Try these empathy activities for kids that go with 5 popular children’s books to help you build and encourage compassionate kids in the kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classroom.
Promote Empathy in K-2 with 5 Powerful Children’s Books
Do you teach empathy in your class? According to Psychology Today, “empathy is the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character.” In other words, empathy is being able to put yourself in “someone else’s shoes.”
Empathy may not seem an obvious skill to teach. Nevertheless, empathy is a topic we can promote in the classroom as it helps children build connections with others and the world and a positive classroom environment.
But how do you teach empathy to your students? We can implement empathy activities for kids in our classroom. As for most subjects taught, children’s books are a powerful tool to use when teaching empathy.
Books have the power to connect with kids and show them examples of what it means to be empathetic. Below are five children’s books paired with empathy activities for kids.
1. You, Me, and Empathy
You, Me and Empathy by Jayneen Sanders is a charming book about a child named Quinn. Quinn models understanding, compassion, and kindness to others. The book also includes questions adults can discuss with children about these important topics.
- Before you read, tell students what empathy means. Use the letter from Quinn on the first page to offer a kid-friendly definition. Write the definition on the board.
- Ask kids questions about empathy. For example, “Have you ever shown someone empathy?” and “Has someone shown you empathy?” Share your personal story of empathy and encourage kids to share theirs as well.
- Create a Y-chart called “Empathy” with three sections “sounds like/looks like/feels like” and brainstorm words and ideas about what empathy is in each section.
- After the lesson, have kids write about what empathy is and how they will show empathy.
Activities to do with You, Me, and Empathy
- What Would You Do? Role Play – Read scenarios and ask kids to role-play how they would respond with empathy and compassion towards others. Encourage kids to remember the meaning of empathy. Then, ask kids to share how they would feel if that happened to them.
- Empathy Quote & Coloring Posters – Read quotes about empathy and discuss their meaning. Hang posters in the room to remind kids of their meaning.
2. Hey, Little Ant
Hey, Little Ant by Phillip M. Hoose is a funny yet thought-provoking book about treating animals (and humans) with kindness. Kids will ponder, “Would you squish an ant?” and think about having compassion for living creatures, big and small.
- Before reading, ask kids what they know about ants. Have them share their opinion about ants and give reasons why.
- Ask kids to close their eyes and imagine that they were an ant. Have the kids share what they visualize.
- After you read, ask, “should all living things be treated equally?” Emphasize treating everyone with compassion and respect.
- Create a Venn Diagram titled “Boy Versus Ant.” Ask kids how the ant and boy are different and the same, and record differences and similarities, using examples from the story.
- After the lesson, have kids write about whether they would squish or save the ant and why.
Activities to do with Hey, Little Ant
- Squish or Save Vote & Graphing Activity – Give each student a piece of paper to cast their vote for either boy or ant. Count up the votes and record them on a pictograph. Determine which has the most votes.
- “Don’t Squish Me!” Ant Craftivity – Cut out a talking bubble and an ant. Glue them on a sheet of construction paper. Think of a reason for not squishing the ant and write it in the talking bubble. For example, “I am just like you!” or “I have feelings too!”
3. The Invisible Boy
The book The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig is wonderful for teaching about small acts of kindness. Brian is a quiet boy who no one in his class seems to notice. He’s left out of the group. But one day, a new boy comes to school, and Brian welcomes him. They strike up a friendship, and Brian finds a way not to be “invisible” anymore.
The story will lead to important discussions about being kind to one another and also bring compassion for “the quiet kid” in class.
- Ask kids to imagine a time when they felt invisible (i.e., unheard or unseen by others). Ask them to share what happened and how it made them feel.
- Play a group game of “Stand Up, Sit Down.” Say statements aloud and have kids stand up if the statement is true for them. Start with simple statements and work up to deeper ones.
- For example, “Stand up if you like to play with your friends,” “Stand up if you’ve ever been left out,” or “Stand up if you have ever felt lonely.”
- Create an anchor chart called “How to Include Others” and brainstorm things we can say and do to include others at school, in class, and on the playground.
- After the lesson, have kids write about when they feel invisible.
Activities to do with The Invisible Boy
- “Find Someone” BINGO – Go around the room, asking others for statements from a BINGO board. Once they find someone who matches a statement, write their name in the space. Encourage kids to find different people who match various statements. Try for BINGO!
- What to Say Talking Prompts – It can be hard to know what to say to someone when we want to include someone in what we are doing or when we want to be included in activities with others. Talking prompts can help! Use them to help kids practice what to say in different situations.
4. The Buddy Bench
The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo is a warm-hearted look at a school playground. The kids are involved in all kinds of imaginative play. But they see what it is like to be left out, so they build a “buddy bench.” Sitting on the buddy bench means they need a friend to play with.
A school playground can be lonely for those who do not have a buddy. This book will challenge kids to find ways to include others.
- Before reading, talk about what makes a buddy.
- Ask, “What can you do if you don’t have anyone to play with?” and “What can you do if you see someone without anyone to play with?”
- After reading, discuss the idea of setting up a Buddy Bench.
- Create a collaborative chart called “Ways to be a Buddy” and brainstorm things buddies say and do on the chart.
- After the lesson, have kids write about ways they can be a buddy.
Activities to do with The Buddy Bench
- Set Up a Buddy Bench – Set up a Buddy Bench at your school. Display a poster in the hallway or class that teaches others how to use the Buddy Bench. Role-play using the Buddy Bench together as a class.
- “I am a Buddy” Poem & Activities – Read and practice the “I am a Buddy” poem. Complete a poem activity to learn the words and the meaning.
5. I Am Human
I am Human by Susan Verde seeks to show kids how important it is to have compassion and empathy for one another. Children explore the idea that they are unique but similar to those around them. They learn to feel more connected to the world when they try to find common ground with other people.
The book contains various affirming statements that show what we humans can do.
- After reading, ask, “What does it mean to be human?” Take examples from the story.
- Discuss how people are the same and how they are different. Ask, “what are some things that we all have in common?”. For example, we have feelings; all go to school; we have families; we like to play, etc.
- Talk about what compassion means (It is empathy in action). Ask, “When should we show others compassion?”
- Create a collaborative chart called “I am Human” and brainstorm “I” examples from the story and your ideas about what makes us human.
- After the lesson, have kids write about ways that they are human and show compassion.
Activities to do with I Am Human
- Empathy Wall Display – Create a bulletin board or hallway “Empathy Wall.” On the wall, encourage kids to write and attach kind messages and words of compassion for others to read. Younger kids can draw pictures and use sticky notes to write messages.
- “I am Human” Hat Craft – On a hat template, write “I am” statements or pictures about being a human, along with a picture of oneself. Create a hat and have kids wear it proudly.
These books are an excellent start for promoting empathy in your classroom. The activities with them will help your students connect to their own lives and those around them. For more books and videos that teach empathy, check out another post I wrote with even more empathy book ideas!
Empathy Resources for Teachers
FREE Wrinkled Heart Digital & Printable Activity
To start you off, here is a FREE Wrinkled Heart activity to do with your class. Help kids learn to be careful what they say because once you say something hurtful to someone, it is hard to heal a “wrinkled” heart.
Grab a free copy of the digital and printable resource by clicking the image below.
Empathy Book Companions Resource
Find activities for each of the five children’s books featured in this post in our Empathy Book Companion pack for K-2. You will have everything you need to lead informative lessons that support students as they practice empathy and build compassionate hearts.
Check out this comprehensive resource’s writing prompts, journals, games, posters, and activities.
More Ideas for Teaching Empathy
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