Empathy Circles

Students participate in small-group active listening circles in which they practice reflecting back their understanding of what's been said.

Photo of Katie Dlesk
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Based on idea contributed by Edwin Rutsch at Teacher's Guild Brainstorming Workshop!

One student shares. Another student reflects back their understanding until the original student feels heard to their satisfaction. The goal is to eventually have groups of students able to facilitate these circles themselves, and they need preparation and practice. Here are a few ways to scaffold:

  • One version includes students taking on roles to try out the skills. For example, students could be assigned the roles of superhero and supervillian, and they have to work out their problems! 
  • They could also take on the roles of different movies. Characters such as the different feelings in Inside Out or different animals in Zootopia. This gives them the chance act as someone else. 
  • One version includes a mediator doing the work of reflecting back the statements of each student to model active listening. 
  • The theme of the circles can also vary. It can start with topics that are accessible and engaging (and don't require them to be super vulnerable), and then graduate on to more high-stakes conflicts. 

Best to have 4-5 students participate so that there is maximum involvement. 

#curiosity #selfcontrol #zest


Join the conversation:

Photo of Erin Quinn

What a great idea! It would be neat to do this as characters in a book they are reading, too - a way to deeply understand what characterization in literature means.

Photo of Edwin Rutsch

love that idea!  students read a book and then do empathic listening role plays between the characters.