Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Empathy in the Classroom

This school year I decided to kick off the year with a study of empathy.  I thought today was an appropriate day to post about empathy, as we reflect on 9/11.  My students have been busy learning about empathy through a study of animal and human rights.  They're even reading book group novels and finding examples of empathy or lack of empathy by collecting sentences.  Today, I thought I'd share some of the titles I've been using and some of the pictures I've taken so far this year that shows my kids putting themselves in someone else's shoes and understanding (or at least trying to understand) what it might feel like to have a less than fortunate circumstances.  These kids have done an amazing job so far and we still have a lot of ground to cover!

On a side note, you can find more of the information about how to go about teaching a theme unit on empathy in an article Holly Mueller and I wrote for Choice Literacy.  If you're not currently a member of Choice Literacy, I highly recommend joining.  For less than $100 a year, you can find a wealth of ideas and information about teaching ELA in any grade level.  If you just want a sneak peek, you can sign up for the weekly newsletter, The Big Fresh, and have access to several free articles a week.

I started the year by reading several picture books that dealt with bullying and simple examples of how being empathetic to someone could have helped that person out.  We also talked a lot about characters that show lack of empathy.  Here are some of the titles I shared with my 5th graders:

All these books provided students with concrete examples of what empathy and lack of empathy looked like and sounded like.  As we read Each Kindness, we even collected sentences that showed empathy or lack thereof by marking specific lines with post-it notes.  

Once I was convinced my students had a decent understanding of empathy, we moved on to our first read-aloud, the Newbery Award winner, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

If you haven't read this book, you MUST!  Take a look at the book trailer below.  You'll be sold!

We're over half way through Ivan and we've been talking not only about empathy, but also how empathy and animal rights are connected.  We read another story of animal rescue by Kriby Larson and Mary Nethery, called The Two Bobbies.

This is a sweet story of a dog and cat that save each other in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  We talked about the rights animals have (or should have).  We tied that into The One and Only Ivan and we had a classroom full of opinions about rights that all animals should be entitled to.  These strong feelings naturally led to some contemplation and writing.  

Here's what we did:
1. I put the kids into groups and they had to come up with 3-5 rights they felt all animals should have.  This was easy for some groups, but hard for others that were less likely to compromise with each other. Another lesson in empathy there.

2. After the groups came up with their 3-5 rights, they put it on chart paper in whatever format they wished to use.

3.  Each child took a marker with them and responded to each group's poster of animal rights.  We had a big discussion about how a comment like, "I agree" doesn't go deep enough.  They listened!  Check out some of the charts below:

4. After responding to others' charts, each student chose a right they felt strongly about and made a claim, backed up by evidence (in this case, their opinions).  Here are a couple of examples:

These did a great job of making the connection between animal rights and empathy.  We've had a lot of discussion about how to treat others and animals.  Next week, we're moving on to a discussion of empathy and human rights.  On the docket to share is this great kid-friendly video about the origin of human rights.  Then, we'll share some more picture books to discuss empathy or lack of it and how it affected human rights or lack thereof.  Some of the books I'm looking forward to sharing next week are:

I'm also looking forward to finishing The One and Only Ivan and starting a new read-aloud, Wonder  by R.J. Polacio.

This book is rife with opportunities to feel empathetic.  It's also a great launching point to discuss what how people should be treated.  Added bonus?  It's about fifth graders!

Empathy is such an important theme in our class throughout the year.  It's a great launching point in September to set the stage for the rest of the year.

Monday, September 9, 2013

It's Monday! What are YOU reading?

I'm participating in the meme "It's Monday!  What are you reading?" created by Book Journey and Teach Mentor Texts.  I missed last week because of moving chaos, but I'm back this week and ready to share some of the books I've read in my classroom and on my own!


Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis

My class of 5th graders practiced their first round of sentence collecting with this book.  It's a beautiful book about a girl who does not choose to be kind to a new student in class.  She has many opportunities to treat the new child with dignity, but fails to do so again and again.  When her teacher does a lesson on kindness, the girl comes up short in identifying how she has shown kindness.  Regretful, she hopes for another chance with the new girl.  However, the girl has moved and doesn't return.  This book is a wonderful look at regret and treating others kindly.  My classes are currently studying what characters say and do when they are and are not empathetic.  This book was a great mentor text for finding those examples.

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise by Jan Pinborough, Illustrated by Debbie Atwell

I'm offering this book as a choice for a nonfiction book that shows human rights on my September Literacy Contract.  I loved this book about Miss Moore, the woman in charge of founding libraries for children, in particular the NYC library.  This should be a great book to spark thought about the rights children should have.

Bluebird by Bob Staake

This is an intriguing wordless book about bullying.  A young boy is made fun of at school and finds himself lonely and in despair.  A bluebird comes along and befriends the boy, taking him places he has never been and introducing him to new friends.  When the boy encounters the bullies, however, tragedy strikes and he must learn how to make his own way in the world.  This is an interesting read.  I'm anxious to discuss it with someone else.  I'm also looking forward to sharing it with my students.  I can't wait to hear their insight!

Count the Monkeys by Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Kevin Cornell

This is Mac Barnett's latest and it's FUN!  The premise of the book is to count monkeys, but instead, the reader ends up counting other things because one king cobra scared off all the monkeys.  Hilarity ensues as the reader counts all of the other things that have staved off the monkeys.  Natalie (my four-year-old daughter) LOVED this gift from Holly Mueller!


The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian, narrated by Cassandra Campbell and Alison Fraser

Oh, wow!  This was a terrific listen!  I was captivated by the story of the little-known Armenian genocide at the start of WWI.  The Ottoman Empire was in its last throws and in an attempt to make itself stronger and rid itself of neighboring intellectuals, the empire systematically killed millions of Armenian citizens in the deserts of Syria.  Sound hauntingly familiar to the Holocaust?  Bohjalian has created a vivid picture of life in the Syrian desert in 1915 by inserting a Bostonian, Elizabeth Endicott and her wealthy banker father who travel to the land to do charity work on behalf of the "Friends of Armenia" society in the United States.  When Elizabeth meets Armen, an Armenian engineer, there is an immediate spark.  Armen, however, has lost his wife and child in the death march and is on a quest to redeem them by joining the British army to fight the Turks.  Elizabeth stays on in Syria, making friends with some of the refugees, only to discover a secret that could rock her relationship with Armen.  Told alternately from 1915 and present-day, this story of love, loss, and decisions is a wonderful historical novel read.  I highly recommend it!


Endangered by Eliot Schrefer


Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos


Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

The Boy on the Porch by Sharon Creech

Hope you're embarking on a great reading week!  I'd love to know what you're reading.  Leave a comment below!