3 Great Ideas for Teaching Empathy to K-12 Students
It can be quite challenging to teach empathy to students, since the concept is quite abstract. The line between sympathy and empathy is quite blurred, and even explaining the subtle difference between the two to adults can be difficult.
The dictionary definition doesn’t help much, either, as it is rather vague, simply reading as ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’. We’re going to show you three ways that you can teach empathy to your students, whether they’re in kindergarten or in the 12th grade.
Read on to learn more.
Creating an Empathy Map
Research has shown that the easiest way for students to grasp the concept of empathy is to empathize. This is one of the main reasons why educators should always promote active learning.
‘Empathy Maps’ are a great way to incorporate this kind of learning into the classroom to help students understand empathy, and the idea was created by the Solomon Schechter Day School. It involves partnering students up to create ‘thorns’ and ‘roses’ as a way to represent positive and negative emotions.
The students will then place their thorns and roses onto various areas on a board, placing them into the categories of See, Feel, Hear, and Think. This promotes a kind of critical thinking about how another person would feel in a given situation, which helps them understand empathy.
Use Literature as a Way to Teach Perspective
Literature is another resource that can help students understand empathy, as it teaches them about the perspective of others. This is another strategy for active learning. For instance, we all know the story of ‘The Three Little Pigs’.
In it, we tend to be on the side of the pigs, because all they wanted to do was escape the wolf, who just wanted to blow their houses down and eventually eat the pigs. He is seen as the villain.
However, in the retelling of the classic story by Jon Scieszka, the wolf did not purposely try to blow the pigs’ houses down. Instead, he was suffering from allergies, and when he stopped by the pigs’ house to borrow some sugar, he let out a powerful sneeze and blew the house down.
Teaching Point of View
It can be beneficial to teach your students that almost everything in life can be looked at from different angles. Take a coin, for example. Ask two students to hold it between themselves – with one looking at the heads side and the other looking at the tails.
They’ll understand that, while either of them can only see one side of the coin at a time, they both know that the coin has two sides and that the other student is seeing the side that they cannot. This will teach them that empathy and point of view go hand-in-hand.
You could also have a class discussion to talk about the importance of understanding that people will have conflicting opinions simply because they are looking at things from a different point of view.