Empathy is the ability to look at a situation for another point of view. It is the ability to be able to connect and understand those who may be different from ourselves. As such, empathy is an integral part of education and is becoming increasingly important as our societies become more diverse.
The following activity, Thinking Faces, is a great starting point for exploring how others may be feeling, for connecting with those feelings and encouraging positive interactions based on nonverbal cues. Let’s get to it!
In this game children use visual cues to explore how characters may be feeling.
Gather a series of images of people from magazines, the internet, books etc. Try to make them as varied as possible and not too small. You might include such people as a clown, a toddler, an elderly person, a ballerina, a soldier, a juggler, someone wearing flippers, people exhibiting a variety of emotions. Paste these pictures onto card and cut them out. (A ready-made resource pack is available for download at www.theresourcecupboard.co.nz)
Tell the children that you are going to show them a series of pictures of people. As they see each person they must imagine that they are that person and then walk around the room as they think that person would. Allow a few moments for the children to get into character, and then call freeze frame*.
Use spoken thought* to explore how the children are feeling before coming out of character and gathering back together as a class.
Discuss with the children what influenced the way in which they decided to walk/to feel. Discuss how they interpreted the characters feelings. Have the children brainstorm ideas of what may have lead to the character’s emotion to begin with….
Repeat with the next image.
With older children, you could introduce further activities by using two or more of the pictures at a time, or show pictures of a group of people. They could act out a conversation or short scene involving those people. Ask the children to think about how the people involved in the scene may react. Discuss how we pick up a lot of clues about a person or a situation form visual details.
Our classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse (which is a good thing in my opinion but that’s a whole other story). By explicitly teaching empathy, we help children engage in a deeper understanding and a richer enjoyment of life, and the ability to connect and build meaningful relationships with others. Sounds good to me!
And remember, you are doing a great job. In the words on the immortal Nelson Mandela, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ Yep, sure is!
*Freeze Frames – a drama technique where characters freeze as a still image or silent tableaux used to illustrate a specific incident or event. They are useful for enabling close scrutiny of an incident or situation.
*Spoken thought – a drama technique whereby characters are frozen. The teacher touches a character on the arm or shoulder and asks them to share what they are thinking/feeling.
A ready to download resource pack for this activity is available at www.theresourcecupboard.co.nz