Providing the opportunity for students to share some of their experiences with other students not only helps develop relationships between students, but it also allows students to put themselves in the place of someone else’s shoes/perspective. I like to use this activity before or after a unit/lesson on bullying as empathy is an important part of preventing and intervening in bullying behaviors.
Lesson Title: Empathy
- PS:A2.2 Respect alternative points of view
- PS:A2.3 Recognize, accept, respect and appreciate individual differences
- PS:A2.7 Know that communication involves speaking, listening and nonverbal behavior
- Students will be able to describe what empathy is and why it is important
- Technology to present the following video(s): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_1Rt1R4xbM
Introduce the lesson by playing the following video from Sesame Street about Empathy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9_1Rt1R4xbM
- Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, experience, etc.
- Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes (explain this saying and that it does not actually mean wearing someone else’s shoes)
- This is kind of like a detective trying to understand someone else’s reasons and motives for something
Discuss why empathy is such an important part of having good relationships and understanding the world
- You will be able to respond better to others and maintain better relationships
- You will understand how to comfort others
- You can better explore other perspectives and ideas
Have students sit face to face with
Let both partners know that they will share a time when they felt scared. Give them 30-60 seconds of quiet time to think about the story they want to share.
Ask each pair to decide on the first speaker and let them know they will have 1-2 minutes to share their story. Prepare the listeners by reminding them to quiet their bodies, make eye contact, and pay attention to the details that their partner shares.
- Practice cognitive empathy
Ask speakers to share their story. When they are finished, ask the listeners to give their partners their responses to these questions:
- How would you paraphrase (describe
in your own words) the situation that your partner is dealing with in this
- What details made this situation so scary?
- What was the moment in the story when your partner felt most afraid?
Ask the speakers to reflect on their partner’s retelling of their story. Ask them to give their listening partner their responses to these questions:
- Did your listener describe the
situation accurately? If not, can you clarify their understanding?
- Did your listener understand the details that made this situation so scary? If not, can you clarify their understanding?
- Did your listener understand the moment that most frightened you? If not, can you clarify their understanding?
- Practice emotional empathy
Confirm that all partnerships have clarified their understanding. Now ask the listeners these self-reflective questions to help them practice emotional empathy:
- Have you ever felt as scared as the speaker was in their story?
- How did your fear feel inside your own body at that that time?
- Can you imagine how the speaker felt inside their body during their story?
- Can you remember that same feeling and feel it now?
- Practice compassionate empathy
Lastly, ask these questions of the listeners to help them integrate cognitive and emotional empathy and practice compassionate empathy.
- Now that you understand your partner’s point of view and can feel how they felt at the time, what might you have done at the time to make them feel better?
- What could you do now to make them feel better?
- Do it!
Switch roles and repeat!
Once students have completed the pair share, reconvene the class as a circle. In a go-round (using a talking piece, if you have one), invite students to respond to these questions:
- What do you understand about your partner, and his or her life, that you didn’t understand before this activity?
- What did you learn about yourself by doing this activity?
- How can you practice empathy in your own life?
You may also share the following videos to further explore the topic: