The Plutchik Emotions Wheel

The Plutchik Wheel Emotions Wheel

This emotions wheel is one of my very favorite tools. I have used it for all kinds of things and present some of my best ideas here. My favorite way to use this chart is to have students use the emotion words as alternative chapter titles. Have the students think about the main events of the chapter and then have them choose the word that best describes the overall emotion. What becomes interesting is how the students justify their answers. Many chapters can support multiple words depending on which paragraphs stand out for certain students. Make sure the students cite the part of the chapter that they feel is most pertinent to their decision. With 32 words on the chart, there are often enough to cover an entire novel and not repeat any. This can become a fantastic critical thinking task. 

The depth of color indicates the intensity of the emotion. The middle ring shows the eight “basic” emotions with more intense emotions in the inner ring and less intense ones on the outer ring. For example, dark red indicates rage, red indicates anger, and pale red or pink shows mere annoyance. In addition, the words along the outer edge are “feelings” made up of the two basic emotions on each side. For example, joy + trust = love; sadness + disgust = remorse; and anger + anticipation = aggressiveness.

When using the chart in the classroom, it can be much more efficient to have the students refer to the wheel using the specific colors or by thinking of the chart as a clock face. So, disgust is violet, loathing is dark violet, and boredom is pale violet. Terror, fear and apprehension are at 3 o’clock, while optimism is at 11 o’clock. 

Plutchik Emotions Wheel

Critical and Creative Thinking

The wheel provides an excellent opportunity for critical thinking and analysis. Because it is set up as eight continua, along with the complication of the “double emotions,” or feelings, there is a tremendous opportunity for critical thinking and quality conversation. For example, when is a character experiencing terror, as opposed to fear? When does admiration “graduate” to trust? When does serenity become joy? When is sadness strong enough to be called grief? At the end of a story or movie, when are we surprised versus amazed? When does vigilance become anticipation? How are surprise and distraction related? What causes boredom?

Expect and encourage a lot of dictionary work as the students struggle to decide when a set of events, for example, constitutes acceptance, trust or admiration. Which word best applies to the situation? Is there a different word that would be better? What would be better about it? The students will have to work pretty hard to differentiate all of the various definitions and then decide which word best matches a poem, an event, a scene, a movie, or whatever.

The emotions chart is a great tool to get students thinking about what characters, narrators, and people are going through and experiencing. Once students know how others are feeling and experiencing, then they are more likely to:

  • empathize with people
  • make more accurate predictions
  • make personal connections 
  • make inferences
  • evaluate deeper aspects of the story
  • understand elements of writing
  • appreciate a writer’s word choice
  • focus on author’s emotional intent

Reading Predictions

As a tool for inquiry and reading, the wheel can be used to make predictions as readers and to generate useful questions and ideas as writers. Have the students use the chart to identify a primary emotion in the main character. From there, using evidence from the text, they can decide where the story might be going emotionally. For example, if the students decide that the main emotion in a chapter is sadness, then, given how the chapter ends, where will it move next? Will it develop deeper into grief? Will it relax into pensiveness? Will the main character develop disgust for something and then move into remorse? 

Language Math

In the emotions wheel, the outer ring of feelings is made up of the combination of two emotions. For example, joy + trust = love; sadness + disgust = remorse; and anger + anticipation = aggressiveness. 

Using this idea, students could be challenged to combine words and mathematical operations into all kinds of mathematical wordplay. There are far too many combinations just from the emotions wheel alone, but I trust that good teachers could make fantastic lesson plans from the ideas presented here. By the way, joy + trust = love, and I would certainly love to see other people enjoying these ideas!


What might joy + Anger equal?

What could trust + surprise equal?

What does sadness + fear equal?


Could terror – fear = apprehension?

Does Ecstasy – Joy = Serenity?

What does Allegiance – Pledge equal?


What could disgust × fear equal?

How might Trust × anticipation be different than Trust + anticipation?


What could loathing ÷ fear equal?

What might joy ÷ grief equal? How might joy ÷ sadness be different? 

What could love ÷ remorse equal?


creative thinking, English Class, Socratic Seminar

You may also like

The Slow Speed of Thought

The Slow Speed of Thought

What Can Stop an Idea?

What Can Stop an Idea?
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Schedule a FREE 15-Minute Consultation