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Feelings Barometer

Thinking about nuclear weapons and small arms can be frightening and unsettling for adults and young people alike. This exercise is useful for talking with students about feelings and/or learning about the majority feeling of the class when discussing controversial issues. It is also an open-ended way for a teacher to gauge how their students are feeling.

Begin by asking the students to define the purpose of barometer. Explain that by using our imagination, we going to create a "feelings barometer" that instead of measuring air pressure, we are going to measure how people are feeling. Again this can be feelings in general, or feeling specific to issues being discussed in this class series, such as feelings that arise when discussing a nuclear test ban, or when discussing the problem of nuclear proliferation.

Once the class understands how the "feelings barometer" works, set up the controls of your imagined machine. Draw a number line on the chalkboard, or on a large piece of paper, ranging from -5 to +5 with zero in the middle.

With feelings in descending order of -5 being the worst possible day to +5 being the best, ask students to describe their current emotional state with the corresponding number. Invite them to make an x by the number they have chosen. And for those who are willing to volunteer, ask students to explain why they put their x where they did.

For Class Discussion, an Educator Might Ask:

  • If the photograph were a still from a film, what do think happened before and what happened after the photograph was taken?
  • What comments or observations do you want to make about the feelings barometer?
  • According to the barometer, how are most students in the class feeling today?

For a Class Discussion on a Specific Question/Issue, an Educator Might Ask:

  • What are the reasons why someone might be feeling good about gun control and small arms disarmament?
  • Why might someone have negative feelings about gun control and small arms disarmament?
  • What are the reasons why someone might be feeling good about nuclear disarmament?
  • Why might someone have negative feelings about nuclear disarmament?

Wrap up the class discussion by explaining the special and transient nature of feelings. Like air pressure that changes with the weather, our feelings also change. They are not stagnant. Sometimes we are having emotionally sunny days and sometimes we are caught in the middle of a storm. Weather changes, feelings change and to express the variety of feelings we have "due to a variety of conditions in our personal lives and in the world around us" is a perfectly sane and healthy.

Adapted from Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility.