Let’s talk about it: How we can use the spoken word to talk about mental health?

For Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking ourselves how can we support all children to find a way to talk about their experiences and mental health? As Mind highlights, “we all experience and talk about mental health differently”. We know how important it is that all young people have the skills to talk about their feelings and be listened to when sharing their thoughts. 

Evidence from the Fair Education Alliance, submitted to the Oracy APPG inquiry highlighted: “Oracy plays a foundational role in young people’s wellbeing, carrying important social and emotional benefits.” 

We also know that without the skills to talk and the confidence to share how they are feeling, the mental health of our young people now and into the future will suffer. The Communications Trust (Talking about a generation, 2017) identified that “young people with poor communication skills are one and a half times more likely to have mental health difficulties, even after taking account of a range of other factors that might have played a part.” 

In this blog, we share a few tactics that you can use in your classroom during Mental Health Awareness Week and beyond. 

Identifying emotions 

Giving young people the opportunity to learn how to identify their emotions is a really useful way to begin exploring ways of talking about their mental health. 

A Primary focused activity uses a Blob Tree to support students to name different emotions and describe how they’re feeling. Used as a prompt for talk, students simply choose which blob person they most identify with and explain why. You could use it to prompt students to reflect on how they’re feeling about a particular piece of learning or as a way into a more well-being focused conversation.

Another activity which can be effective in allowing students to name a range of emotions is ‘Which Emotion?’ In this activity, you can provide students with a statement such as “Liverpool are going to win the league”, or “I have got 3 hours of science homework to do tonight”, alongside a variety of emotions such as ‘excited’, ‘boastful’, ‘devastated’, ‘thrilled’, and ‘disappointed’. One by one, students say their statements, like the above, as if they are feeling one of the emotions; their classmates must guess the emotion. 

Tea and talk 

Opportunities for talk can also be found during form, break and lunchtimes. ‘Tea and Talk’ sessions give students a chance to have a rolling discussion about their mental health with their peers and are supported by teachers.  You could use Talking Points in your lunch hall or breakout spaces to organically promote these conversations between students and teachers. Crucially, students are pre-taught key vocabulary to use in the sessions and are provided with sentence stems to opt-out of sharing, if they do not feel comfortable.

Prompting reflections 

Whether it is 5 minutes in a lesson or a full lesson dedicated to mental health, there are a variety of opportunities we can provide to allow students to reflect on how they are feeling. 

Using activities such as the ‘Compliment Game’ is a good way of facilitating this. Select a student and ask a few classmates to share a compliment about them. You could start one lesson each day this way. Make sure you discuss with students what makes a great compliment. You could use the Oracy Framework to break this down.

For younger students, you could also use this video from BBC Newsround that features Michael Rosen talking about why it is important to talk about how you are feeling. 

The power of listening 

We know that talking about mental health is important but so is listening. Creating a culture where young people feel listened to by their teachers and peers will create a culture where they feel confident and comfortable talking. 

This secondary-focused oracy challenge uses the ‘listening wheel’ as a framework for students to understand what it means to be an ‘empathetic listener’. You could use this resource as a basis to develop a shared language and understanding amongst staff and students about what it means to listen.

Another way to encourage students to think deeply about how they can be effective listeners is to focus on the content of what the other person is saying. Focusing on how a speaker feels, what they are saying and crucially, what they are not saying is a great skill. Distinguishing between micro and macro listening is something you can find out more about in this short video.

Facilitating conversations using the Oracy Benchmarks 

A classroom climate in which students feel their voice is valued, respected and heard cannot be cultivated overnight. However, by working towards achieving Voice 21’s Oracy Benchmarks, you are taking steps towards ensuring every student you teach has the confidence and ability to independently speak up, as well as developing the means to listen and grow together. 

We know that creating an environment where students can talk about their mental health is vital for them now and in the future. For more information on how working with Voice 21 can support your school to do just that, then click here.

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