Teaching empathy, compassion and kindness are three of the most important character qualities I try to instill in my students during the school year. I want to share an engaging and important lesson and activity that I teach to 8th graders that is on empathy and compassion.
In my school district’s English department, our entire English Language Arts theme for the 8th graders is empathy. The literature we read are To Kill a Mockingbird, “Flowers for Algernon”, and The Diary of Anne Frank. They all link to the theme of empathy. We constantly connect the theme into the short stories and articles that we read.
I have to be honest; I love having the theme of empathy and compassion in 8th grade. As a middle school teacher, this age group often lacks compassion and empathy for one another, their peers and others. I don’t entirely blame it on them either. We know this is a pivotal time in their adolescence. Teenagers are immersed in their friends, social media and “their” world. Nevertheless, we do know the video games, social media and other things help desensitize them from reality and the real world. This is a perfect theme to have resonate throughout the year.
Activities to Teach Empathy, Compassion & Kindness
The first activity my students start with is an article called, “Are You Empathetic? 3 Types of Empathy”. This is a great introduction into the theme, and it helps my students understand the different types of empathy and what category they fall into as a maturing, young adult.
Secondly, I show them an empathy video clip. I have a few that I have in my teacher toolbox, and depending on how much time I have, all depends on how many I use; however, I always show “Empathy: The Human Connection.
I came across this video on accident. I was searching for activities to complete with my students when introducing empathy, and I found this gem! It is amazing! It is very hard to show students to see through others’ eyes, and this video does just this! What I love about the video is there is no talking or speaking, but just the thoughts of the people. It gives an excellent perspective to others. If we knew what others were thinking or feeling, would we have more compassion and empathy for them?
Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes Activity
The culminating activity I give my students in order to introduce the theme of empathy and compassion is, “Walking in My Shoes.” I introduce the infamous Atticus quotation from To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Here, I teach “Perspective-Taking Empathy”, which is the ability to put oneself into a person’s “shoes” and see things from his/her perspective.
From there, I introduce my shoe activity. On the front side of the shoe, my students write down ten things that people would not know about them unless they told you or could get into their mind. This ranges from sports, passions, interests, favorite movies, broken bones, hardships, obstacles, successes, and other interesting facts.
On the back of the shoe, my students choose a line from a song that best represents him/her (I assign this as a homework assignment I instruct the students to bring in the song lyrics to school, so they are able to write.) You would be amazed at the lyrics the students use to represent themselves. They range from popular pop songs to 70’s rock! In addition to them choosing a line, the students have to explain why they chose the line. The students have to give a detailed and thorough analysis of the line and relate it to their life. I am usually blown away by the amount of perseverance and strength many of the students have and how much they are willing to share with me regarding some of their struggles, obstacles and future goals.
For the final presentation of the two-part activity, the students get to choose their shoe template on which they want to complete their final piece. I have a variety of shoes from heels to Converse to sneakers. On one side of the shoe, the students write their ten facts about themselves, and on the other side of the shoe, they write their song lyric paragraph. The students love coloring in the shoe, and they are usually very creative with them. As you can see from above, the shoes come out a-mazzzzzzing! You can grab this activity below!
After I grade the shoes, I hang them up in my room in a “walking” pattern. I absolutely love this activity, and I hope you do too! The students really enjoy this activity, and they are always awfully proud of their shoes.