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How to Teach Empathy in the Classroom

Empathy, SEL & Character, Social Skills

Written by: Angie Olson

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:

  • Use the paper doll to tell a story about when they felt different emotions.
  • Show  how someone is feeling in a story or real life using the paper doll.
  • Act out scenarios showing empathy using the paper dolls.
  • Write about a time they showed empathy and use the paper doll to help them think about the emotions and feelings involved.

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! 

empathy paper dolls

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. 

empathy sorting template

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. 

teaching empathy parent letters

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!

sel toothy scenario 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

sel toothy digital scenario about compassion

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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Teaching empathy in the classroom can be tricky.  Social emotional learning is a must have focus in all classrooms but we aren't always given the resources to do it.  This post gives you ideas in teaching empathy in the classroom.

1 Comment

  1. carol allen

    What a great lesson! I cannot wait to use this is the fall.


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