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Deidre's and Dalia's Empathy Unit

Deidre Bennett's picture




Empathy Where Has It Gone 

This afternoon I received disturbing news that one of our old students had murdered another child.  Let me repeat this again a 14 year old child has ended the life of a 16 year old.  I hope upon reading this you reacted the same way as I, your mouth dropped and you stared and shook your head in disbelief.

You probably didn't. You probably briefly felt some tinge of emotion and now want to ask me several questions.  Then you will go on with the rest of your life and store this in your memory until you need to repeat a juicy story to someone else or when you have a discussion with someone about violence you will mention it.

Not me.  I have a feeling of deep empathy that is gnawing at my soul. Maybe because I actually know  the parties involved. Maybe this is what creates empathy in people. When you actually know the people affected by crime.

Today in class we were asked to think about a topic we wanted to research.  immediately I thought about this crime and how youths who witnessed this incident cheered the murderer on.

What is lacking in these juveniles?  How could you cheer someone on to kill someone else?  How did you all run off probably high-fiving each other and giving out pounds?  Even today they are probably on some corner or stoop replaying and embellishing the events of Tuesday night.

Are these children experiencing any type of remorse or a feeling of empathy? It is upsetting when I cannot say without a doubt that they are.  In fact, my gut tells me maybe a few of the twenty youths but not all. 

What has happened to our society when we can commit crimes and feel absolutely nothing. Have we become desensitized to murder. Are our children merely vessels transporting hate and destruction? I don't know.

Knowing all of this I have decided to dedicate my web page to Tyshon Brown-Smith, his assailant and the children who witnessed this tragic event with the intention of gathering information that will hopefully help us teach ours kids EMPATHY. 


Anyone who has experienced a certain amount of loss in their life has empathy for those who have experienced loss.
Anderson Cooper

Below is list of informative websites to explain what empathy is

After explaining exactly what empathy is the next stage is to come up with ways to effectively teach it to our students 

One of the easiest lessons to teach children is the use of I statements

An Empathy-Building Exercise- One of teacher/author David A. Levine's activities for helping students develop empathy is called the Event Empathy Action (EEA) (Copyright David A. Levine). The EEA is a three-step advanced listening approach that teaches students how to respond to others empathically. When something unfortunate, disappointing, or sad (a family separation, doing poorly on a test, being embarrassed in front of others) happens in another person's life, suggest students ask themselves these open-ended question about the person and event: * What happened? (identify the event) * How is that person feeling? (an understanding the other person's feelings leads to empathy) * What will I do? (decide on a specific action to respond to the event) The EEA method is presented to the group using empathic situations, which are hypothetical scenarios a class can discuss in order to explore various empathic responses. The hope is that in time children will naturally respond to others with empathy after thinking through these three questions.
  Allow children to talk about their feelings- Let him know that you care about how he feels by listening intently. If he has a story about someone else ("Tommy got in trouble for shoving Therese, and I don't think that was fair"), listen to his views before offering your own. And when he says he's mad, paraphrase what he says — "Oh, you're feeling grumpy today?" — so he knows you're listening and feels encouraged to elaborate.  

Additionally children need to be taught the basic rules of politeness- Children are constantly taking cues from those around of how to interact with others. All adults must model through our own interactions with each other politeness.  One of the most important things we can do is not talk in a harmful or disrespectful way about others. Good manners are a concrete way for your grade-schooler to show caring and respect for others. "Please" and "thank you" are phrases that school-age kids can and should be expected to use automatically. Explain to your child that you're more inclined to hand over his sandwich when he asks for it politely and that you don't like it when he orders you around. Even if these phrases sound rote at times, they teach kids how important it is to treat others with respect. Of course, being polite to him is worth a thousand rules and explanations. Say "please" and "thank you" regularly to your grade-schooler and to others, and he'll learn that these phrases are part of normal communication, both at home and out in public.

Reinforcing Empathetic Behavior -Reinforcing empathetic behavior goes hand in hand with teaching manners. If we do not highlight empathetic behaviors such as sharing and kindness then what message are we sending our children.  Children should be given specific praise when empathetic behaviors are observed.

Thinking of others In our society too often we are taught to think of our selves first or how to better ourselves.  Our society is one that fosters the advancement of self. With this mindset it is no wonder that we forget to help each other, especially those less fortunate Involving children in volunteer and charity work may help to build a sense of community. Children can develop empathy for those who are not like themselves. This is important because we sometimes fear what we do not know. Also only when working as a unit do we really advance our society.   

The below example highlights just this- Giving When it Counts_ Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare & serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister.  I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes I'll do it if it will save her." As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away". Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

Teach and expect the same from boys and girls- Again, society had determined what emotions/ behaviors are appropriate for boys and which are appropriate for girls. It is taught for boys to follow a "boy code" of toughness and never showing "weakness" This sets them up not to be as empathetic as girls.  Fortunately for us empathy can be learned regardless of gender.  Boys are as capable of learning it as girls.


