EASE lesson overview

Cognitive restructuring

In cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), cognitive restructuring includes learning to both recognize unhelpful thoughts and consider more helpful thoughts.

Unhelpful thoughts often focus on things going wrong. They can make us feel unsure about ourselves, stop us from taking risks and trying new things, and prevent us from being successful. “Everyone will laugh at me” and “I’m so dumb—I can’t do this” are examples of unhelpful thoughts. They tend to be exaggerated and often are untrue. 

Helpful thoughts are encouraging and help us feel confident and brave so we can take risks and try new things. They can be as simple as “It will be okay” or the word “yet” added after an unhelpful thought: “I can’t do this yet.”

Teachers can regularly encourage students to pay attention to their thoughts—what they are “telling themselves,” “imagining” or “picturing in their head”—and connecting them with how they are feeling and what they are doing as a result.

Helpful and Unhelpful Thinking

This is one of two lessons in the Understanding Thoughts section of EASE. It helps students recognize the different types of thoughts they have every day and how their thoughts influence what they do and how they feel.

Why teach this?

Teaching children to recognize helpful and unhelpful thoughts can increase self-awareness and optimism, which has been shown to build resilience.

Lesson outcome

Students will notice and identify helpful and unhelpful thoughts; older students will also start to recognize how their thoughts influence their feelings and behaviours.

Lesson activator

Read a story or watch a video about a character whose thoughts could be easy to guess. As you read, ask students to say whether the character is having helpful or unhelpful thoughts.

Suggested materials

Grades K–7: Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds; Penguin Problems, by Jory John; or a related book of your choice

Hands-on learning

  • Grades K–3: students move their bodies in different ways when they hear a helpful or unhelpful thought
  • Grades 4–7: students brainstorm examples of helpful and unhelpful thoughts and engage in activities to explore the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviours


Imagine that you’re in the situation described below. Create two Thoughts–Feelings–Behaviours pathways, one with helpful thoughts and related feelings and behaviours, and one with unhelpful thoughts and related feelings and behaviours.

The Thoughts-Feelings-Behaviour Connection

Take a look at the example situation below, and the way thoughts and feelings can influence behaviour. Next, click Hide example to see another hypothetical situation. What thoughts, feelings and behaviours might you have?


What are some ways to incorporate the skills and knowledge learned in this lesson into your everyday interactions with students? You can get some ideas from others, in Tips from Other Educators, below.

Tips from other educators

Grade 1 teacher/Principal

“Two books that kids loved during this lesson were I Will Be Okay and I Can Handle It by Laurie Wright. These books exemplify the power of a mindful mantra (or a helpful thought!). As their teacher, ensuring that I was modelling the use of these mantras aloud when I was experiencing a challenge or frustration was very powerful for the kids. They loved to repeat the mantra for me as well, stating, ‘Yes, Ms. Rose, you can handle this.’ It became a common connection for the entire class in times of struggle or challenges.”​

Activity: Get up and move!

Movement Breaks is one of the lessons in the Relaxation and Chill-out Tools section of EASE. It includes descriptions of short, energizing activities that release stress and improve mood, which can contribute to positive overall classroom functioning. Regular movement breaks are good for all students, but those with muscle tension due to anxiety particularly benefit from getting “out of their heads” and engaging in activities that allow them to shift attention and move their bodies.

Try this: Stand up with your feet hip-width apart. Reach your hands up high overhead and take a deep breath. Interlace your fingers above your head and point your index fingers toward the ceiling. On an inhale, lean gently to the left to stretch the right side of your body. Hold for a count of five and come back to centre as you exhale. Repeat on the opposite side.

What happened?  What physical and mental changes did you notice after trying the movement breaks technique? When might this strategy be useful in your classroom? Consider including this strategy in your action plan.

Just because you think something doesn’t make it true

Exaggerated, unhelpful thoughts, like “I can’t do anything right!” or “Everyone will laugh at me,” can make us feel unsure about ourselves and stop us from taking reasonable risks and trying new things.

Challenge these types of thoughts by asking questions like “Is that really true?” or recalling past successes to show that just because you think something doesn’t make it true!

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