It should come as no new news that on any given school day, educators teach reading, writing, and math, along with other subjects like science, social studies, art, and health. But did you know that empathy is another topic that can and should be taught? Empathy, the way of connecting with other people that shows you understand they are experiencing something significant or important even if you can’t understand how that feels, is as important as the core academic subjects (Understood.org). It helps teachers understand what is driving a student’s behavior, it helps build communication skills, and it fosters civic conversation. There is an abundance of tech resources available to help educators incorporate empathy lessons into their lesson plans and daily instruction.
Tech Resources for Teaching Empathy
One Globe Kids is a website as well as an app that lets kids travel virtually around the world. Users click on a friend to visit and then learn about them along the way. Each story accompanies activities that are designed to create feelings and relationships between the user and their “new friend” (though the stories are all pre-recorded and while they are interactive, there is no actual back and forth conversation in real time). Users can practice speaking other languages, see real photos of kids from different countries, and learn what their day-to-day lives are like. One Globe Kids helps students foster an appreciation for different cultures and costumes, build global knowledge, and develop culturally open attitudes. As an added bonus, there are free ELA Common Core lessons available to be used online and offline.
Who Am I: Race Awareness Game – Awarded as one of the top 100 products for parents, teachers, and kids, Who Am I: Race Awareness Game is a fun and educational two-player game. It teaches kids to think responsibly and openly about race and diversity through open dialogues about human physical and racial identification. How it works is that player 1 selects a target picture and player 2 asks ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions to try to figure out who player 1 is thinking of. The goal of Who Am I is to bring to life some of the fascinating anthropological, historical, and psychological insights about race. It sheds light on how race developed, how race is historically changing, and how race affects the everyday lives of people. Because children are learning about race from a very young age, it is critical that parents and teachers talk and educate about race. And Who Am I is a good place to start.
Step In—Step Out—Step Back is another great resource to foster empathy. Created by Harvard Graduate School of Education, Step In-Step Out-Step Back is a routine designed for nurturing a disposition to take social and cultural perspective responsibly. Students examine a person in a particular situation. They then try stepping into their shoes to imagine what they are experiencing. They step back out in order to identify what they need to learn to understand the person’s experience. Finally they step back into their shoes to observe their own reaction. Reflecting on what they notice during this activity, students learn what it involves to take on another’s point of view and see things from another lense.
Middle School Confidential – This graphic novel app may be just what you are looking for if you teach grades 5-8. It helps students learn to identify emotions, reflect on personal strengths or areas of weakness, learn to see different viewpoints, and put their own troubles into perspective. One idea for using this in the classroom is by placing students into groups where they can write alternative endings to the scenarios they explore on the app. Additionally, the end of the chapter quizzes are great opportunities to further discuss with your class the hardships of navigating through middle school.
Avokiddo Emotions – Preschool and Kindergarteners are sure to love this entertaining and educational app. Students learn to identify emotions by looking at facial expressions and reacting to stimuli. Users choose various props and change the backgrounds of their scenes. They then make predictions about how characters will respond to those changes. This app helps students grow empathy by looking at emotional cues and being aware of how others may be feeling in a given environment. To take this app a step further and bring it to life, have your students use classroom props and design their own backgrounds. Then, act out how others feel when they come into their different scenes.
Spent is a website aimed at grades 7-12. It has a text-based, choose-your-own adventure design. How it works is that players begin reading sentences that pop up on the screen saying that 14 Million Americans are unemployed….now imagine you’re one of them…you’re down to your last 1,000…can you make it through the next month? Users then decide on a job based on pay and desire. They then have to take into account childcare experiences, where you choose to live, transportation, etc. The goal is to survive a month within their budget. By learning about tough choices adults need to make, students build empathy for their parents and their community and begin thinking more broadly about life choices they will need to make.
Empathy is a way of connecting with other people that shows you understand they are experiencing something significant even if you don’t understand how that feels. It is an important concept to teach students so they can broaden their perspective about other people’s circumstances, behaviors, and hardships. By incorporating some of the above websites and apps, teachers can help their students start building empathy and, in return, better relate to their friends and members of their community.