Are you then unable to recognize unless it has the same sound as yours?

Andre Gide 1869-1951 French Author


The following stories are accompanied by several lessons


Through These Eyes 

I  holla and scream and throw bottles just like everyone else.  To outside eyes I’m ready for whateva, but am I?

Damn, if these dudes come up here I got to fight. Shit hopefully it will be just a free fall.  I don’t really want to fight this kid by myself. I mean I think I can’t beat him but I’m not sure. Man, if push come to shove my homies had betta jump in it. I have a knife but that is just to prove to my friends how tough I am. They don’t call me crazy for nothing. I got a reputation to uphold


 Here he comes ready to protect and defend that brother of his. Wow! Who just decided that I would be the one to fight big brother.  I wasn’t the only one who jumped his brother but damn if I didn’t just get put up to fight this dude.

I gotta do it. I gotta keep my rep. I can’t look soft.  My homies gonna clown me if I back down.  Here goes nothing!

Damn, this dude can fight.  I can’t seem to get a good shot in.  Oh my God! Am I really losing? Why hasn’t anyone jumped in yet to help! I can hear these dudes cheering me on telling me to fuck him up and kill this kid.  Kill this kid? Are they really telling me to kill this kid? My boys know I have a knife, but what if I use it? That blood gonna be on my hands. I talk a tough talk about not being afraid to get locked up but I really am.

This kid is getting me, my boys are still screaming and cheering me on, they are hype telling me again to get this dude, kill this dude.

 So I get him. . . . . . . . . . .  For a minute I forget where I am until I hear the dumbest words come out of my mouth. . . . . I got you!

What? Did I just say that? Is this kid really bleeding all through his shirt? Am I really standing here with a bloody kitchen knife in my hand? His eyes look weird I think I really hurt this kid.

As I run off I hear screaming not with pure excitement but with alarm and panic.  My boys are no longer cheering we are all running.

What have I done? What have I done?


         Through Their Eyes 

We holla and throw bottles down the street at these dudes. Shit we 20 deep and ready to beat these dudes down. We all got weapons, you name it we gotta.  Knives, a Taser gun, a crutch and shit even a samurai sword. We ready for anything.  We gonna ride down on these cats.  Its gonna be like the time at the park and in the boys bathroom. Somebody gettin fucked up tonight.

Someone suggested a one on one rumble. Hey that’s cool with us. If we have complete faith in our homie.  He does have a reputation for being crazy, plus he packing a knife.

Damn, dude can fight. He is gettin the best of my man. That’s ok we cheer my man on to pump him up telling him to fuck this dude up and kill him. Wait a minute did somebody or did all of us just say kill him. Naw, Naw we didn’t just say that. But my man really is losing. Yo, he can’t go out like this. He know the rules, we gonna ride his ass if he lose. We all look around at each other wondering why nobody has jumped in yet. Shit, not me…not me….. Not me…… not me……who said that?  We really only here to look tough yeah we got weapons and a few of us have been locked up, but not all of us.  Hell it ain’t really even about us.

Let us just keep cheering my man on and hopefully he will get it together. Fuck him up, kill this dude, fuck him up and kill this dude.  Again, are we really yelling these words to our man?

Oh my God! Oh my God did our boy just……naw naw my eyes are lying.  Our man just stabbed this kid about 2 or 3 times.  Is this kid really bleeding all through his shirt? Is that really blood on my man kitchen knife? The dude look like he really hurt, his eyes look weird.

Did my man just say I got you? Why did he say that did he really hear and listen to us?  What have we done? What have we done?


             Through His Eyes 

I can’t believe these young dudes came back. I thought we were done with that earlier shit. Its okay though I’m still gonna protect my brother. I don’t know how much longer I can listen to these young boyz calling us names and throwing shit down the street. Let me go up here whip somebody ass real quick and send them home to their mommas.

As I get closer I see some of the main dudes who jumped my brother and just how young some of their crew is. It is decided that I will rumble one of the main dudes that got beef with my little brother. I gotta  fight this dude to teach him a lesson.  He can’t touch my brother or come and disrespect my crew and our block.

As I thought, I’m whoopin this young ass. Hopefully he will get the point and leave my brother alone. I’m gonna beat him just enough to teach him a lesson.

Whoa! Do I really here his people telling him to fuck me up, kill me. They must really think he can put me down with his fist.  Not gonna happen. I’m giving it to this dude, my brother gotta feel proud. I’m doing what any big brother would do, which is protecting my family. There they go again they can’t see that this fight about to be a wrap. They still telling him to fuck me up and kill me.

