How to Teach Empathy in Classroom?

Focus on ‘Empathy’ has been going around for quiet sometime in the education world, and it’s not hard to see why. 

Empathy is an essential skill that makes an individual a responsible and helpful community member at school and elsewhere. This can also be a pathway to academic and career success, because it helps people understand and work with others. Students who posses empathy tend to be more engaged in classroom, have higher academic achievement, better communication skills, less aggressive behaviors or emotional disorders, do not bully others and build more positive relationships.  

This isn't something that children have been born with but they naturally have the capacity for empathy. They just learn how to notice, listen, and care by watching and listening to adults and peers, and they take cues from people about the importance of empathy. From teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers to administrators, and others – all of them play a crucial role in helping students develop and display empathy. However, it doesn’t necessarily take a lot of hard work to build empathy. You can build empathy by just teaching them in the right way. 

Here are some strategies teachers around the world use to teach both effective and cognitive empathy to their students:

Model Empathy: 

You may present yourself as a role model to your students, by giving example that shows students the power of empathy in relationships. Through examples you can model how to be positive when learning, then students mirror optimistic and confident learning behaviors. If not, you can do a thorough research and share the most effective examples with your students to teach empathy. You may recommend or display few videos to your students; it can also provide many great examples for students to model empathy on. 

Design a curriculum that teaches active listening: 

When it comes to promote empathy, active listening can be a great approach. You may design a curriculum that promotes active listening. Pocket Empathy is one such example (recommended by SSDS teachers) . It is an exercise that teaches 3rd graders the skill of ‘active listening’. This exercise entails pairing with a partner and following specific prompts such as eye contact when your partner is speaking, not interrupting in between and making insightful comments that acknowledge a student has been applying his or her whole self to what their partner is saying. 

Teach Point of view: 

Teaching students about different point of views for the very same thing can be an effective learning tool and can foster empathy by encouraging students’ curiosity. For instance, use the numbers like 6 and 9 to teach students about different point of view. First, have your students look at the number 6 and then the number 9. Now stating an example, like, the exercise came from ancient time where two princes were at war for many years. One prince looked at the image on the table and said it was a 6, while the other prince found it to be a 9. For years the battle raged, and one day when the princes were seated at the table a young boy turned the tablecloth around, and for the first time, they could see the other’s point of view. The war came to an end, and the princes became firm friends; using this example teach them about different point of views or perceptions. 

Use Literature to Teach Different Perspectives: 

It might sound different, but using literature can be a great tool to help students see a situation from different perspectives. For example, Jon Scieszka in his book The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, makes a solid point against what we think of the story, in general. When we read the story, we sympathize with the pigs because we see the wolf as a voracious villain, but is it possible to see the story from the wolf’s point of view? That’s exactly what he undertakes in “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs”. Similarly, you can use such examples to teach different perspectives and help develop empathy at the same time. 

Create Empathy Maps: 

Every year a new group of students enter into schools, each with their own and individual set of wants and desires, pain, fears, frustrations and preferences, making it difficult to recognize their needs in order to empathize with them successfully. So, it’s better to draw empathy map. It is a powerful tool that will provide intuitive insight into who your students are and how could you help them. You can simply create an empathy map, providing a particular situation and asking questions, like: 

What do you think and feel?  

What do you see? 

What do you hear? 

What do you say and do? 

All these will enable them think critically about how others would feel in a situation. 

Besides all of these, we have enlisted five best lessons (below) for further help: 

Developing Empathy (Teaching Tolerance) 

Empathy in Your Classroom (The Teachers Guild) 

Be Fearless, Be Kind: An Empathy Toolkit (Hasbro & Ashoka) 

Empathy Activities (Preventing Bullying) 

Five Activities for Building Empathy in Your Students (Brookes Publishing Co.) 

About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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