Overcome the Overwhelm

Students will create strategies for recognizing and overcoming feelings of “overwhelm”.
Ages 5-7 / 20
min Activity
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  • Use sensory words to define the word “overwhelmed” in a creative way 
  • Collaborate on a list of strategies and words of encouragement for someone who is feeling overwhelmed

Supporting Research

According to researchers, it is crucial that students are able to identify and regulate their emotions, as this ability is positively associated with academic success and productivity, mental well-being, and healthy relationship-building. This activity fosters students’ mindfulness and self-care skills as they describe what “overwhelmed” feels like for them and come up with helpful coping strategies, and kindness as they learn about how they can support their peers when they are feeling overwhelmed.

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

Activity Partners


  1. Begin by introducing students to a new character: Olly the Octopus. You might say: “Olly the Octopus has been feeling overwhelmed! To Olly, feeling overwhelmed is like listening to 100 whales bellow at once, or being stuck in cold, wet mud.”

    Get dramatic and really emphasize how poor Olly is feeling! If you have one available, consider bringing in a stuffed or toy octopus to really add to this experience.
  2. Emphasize to students that, despite all Olly's strengths, he has a problem that he needs their help with: he gets overwhelmed!

    Ask students what they think the word “overwhelmed” means and what they already know about it.
  3. Then, engage students in a Think-Pair-Share exercise. Students should:
    Think individually about a time when they felt overwhelmed, and draw a picture or write about this moment.
    Pair with someone sitting near them and share their memory, and why they felt overwhelmed.
    Share their memories with the rest of the class, including anything that helped them feel better.
  4. Ask students to form small groups of 2-4 students, and work together to come up with a creative description for the way “overwhelmed” feels. Encourage them to use sensory words and phrases, like "being stuck in cold, wet mud”.

    Students can write their description in the following sentence structure: Overwhelmed feels like…
  5. Next, pass out the “Ode to Octopus” handout to each student. In their groups, students should work together to brainstorm:
    Tips or strategies for when Olly (or anyone!) feels overwhelmed. What do they do when they feel overwhelmed? What should Olly try doing? Ask them to write their tips in the circles on Olly’s tentacles.
    Words of encouragement or kind words to share with Olly. They can write their kind words to Olly in the hearts on Olly’s tentacles.
  6. Afterwards, ask students to share their favorite tip, their favorite compliment, and the description for “overwhelmed” that their group brainstormed.
  7. Write their ideas down on three large pieces of paper to create:
    • A class definition of “overwhelmed”
    • Strategies for someone who feels overwhelmed
    • Words of encouragement that others can share with them

    Throughout the school year, keep the lists visible so students can refer to the strategies and words of encouragement during difficult or overwhelming moments.
  8. Finally, engage students in a discussion by asking the following questions:
    • What’s a strategy that you want to try in the future? Why did you choose this one?
    • When would this strategy be the most useful for you? (e.g., when you’re arguing with a friend, or feeling nervous before a test)
    • What did you learn about being a good friend to others when they are feeling overwhelmed? How would you help them?
    • Does everyone experience feeling “overwhelmed” in the same way? Are the same strategies helpful for everyone? Why or why not?

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.