Ouch! Ouch! Damn those blows hurt! Wait a minute . . . . . something ain’t right. I feel all weird. . . .my breathing ain’t right. Oh my God! I’m bleeding all through my shirt! This kid got blood on a knife! He looks crazy babbling something about he got me. He got what I’m confused. Where is my brother? I gotta get to my crib. I can’t breathe. I hear everyone screaming with panic and horror. Mom stop screaming and crying...... Mom I can’t breathe, I’m dying.




The Lesson

Objective:  Students will be able to understand a life altering experience from three different points of view.  Students will be able to empathize with one or more characters.
Students will display their empathy through writing about their point of views.
  1. Three short stories; “Through These Eyes”, “Through Their Eyes”, “Through His Eyes”
  2. Chart paper
  3. markers/crayons
  4. construction paper
Motivation: Teacher will ask students to raise their hands if they ever watch the news.  If so, what do you notice about the news?  How many of you listen to the radio? Why do you think they are talking so much about stopping the violence?  How has crime affected you, your family or your community?
  1. Teacher will explain to students that they will be spending the next week discussing a crime from three different points of view. Students will be directed to think about the themselves as the character as the teacher reads the story to them.
  2. Teacher will hold a discussion after the story is read, writing responses the students give.
    1. Can you understand how this situation happened?
    2. Do you think the person in the story had another choice?
    3. What do you think the outcome will be now, how will this story end?
    4. How could have this scenario played out differently?
    5. What do you think you would have done if you were the person in this story?
  1. Steps 1 and 2 will be repeated for the next 2 days using the other two short stories.
  2. On Day 4 of the lesson the teacher will display all three chart paper responses the students have given.  Teacher will ask the students who they can relate the most to, and why?  Is that the person you empathize the most with?
  3. Students will brainstorm a list of reasons they empathize with each of the three characters.
  4. On Day 5 students will create a book sleeve using construction paper to house their essays.  There essays will be written to explain the level of empathy they have for each character, how they feel each character impacted their own lives and how they feel each character impacted other peoples lives.
Conclusion: Teacher will lead and facilitate a discussion, asking the students what they have learned from this activity. Students will be given an opportunity to share their essays with the class.
Extension Activity:  Students will write letters to both of the mothers of the victim and the assailant.


Pedro's Heart

Objective:  Students will be able to gain a deeper meaning and understanding of what it means to display empathy.
  1. crayons/markers 
  2. plain white pre-cuts hearts (1 for each child)
  3. "Pedro's Heart", short story
Motivation:  Teacher will ask students what words they would use to describe themselves, as the students "popcorn out" ideas the teacher will write the responses on chart paper.
  1. Teacher will show students the plain heart cut out and explain that they will use the word list they have created as a reference as they decorate their hearts. The hearts should be colorful, creative, and truly express the students personality. It may be helpful if Teacher shows their own completed heart.
  2. Teacher will instruct students to come to the rug with their hearts.
  3. Teacher will ask students if they have ever had a bad day, what made the day so bad, and how they felt.
  4. Teacher will explain to the students that as she/he reads the story every time somone is mean or hurtful to Pedro they need to wrinkle a piece of their heart.
  5. Toward the end of the story the teacher will explain to the students that as some people start to apologize to Pedro they can smooth out some of the heart.
Teacher will ask the students  if Pedro heart was being smoothed out if it went back to normal or did it still have some wrinkles in it?  Teacher will facilitate a discussion about what lesson they have learned from completing this activity.

Laws of Life Essay Contest


Objective: Students will be able to think about what they deem important in life and express their beliefs in an essay.
This lesson is not the traditional lesson plan; it is intended as a school-wide essay “contest”.  Students of all ages have a belief system and value things in their life, however, they are rarely given a chance to express their thoughts on such a topic.
Topic:  “The Laws of Life”
The students will not be given any rules or guidelines, just simply given the topic and a due date.
The purpose of the essay is to have students realize that that they do value life. When students are able to regard their own life, we believe that they will be able develop a true sense of empathy.
 When a good man is hurt all who would be called good must suffer with him.
Euripides (BC 480-BC 406) Greek tragic poet.

The following are additional web links for lessons to help teach empathy.


Dori Weidner's picture

Pedro's Heart

Could you please e-mail a copy of the story Pedro's Heart. I would love to use this with my students.
Thank you.

Alexis's picture

Pedro's Heart

I am very excited by your ideas, and would like to try them with my students. Can you email me Pedro's Heart short story? Thank you!

Serendip Visitor sharon donaldson's picture

Pedro's heart

I am working with a group of young people offering them respite from school. I would like
a copy of Pedro's heart to enhance my lesson on empathy.
Thank you.

Sue's picture

Pedro's Heart

I Like the empathy lesson about Pedro's Heart, but I cannot find the story! Could you email it to me so I can use this with my students? Thank you! Sue