Inside-Out Portraits

Invite students to explore and express their emotions through artwork.
Ages 8-14 / 45
min Activity
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  • Create a self-portrait that represents a particular memory and the emotion(s) that they experienced during this moment 
  • Observe their peers’ artwork to identify the emotions that they were trying to portray  
  • Share their artwork with other classes through a collaborative Padlet board or asynchronous exchange (located in the “Gallery” and “Extensions” tabs)

Supporting Research

A self-portrait captures more than a person’s appearance - it shows their “inner life” which includes their emotions, thoughts, and experiences. During this activity, educators should encourage students to practice mindfulness as they portray a particular emotion in their self-portrait, depicting how it makes them feel, and emotion recognition to identify the emotions in others’ artwork. 

To learn more about these skills, and how they promote students’ healthy growth and the development of empathy, please check out our Empathy Framework.


  • Art materials (paper, pencils, pens, paint, crayons, etc.)

Activity Partners

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  1. Introduce the activity by explaining: “Today, we’re going to work on self-portraits. But more than simply showing how we look on the outside, we’re going to focus on showing how we feel on the inside. Emotions are a normal part of being human, and we experience so many of them, like happiness, sadness, frustration, and pride. Each emotion comes with its own sensations, like feeling butterflies in our stomach when we’re nervous. Sometimes, it can be hard to talk about our emotions, and so we can use creative ways to share our emotions with others.”
  2. Ask students to call out different emotions, and create a list of emotions on a physical or digital board that is visible to everyone. If helpful, you can use ideas from this Emotion Chart.
  3. Next, students should pick an emotion they’ve experienced recently, and write down a description of the situation and any sensations that they felt inside their body. 

    For example, someone might choose “happiness” because they recently went on a picnic with their family. They might remember feeling a warmth in their chest, laughing really loudly, or having big bursts of energy. 
  4. After students have selected an emotion, distribute art materials and provide time for them to create their self-portraits. It may be helpful for students to act out their emotion as they examine themselves in a mirror, noticing how it affects different parts of their face (e.g., their eyebrows, eyes, mouth, facial expression, etc.). 

    Students might begin by drawing themselves, and then use different colors, shapes, settings, symbols, words, and other details to show their chosen emotion. Encourage them to be creative in how they use these details to express the feelings and sensations they experienced. 

    Students can also use different formats like a painting, drawing, photograph, or collage. 
  5. After students have completed their art projects, facilitate a “gallery walk” and invite students to walk around and observe each other’s self-portraits.  

    As students view their classmates’ artwork, encourage them to think about the following questions: 
    • What details do they notice in the art? 
    • How does the self-portrait make them feel?
    • What emotion(s) do they think the artist was trying to express? Why? 
    • Do they experience these emotions in a similar or different way themselves? 

If students in both classes have individual devices (e.g., mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.)...

Use a platform such as Google Meet, Zoom, or Microsoft Teams which allows you to screen-share during a video call. 
One educator should set up the Kahoot! game and share the code with students in both classes by following this tutorial about using Kahoot! in a remote learning environment, and share their screen so everyone can follow along.

If students in either class don’t have individual devices...

Follow the same instructions above, with one educator starting the game and sharing their screen so both classes can follow along.  
Instead of students joining the game to answer the questions, they can hold up their fingers, call out their answer, or use a paper template to indicate their response.

If you prefer not using Kahoot!...

Use this document (Spanish version) to prompt students.