Empathy can be a tough concept for children to understand. Kids are often focused on their own needs and feelings, but a successful school community relies on students who can demonstrate empathy toward others. Author Michele Borba, Ed.D. explains that when students possess low levels of empathy they are more likely to be associated with:
- anxiety and depression
- weak moral reasoning
Empathy is a term used to describe the understanding and sharing of feelings that others have, especially if an individual has never experienced these feeling themselves. If we help children develop empathy, we can grow a generation of more caring and compassionate individuals.
Here are some activities that you can implement into your lesson plans to practice empathy in the classroom.
Collaborate with Group Tasks
Working together on a challenging task may initiate a conversation between students who don’t typically interact with each other. Through collaboration, they may notice that they share the same opinions or points of view, as well as understand where they differ from each other. Sharing the sense of victory or failure can also increase empathy with other students.
Focus on Active Listening
When you turn off your internal dialogue and focus on what someone is saying, you begin to really “hear” them. Turn & Talk is a good exercise for practicing active listening, especially when you implement Second Set Partners. This activity requires students to paraphrase and repeat their original partner’s answer to another student.
Share Good News
Empathy is not all about the bad times. It can also be used to respond to happiness and pride. Practicing positive empathy can be a great starting point in your classroom. Allow students to share their happy stories and successes, and encourage others to express enthusiasm about good news.
Read More Fiction
Reading allows us to get lost in another person’s story. Selecting stories that are set in a different time period or a different region of the world and feature characters with different cultural, religious, or economic backgrounds, can help readers empathize with other people’s lives.
Celebrate Different Cultures
As ancestry kits grow in popularity, people are learning more and more about their cultural background and family history. Give your students the opportunity to explore their backgrounds and share with their classmates, whether it’s a simple family tree project or a research project that spans the whole marking period. Together they can learn about and celebrate their individuality.
Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Kindness and empathy in the classroom go hand-in-hand. As a way to support empathy in your classroom or even school-wide, consider instituting a Random Acts of Kindness Week. Provide your students with a list of suggested kind acts to get them started and see how many acts of kindness they can accomplish. Set a goal for your class and track your progress throughout the week.