Mando, narrates while kids and a blue monster together tackle everyday frustrations -- like struggling to tie shoes, dealing with separation anxiety, taking turns, and going to bed -- and learn how to deal with them. Students must work through one problem before unlocking the next. Animated video clips show the blue monster's problem, then kids tap his belly to help him breathe deeply and calm down. When the monster is calm, students tap thought bubbles, which produces three possible strategies. Students get to choose which strategy the monster will try and then see him do it in another animated video clip. The technique of breathing, thinking, and doing is reinforced throughout.

  • This app supports this strategy by providing young students with a fun and interactive way to learn self-regulating strategies

Calm App

  • A free app for educators to use with students to practice mindfulness techniques


  • A free tool for educators to practice mindfulness techniques with students.