Developing Empathy: lesson Ideas

Лиза Мардоян

Преподаватель английского (IAB International Academy of Business), переводчик, сертифицированный преподаватель (CELTA), PTE Examiner, автор курсов

Emotional Intelligence is a buzzword in ELT nowadays.  It is crucial to nurture empathy, as the cornerstone of Emotional Intelligence, not only in young learners or teenagers but also in adults.  

Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation. It is one of the most critical social skills learners can develop. It is crucial to develop this skill In this article, we will present some activities which will help the learners identify empathy and experience it towards their fellow learners. 

Identifying and Modeling Emotions

  • The teacher teachers the words of emotions. Then the teacher shows a poster with different emotions and asks students to point to the face that shows happiness, sadness, fear, etc. You carry on this activity until all students have had the chance to show at least one emotion. 
  • As a second step, ask volunteer students to show an emotion through a physical act/modeling. In case of necessity, the teacher jumps in and helps. Fellow students try to guess the emotion. After each guess, ask the students what could have happened to you to make them feel that way.  
  • Discuss potential scenarios that may elicit emotions. Students are asked to show what they would look like if they experienced the following situations: 
    • Your pet died.
    • A person in your class got a phone that you have really wanted for a long time.
    • You won a lottery.
    • You got a promotion that you weren’t expecting. 
    • You moved to a new country.
    • You’ve got to take your exams again.
    • Your classmate is constantly singing and drumming on the table. 

Acting out Stories 

Divide stu­dents into three groups and give each of them a different story from this handout. You can make up your own stories to fit the students’ age and interests. One student from each group will be the main character, and the rest of the group should help the student act out the emotion the person in the story might have.

After each group shows their depiction of the emotion, the teacher asks the rest of the class the following questions:

  • What do you think the main character feels?
  • What physical cues made you think so?
  • Why is it important to know someone else’s perspective?
  • What could you do or say if you were a friend of the main character?

    In Someone Else’s Shoes

You begin the class with the definition of empathy and explain that when we relate to what another person is going through, we are being empathetic. Provide the learners with the following questionnaire “Are you empathetic?”

Read each item below. Circle “yes” if the statement describes you or “no” if it doesn’t.

  1. I don’t think about other people’s feelings. YES/NO
  2. I don’t make fun of other people because I can imagine what it feels like to be in their shoes. YES/NO
  3. I listen to others about what they are going through. YES/NO
  4. I try to understand other people’s points of view. YES/NO
  5. I am aware that not everyone reacts to situations the same way I do. YES/NO

Students are divided into pairs and interview each other on these statements. If most of the answers are “yes”, it means this person is empathetic. The statements they answered “no” to are things they could work on to be more empathetic. 

As a next step, students each receive a character card from this handout and take some time to imagine how their character feels in the given situation. After each student has read and examined his/her card, they pair up and describe their case to their partner who tries to be empathetic, ask questions, comfort the partner, and give some piece of advice. Then they swap roles. With a partner, students discuss how they have shown empathy towards each other, how it made them feel, and what could have been done differently. Here is an example of the feedback: “I can tell that you were really listening to me because you kept eye contact while I was telling you my story and that made me think you really cared.”

As a wrap-up activity, the students are timed for some 10 minutes, they mingle in the classroom and share what they have learned about being empathetic/practicing empathy.

All these lesson ideas are great ways of introducing to the topic of empathy and practicing what it feels like to be empathetic. Surely, students will learn a lot and implement those skills in real-life situations as well.

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