Inspired by this lesson, and the fact that my 4th graders are choosing to be unkind on an all too frequent basis, December’s social skills lesson for 4th graders was on empathy.
In the first part of the lesson (4th grade lessons are split into two parts), we read Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy; and discussed the two parts of empathy:
1) Think about what the other person is feeling. How would you feel in that situation
2) Think about what that other person/needs wants. What would you need or want from others in that situation?
In the second part of the lesson, we reviewed the definition and two parts of empathy. I also brought 6 shoe boxes to the room. I sadly did not have real shoes inside (partly due to cost, partly due to the immaturity of my students – I didn’t want to hear “ew”) but I did print and color pictures of different kinds of shoes. I asked for brave volunteers to come up and open a box. I held up the shoe picture while they read the scenario inside. Volunteers then followed each step of empathy from before (how does the person feel and what do they need from others).
Here were the scenarios:
- I am staying home today
because my stomach doesn’t feel right. Actually, mom and dad broke up this
summer and I don’t get to see my dad very much now. Everything has changed so
much at home and it is all I can think about. This is my third day to miss
school so far and my mom says she’ll lose her job if she has to keep taking off
of work to stay home with me. Put yourself in my shoes.
- I am a baby and something’s not right so I’m
going to the Doctor. I haven’t been sleeping well so I’ve been kind of fussy
lately. It could be that I’m cutting some teeth, but mom’s not sure. I cry all
the time and it is driving my brother and sisters crazy. I’m too young to
explain how I’m feeling because I don’t talk yet. Put yourself in my shoes.
- I am a fourth grader at Lakeview Elementary. I really struggle
with math assignments and it takes me longer than everyone else at my table to
finish our worksheets. Sometimes I steal their pencils so that I don’t have to
waste time looking for one. People at my table try and talk to me when I am
working and sometimes I snap at them and say mean things. I am trying to
concentrate because I know I am not going to do well anyway. Put yourself in my
- I just moved here from a foreign country. My English is not very
good yet and I have a strong accent. I don’t understand a lot of the classroom
rules so I keep making mistakes. My teacher gives me a lot more chances than
other people in my class because I am new. But it makes people not want to be
my friend because they don’t think that’s fair. Put yourself in my shoes.
- I am a teacher and I really want my students to learn and reach
their goals. I have 25 students in my class that are all very different and all
need me to help them. When I was working with a small group, students kept
coming to the table with questions and accidentally interrupted what we are
doing. I stood up and demanded that all of my students return to their seats
and to not get up in an angry voice. Put yourself in my shoes.
- I am a fourth grade girl and I got a REALLY bad haircut. I got
gum in my hair and my mom had to cut it out. The person at the salon couldn’t
even fix it! Everyone has noticed and it has put me in a really bad mood. I
just want to be by myself. I don’t even want to be around my friends. Put
yourself in my shoes.
Though students didn’t connect with the book as much as I’d hoped, they really enjoyed the shoe box activity (as did the teachers). The most interesting thing about this was getting to see how very different my 4th grade classes responded to this. A couple of my classes really struggled to use empathy and instead continued to focus on how the individual in the scenario could solve the problem. On the one hand, it’s great that they want to be problem solvers (and some had great suggestions). On the other hand, it showed that developmentally, some need more scaffolding before they can discuss empathy in this way.