How to Develop Empathy in Students at the Elementary Level in 2024

If you are an elementary teacher looking to learn how to help your students understand and use empathy, then you found the right place! Empathy skills allow students to identify and take on the feelings of another person. Students who are able to use empathy maintain better friendships than students who cannot. In this post, we’ll go into detail about what empathy is and why it’s important. In addition, we’ll share tips and ideas for how to develop empathy skills in students at the elementary level. Read all about helping students use empathy in and out of the classroom below!

empathy word search and acrostic poem

What Does Empathy Mean?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. The saying, “to put yourself in someone else’s shoes” is about empathy. Empathy is being able to determine how another person is feeling and why they are feeling that way.

Why is it Important for Kids to Empathy?

Empathy is extremely important for kids. Kids need to have empathy in order to positively interact with peers and other people. Kids who have empathy are able to make positive choices about their words and actions towards other people. They can treat others the way they want to be treated.

empathy word search and writing activity
empathy scenario cards, flip book, and examples and non-examples activity

How Do I Know If I Need to Teach Empathy in My Classroom?

The students in your 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th grade classroom would benefit from empathy lessons and activities if any of these statements are true:

  • Students aren’t socially aware.
  • Students are constantly arguing with each other.
  • They are acting selfishly.
  • Students are having a hard time maintaining friendships.
  • Students have a hard time apologizing.
empathy writing activities
empathy choice board, coloring page, and writing activities

5 Reasons To Promote Empathy In Your Elementary Classroom

Below are 5 reasons to promote empathy in your elementary classroom.

1. Empathy creates kinder kids 

Kids who are empathic are able to understand the way another person is feeling and take on that feeling themselves. They wouldn’t want to make someone feel bad because they know how uncomfortable and awful that feels. Instead, they will want people to feel good and happy.

2. Empathy promotes a caring classroom environment

Empathy promotes a caring classroom environment by creating students who are concerned about the feelings of others. Students will think twice before acting inappropriately or saying whatever pops into their minds because they won’t want to hurt the feelings of another person. 

empathy word search, choice board and writing activities

3. Empathy helps students maintain friendships

Empathy helps students maintain friendships because students will be caring about how their friends feel. When they get into arguments with friends they will think about how each other is feeling and use that understanding to move forward. Students who aren’t empathetic have a harder time maintaining positive friendships.

4. Empathy helps students solve conflicts

Being empathic helps students solve conflicts because they can think about their own feelings and the feelings of the other person in the conflict. This helps them come to a resolution that is fair for all. 

5. Empathy encourages tolerance for others

Students who are empathetic have an increased tolerance for others. For example, if a student in your room is having a really hard day behaviorally, instead of a classmate being annoyed by the behavior they can understand that the student is having a hard time and give them space and understanding. 

empathy coloring page and writing activity
empathy choice board, word search, and looks like sounds like chart

5 Tips and Ideas for Teaching Empathy

Below are 5 tips and ideas for how to develop empathy in your elementary students.

1. Read Aloud Picture Books about Empathy

Picture books are a great way to introduce and teach an SEL topic. It gets students thinking about the topic and activating their background knowledge. Check out this list of picture books for teaching empathy!

2. Watch Videos about Empathy

There are tons of free online videos out there that promote social emotional learning. It’s a fun and engaging way to teach SEL skills that your students will enjoy. Check out these videos for teaching empathy!

empathy looks like sounds like chart and writing activities

Vocabulary words can help students develop understanding of empathy and create connections through related words. Our empathy SEL unit includes ten vocabulary cards with words related to the SEL topic. It is important for students to be able to see, hear, and use relevant vocabulary while learning. One idea for how to use them is to create an SEL word wall as students learn the words.

4. Provide Practice Opportunities

When learning any skill, students need time to practice. Social emotional learning skills are no different! Our empathy SEL unit includes scenario cards, discussion cards, choice boards, games, and much more. These provide students with opportunities to practice the skills independently, with partners or small groups, or as a whole class.

5. Integrate Other Content Areas

Integrating other content areas with this topic is a great way to approach this SEL topic. Our empathy SEL unit includes reading, writing, and art activities.

empathy discussion prompt cards, word search, and writing activities
empathy activities

Skills Related to Empathy

Empathy, in the context of social emotional learning (SEL) or character education, refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings, experiences, and perspectives of others. While “empathy” is the commonly used term, there are other words and phrases that can convey a similar meaning. These alternative words highlight aspects of understanding, compassion, and emotional connection with others. Here are some other words used in the context of empathy:

  1. Compassion: Showing care, concern, and understanding for the suffering or difficulties of others.
  2. Understanding: Grasping the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of others.
  3. Sensitivity: Being aware and responsive to the emotions and needs of others.
  4. Empathetic understanding: Deeply comprehending and connecting with the experiences and emotions of others.
  5. Emotional resonance: Feeling and sharing in the emotions and experiences of others.
  6. Perspective-taking: Stepping into someone else’s shoes and seeing things from their point of view.
  7. Emotional intelligence: Recognizing and understanding emotions, both in oneself and in others.
  8. Heartfelt connection: Establishing a sincere and genuine bond with others based on empathy.
  9. Kind-heartedness: Demonstrating a generous and warm-hearted attitude towards others’ feelings and experiences.
  10. Emotional responsiveness: Being attuned and responsive to the emotions and needs of others.

These terms reflect the concept of empathy and encompass the qualities and mindset associated with understanding, connecting with, and caring for others within the context of social emotional learning (SEL) or character education.

empathy flip book, sorting activity, and writing activity

Download the SEL Activities

Click an image below to either get this individual empathy unit or get ALL 30 SEL units!

Empathy SEL Unit Social Emotional Learning Units Bundle
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In closing, we hope you found this information about how to develop empathy in students at the elementary level helpful! If you did, then you may also be interested in these posts.

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