All done with this lesson? You can mark it as complete in your dashboard.

2. Set

In this activity…

Students build self-awareness by reflecting on their preferred method for receiving empathy. They then contribute to a community empathy commitment.


Let students know that empathy is the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and that practicing empathy involves nonjudgmentally taking another person’s perspective, understanding their feelings, and being able to communicate this understanding.

Explain that, when it comes to empathy, different people have different needs and students’ own needs may even differ from situation to situation. Also note that there is no right or wrong way to demonstrate or receive empathy.

To illustrate this point, read a list of actions that are examples of how empathy might be demonstrated or received and ask students to raise their hands when they hear an option that they would prefer.

The following statements and lists are taken from Brené Brown’s #daringclassrooms Empathy Integration Idea:

When I’m having a hard time or my feeling are hurt and I share what I’m feeling with someone, I like that person to:
  • Look right at me o Look away a little so it doesn’t feel so hard
  • Give me a hug
  • Give me some space
  • Say something so I’m not just standing there
  • Just listen and stay quiet
When someone is having a hard time or their feelings are hurt, and they share what they’re feeling with me:
  • I worry that I might not say the right thing
  • I want to say something that will make them feel better
  • I get nervous
  • I want to fix it

Students will likely have varied preferences – use these differences to demonstrate how empathy is a complex skill that challenges students to be flexible and in tune with others. This is also a great opportunity to explain that sometimes students will get empathy “wrong”.

Let students know that these situations (where they get empathy wrong) are called empathy misses and explain that what matters is not if they messed up, but whether or not they cleaned up their mess. Emphasize that when students mess up and miss empathy, it’s always possible to circle back, try again, and clean up the mess.  

Finally, on a poster paper write, “I agree to practice empathy, mess up, circle back, clean up, and try again.” To reinforce student’s learning and shared commitment to empathy, have every student sign the poster. If you have room, hang the poster in a visible area of your classroom.