Teaching Empathy to Students With a Can of Pop

Teaching Empathy to Students With a Can of Pop

Every year I had students pushing and jostling each other in line ups for the water fountain, during transitions and at dismissal. Sometimes the pushing and jostling resulted in shouting, swearing and punching each other.

To say these kids had very little impulse control, social skills and empathy was putting it mildly!

If one of the students got pushed from behind, a scuffle would break out. When I got there, the one phrase I would hear over and over again is “He did it on purpose!”

Sometimes I’d make a joke about it and say “You can read minds? That’s a very valuable skill to have.”

That’s when I would dust off my lesson on teaching kids about empathy.

I ask the kids that if they were lining up at the water fountain, and someone ran into them, what would they do?

Most say that they would slug them.

I then ask the kids what if that someone was their grandmother who bumped into them? Or the principal? Or their father? What would they do then?

That gives them cause to pause.

While they’re thinking about it, I show them a can of pop.

I tell them that to know someone, you have to look at all points of view. You need all the facts before you can make a good decision.

That’s when I take the pop can and show them the top, bottom and all the sides.

After showing them all this, I ask, “do you know everything about this pop can?”

They all say “yes.”

“Are you sure,” I ask?

“Yes Mr. Glavac. We’re sure.”

That’s when I crush the can. It becomes an “aha” moment. I tell them:

“Don’t assume you know everything about the person who bumped into you. They could have tripped and bumped into you. They could have been pushed from behind and bumped into you.

You may have been wrong about the person just like you were wrong about this can of pop because you didn’t have all the facts.

You don’t know a person until you listen to their point of view. You find out as much as you can about them, where they’re coming from. You walk in their shoes.”

After teaching this lesson, I don’t usually have students pushing and jostling each other in line ups.  This is a great activity that will teach students about empathy at the same time having them respect you.

Until next time,

Talk to each other, support each other, take care of each other.



Click here to learn a little known teaching strategy that works with your angriest, most disrespectful student to ever enter your classroom.



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