Unhelpful Thoughts

Reflect on “unhelpful thoughts” and counteract them with a positive self-affirmation.
Ages 15-18 / 10
min Activity


  • ‍Learn about different types of “unhelpful thoughts” and the importance of identifying and challenging these thoughts
  • ‍Develop self-affirmations to remind themselves of their positive qualities and counteract any “unhelpful thoughts” they have had about themselves

Supporting Research

This activity is based on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which establishes a relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and empowers individuals to recognize and modify unhelpful patterns. Students should practice self-awareness to understand how their thoughts can impact their feelings and behavior, and self-care as they explore strategies that foster their mental and emotional well-being. 

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

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  1. Introduce the activity by asking students: “Have you ever found yourself “stuck” on an unhelpful thought? When we have an unhelpful thought, we might jump to conclusions, expect something bad to happen, or even believe the worst about ourselves. Unhelpful thoughts are not based on facts, but they can still make us feel anxious, scared, and other uncomfortable emotions. It’s important that we’re able to identify unhelpful thoughts, and change them to be more realistic or positive.”
  2. Ask students to write down a negative thought that they’ve had about themselves, but that they know is not true. For example: 
    • I won’t be able to figure this out.
    • My friends don’t really like me.
    • I can’t believe I made such a big mistake. I’m always messing up.

    Then, ask students to cross out, or tear up, the negative thought. 
  3. Next, students should write down a positive self-affirmation that starts with “I am…”, such as a personal strength or value, which counteracts the negative thought. For example:
    • I am strong and capable.
    • I am surrounded by people who love and support me.
    • I am always learning and getting better.

    You might say: “If that negative thought pops up again, I want you to pause, think about your self-affirmation, and remember your positive qualities. You are in charge of your thoughts.” 

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.