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Make the Classroom a Haven for Empathy With These Online Resources

Teachers have the power to create an environment in their classroom that is one of inclusiveness, tolerance, and optimism, despite whatever is going on outside in the world. One of the fundamental ideas of social and emotional learning, which is becoming a critical area of academic focus in recent years, includes feeling and showing empathy for others. Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another, without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner—putting yourself in someone else's shoes. Teaching empathy in schools can help students understand multiple perspectives of the reality of others, and learn compassion for their emotions as well.

The level of empathy taught in students’ homes is uncertain and not guaranteed, which could lead to biases and prejudices that may go unchecked throughout childhood and adolescence. Teachers, counselors, and administrators can teach empathy to ensure their students are getting exposure to these kinds of social and emotional learning topics to emphasize their importance.

Teaching Tolerance

Teaching Tolerance is an organization that has been actively aiming to reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations, and support equal school experiences for children since 1991. Their website provides lesson plans, learning plans, articles, and films that promote social justice and challenge bias. The lessons are written with a framework based on the Social Justice Standards:

Divided into four domains—Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action (IDJA)—the Standards recognize that, in today's diverse classrooms, students need knowledge and skills related to both prejudice reduction and collective action. Together, these domains represent a continuum of engagement in anti-bias, multicultural, and social justice education. The IDJA domains are based on Louise Derman-Sparks’ four goals for anti-bias education in early childhood.

One of the site’s learning plans called Despite Our Differences, geared for grades 3–5, features an essential question: How can I live, work, and play with others when we have differences? The learning plan then provides literature and textual information, teaching strategies, and a variety of student tasks that aim to explore and answer that question. Lesson plans, comparatively, provide a specific learning objective, with targeted reading, strategies, and tasks to fulfill the learning goal.


Newsela is a site that offers news articles at all reading levels, so no one is left behind. They publish news and nonfiction articles daily at five levels of complexity for grades 2–12 using their own proprietary, rapid text-leveling process. They combine their content with standards-aligned assessments, creating a seamless learning process. Newsela’s “A Mile in Our Shoes Initiative” is a partnership with Teaching Tolerance, comprised of a collection of text sets detailing the lives of Muslims, the LGBTQ community, veterans, and people with disabilities. Each text set features discussion questions that students can answer while reading through the texts.

For example, one of the text sets "A Mile in Our Shoes: African-Americans" features a variety of stories written by and about African-Americans, with a series of discussion questions presented prior to the stories. Each question focuses on either identity, diversity, justice, or action.

Games and Applications

There are a number of games and applications on the market that educators and parents can utilize to help teach empathy:

Avokiddo Emotions
Kids learn about and identify emotions through facial expressions in this play app. They're encouraged to use their creativity by reacting to the animal characters’ stimuli, and make new scenes by using props to dress up and interact with them.

Middle School Confidential
This is a graphic novel application, featuring a discussion-rich narrative, that helps kids learn to identify emotions, reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses, respect different perspectives, build friendships, persevere through challenges, and put their troubles in perspective.  

Cool School: Where Peace Rules
In this game, kids learn conflict-resolution skills by watching animations of realistic situations and seeing the effects of both good and bad choices, it features common misunderstandings and realistic situations that will help kids contextualize how they might react in the real world.

Who Am I? Race Awareness Game
Who Am I? Race Awareness Game is designed to open a dialogue about human physical diversity and racial identification. In this game, one player selects a target picture and the other player asks ‘yes or no’ questions to try and figure out who was picked. It provides adults with tips for talking about diversity with kids.


Written by Melissa Pelletier, Education Technology Contributor