Empathy is the ability to really put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel the way they are feeling. It’s more than just sympathy and feeling sorry for another person. It’s truly trying to understand what they are going through. This is a hard concept for young people (and even some adults) to grasp. So can you teach empathy? The good news is that yes, you absolutely can. There are many ways to teach empathy in your classroom. The earlier you start, the more likely students are going to exhibit empathetic characteristics in their own lives.
An entire module in our Social Emotional Learning Curriculum focuses on the character trait of empathy. Here are some ideas that come directly from that module to show you how to teach empathy in the classroom.
Download Social Emotional Curriculum HERE
Use “Empathy” Paper Dolls
Have your students make paper dolls to illustrate their own emotions. Each doll template in The Social Emotional Learning Curriculum comes with several different emotions. Your students will be able to use these dolls when you are teaching about empathy in the classroom. Some activities you may want to try with the dolls include:
Using dolls helps students express their emotions without feeling embarrassed or put on the spot. It’s a perfect way to start relating to others and empathizing!
Download Paper Doll Template HERE
Sort characteristics and non-characteristics of empathy
Have your students sort what empathy is and isn’t on the sorting chart from The Empathy Unit . Students cut behavior actions off the bottom of the page. Then they read and sort the actions into two categories: empathetic & NOT empathetic. Some empathetic actions include holding the door for someone or asking a friend why they are crying. Some NOT empathetic actions include pointing at a person who has a disability or laughing when someone drops their lunch. By recognizing what behaviors are and are not empathetic, your students can start to practice empathy in their own lives.
Download Empathy Unit HERE
Reinforce Empathy at Home
Home connections are perfect ways to practice skills and reinforce what you’re teaching in class. The home connection sheet from The Social Emotional Learning Curriculum helps facilitate conversations about empathy with parents and guardians. By encouraging parents to discuss specific scenarios which require empathy, your students can make that home-school connection.
Read and Write About Empathy
One of our favorite things about The Social Emotional Learning character curriculum is connecting reading and writing to what the students are learning in class. The empathy resources include passages at 1st grade and 2nd grade reading level. Passages are perfect to use in reading centers, with a whole group, or independently. First, students read the passage. The passage has a difficult situation involving empathy but it does not have an ending. Next, the students need to decide how to respond to the situation with guided writing and reflection.
Practice Empathy Scenarios With Toothy
Assign students the Empathy Toothy set of task cards!
Whole group: The teacher reads the task card aloud, calls on a volunteer to answer and shows the class the answer -then they draw a tooth if correct.
Small Group/ Partners/ Individually: Since this resource is available in printed and digital format, it can be assigned for distance learners OR as a tech station!
Download Empathy Toothy HERE
Here’s a week-at-a-glance for how to use Toothy in different ways to support SEL in the classroom.
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What a great lesson! I cannot wait to use this is the fall.