Friday, November 01, 2019

Teaching perspective to build empathy

This article originally appeared in the Discovery Education blog "Kathy Schrock's Katch of the Month" in  November 2019 and is re-posted here with permission.

Empathy is defined, as per the Teaching Tolerance site, as “the understanding of, or the ability to identify with, another person’s feelings or experiences”.  This ability to put oneself in another’s shoes does help students build empathy and tolerance toward others. There are some great ideas online and in the Discovery Education Streaming  resources to support the teaching of the skillset involved in developing empathy. One of the areas included in this skillset is understanding the concept of perspective.


11 Activities to Help Students Understand Different Perspectives

Marsha Rakestraw, on the The Institute for Humane Education site, offers a series of age-appropriate lesson plans, mapped to the Common Core State Standards, that scaffold the understanding of perspective from grade two through twelve. The activities range in complexity from an hour-long lesson for the younger students which has them considering the commonalities that humans, cows, pigs, and chickens share, to a 90-minute activity that “inspires (high school) students to think about their own areas of prejudice, to identify how we develop our attitudes about others, and empowers them to take action to reduce bigotry in their own lives and in society.”

How To Teach Perspective-Taking to Children

This post, intended for speech-language pathologists working one-on-one with a student, includes activities that would be useful for K-12 classroom teachers and whole class discussion, too. Broken down by grade levels, each overview starts off with the typical skills of the age group and is followed by three practical activities to help students learn to look at situations from another’s point of view.

Perspective, People! Ideas on Teaching Literature

I love this blog post by Stephanie Jankowski. She realized her students struggled “with the idea that a narrator’s perspective is narrow and limited in that he tells the story through his own lens, based on his own experiences” in the literature her high-schoolers were reading. Jankowski created some practical point-of-view and perspective activities that could work across all the subject areas .

Finding Another Perspective

The first lesson plan, subtitled “Determining and actively seeking alternative perspectives to enhance our understanding of an issue”, provides a model for grades 2-12 that includes multiple activities that are practiced over a period of weeks. The components include large class discussion of point-of-view and perspective and identifying the stakeholders. The second lesson focuses on students finding and taking another perspective for various scenarios and also includes a useful student rubric.

Through Others Eyes: The Power of New Perspectives

Kathleen Cushman, of the New Teacher Center, provides a comprehensive overview of the teaching of perspective and its impact on empathy for the middle and high school student. Some ideas she includes are role-playing, the use of art and literature, and open discussions. This post includes a wonderful section on cultivating empathy with self-reflection. Cushman includes a useful list of questions for this.
    • If I were this person, how might I be feeling?
    • Can I come up with more than one way of seeing the situation?
    • What might have happened in the past that would cause this person to feel this way?
    • What unmet need might this person have?
    • Am I feeling frustrated?
    • Am I willing to listen and be open?
    • Am I willing to stick with an uncomfortable conversation?
    • Who or what does this person or situation remind me of? Am I reacting to something from my past?
    • Am I setting clear and healthy boundaries?
    • What does my body language show?

Critical Literacy: Taking Multiple Perspectives

This ninth grade Applied English unit from EduGAINS includes wonderful lessons, support materials, and information for the teacher. I feel it could be used from grades 7-12, too. The guiding questions for the unit are:
• How does who I am shape my perspective?
• How can I increase my understanding of the perspectives of others?
• What does it mean to take a position on an issue?
• What are some possibilities for action with or against a situation?
• How do we write a position statement or a position letter?
The unit uses whole class and small group activities, activator and summarizer strategies, and a series of questions for the teacher to help them develop strategies to move towards more student-driven classrooms.


Discovery Education Streaming includes many types of resources to use when teaching perspective to build empathy in students.
The SOS Strategies area includes a variety of ideas for embedding point-of-view and purpose into the curriculum.
I like Kristy Vincents’ Multiple Perspectives SOS which is described as “a teaching strategy that requires students to engage deeply with an image or video as they assume a perspective other than their own. Students create a narrative from inside a piece of media, from the perspective of an object or person within.” Below is the overview video, but there is also a Discovery Board here which includes components to edit and then share it with students as a center or an assessment.
Video Player
When searching the DES videos by the word “empathy” there are 82 videos clips and full-length videos that can be used when teaching perspective and empathy concepts. Here are a few I found interesting.

MyBlog: What’s empathy? Do I have it?

This 13-minute video for grades K-8 includes four chapters that provide an interesting look at how students in this age group approach empathy.

Cheddar K-12 Explains: Can empathy prevent a robot uprising?

This video discusses the importance of AI being programmed  to include components of empathy and emotional intelligence. This video could frame a lively classroom discussion with middle and high school students!

Do you teach empathy and/or perspective in the classroom? Are there some other methods you know of to teach perspective to help students develop their empathetic mindset? Are there resources you would like to share? Please do so on Twitter! #kathyskatch