Many moons ago (4 years and 3 months to be exact), I wrote a blog post about teaching empathy with the book Stand in My Shoes and a bunch of old shoe boxes. I used it a couple more times in the classroom and then a few more times in small groups. And then…it became time for an upgrade.
The lesson was originally designed for 4th grade, and with a specific cohort of students in mind. The needs of my students have changed since then (holy guacamole – they are so much kinder to one another now!), this year I needed to do an empathy lesson with 2nd grade, and I was a bit tired of carrying the boxes around to each classroom (#shrug). I also saw a decent chunk of students get too distracted by the shoe brands on the boxes. This lesson needed a reboot.
First, I tried to find another book. A better book. I failed. I could find some marvelous books that had 1-2 examples of empathy in them (Those Shoes, Each Kindness, etc.) – but I needed a book that explained empathy and gave several model examples! I looked at Hey, Little Ant (again, since I did perspective taking using this book last year) – but again it only had 1 example and it wasn’t very applicable to my students. I read through How Do I Stand in Your Shoes? – and I couldn’t get over the awful illustrations and the wording that seemed so out of touch with how my kids think and talk. So…it was back to Stand in My Shoes. Not perfect, but also not bad and at least it has several examples. I did skip a few pages in it (a couple “examples” were not what I actually would call empathy), but I do that now and then in other books too. (Note: I love the Sesame Street empathy video and I use that in small groups all the time, but I really needed and wanted more examples to scaffold the concept whole group before having groups practice showing empathy on their own).
Because of my EL learners, and just to make sure I was making it as concrete as I could, I also had some student volunteers come and “stand” in the shoes of some of the characters to tell us how the main character showed them empathy.
Then I introduced the activity. This was where I had previously whipped out my super cool shoe boxes. Less exciting (but also less distracting), were the file folder scenarios I brought this time. Inside each was a printed photo of someone wearing shoes and a written scenario with two questions (how was the person feeling and how could you show them that you care). I laid one on each table and explained to students that they’d be rotating around, practicing standing in the shoes of the characters in each scenario. We did one together and then they were on their own!
Even in spring semester, with 2nd graders that have been receiving regular SEL instruction for years, and that just had a lesson on identifying the feelings in others, this was a little bit of a challenge. The could ID the feelings in a snap, and unlike my previous students they didn’t all try to say what the character themselves should do. It was tricky for them to think of actual things to do or things to say in the situations though. But I think empathy is also just tricky in general – it’s easy to describe but it’s a complex skill that takes repetition and reinforcement and modeling and practice to take hold!
Looking for the lesson plan pieces and parts all typed out and ready to go? You can find it in my store by clicking below (now with a digital version included):