8 Activities for Building a Compassionate Classroom Culture with Elementary Students
Many are familiar with the saying, “kids can be cruel,” but we can set our classroom culture up for students to lead with compassion instead. Set the tone with social-emotional learning concepts with your elementary students with these eight activities.
Activity 1: What Would You Say?
Have students write a letter to a friend about an upsetting situation they are facing or may face in the future, like moving to a new school, missing a pet, or losing a championship sports game. Then have students draft what a good friend would say in response to that letter. This activity helps students understand the age-old concept Treat Others How You’d Like to Be Treated. Your students can use these letter templates to write their situation letter and their helpful response.
Skill building for: Empathy, Writing
Activity 2: Acting with Compassion
The Compassion Project emphasizes key social emotional learning (SEL) skills through 3 digital lessons and 15 offline lesson plans. Lesson 1: Defining Compassion provides scenario cards that students perform in front of the class or in small groups. This activity helps students visualize how to use compassion in their everyday lives like at lunchtime or recess. After each roleplay, bring your class together to discuss the questions listed in the ‘Activity Part 2’ section of the lesson.
Skill building for: Empathy, Listening, Public Speaking
Activity 3: Rose, Thorn, Bud
At the beginning of class or end of class, allow two to three students the opportunity to share how they’re doing or anything interesting that is happening in their lives. Ask them what the highlight of their day was (the Rose), what went wrong during their day (the Thorn), and what they are looking forward to (the Bud). Especially helpful at the beginning of the school year, this activity allows students to connect with classmates without the pressure of talking directly to someone they may not be totally familiar with yet. They can also practice compassion as they react and respond to any successes or struggles their classmates are facing.
Skill building for: Relationship Building, Empathy
Activity 4: Compassion Round-Robin
Round-Robin storytelling is an excellent way for your students to engage in storytelling and utilize their creativity. Divide your class into small groups and have each group tell a short story that involves an act of compassion. Have one student in each group start the story by saying “Once upon a time, there was a….”. The next student in the group will add to the story, and so on and so forth until the story is complete. One student in each group should write down each part of the story so they can share it with the rest of the class. For example, the Round-Robin story could sound like: “Once upon a time, there was a boy riding his bike. The boy saw an old lady accidentally drop her keys. The old lady looked like she needed help picking up the keys. So, the boy went over to her and picked them up for her.”
It may take some practice, but once your students get the hang of it, their stories will articulate their full depth of understanding of compassion!
Skill building for: Creativity, Communication, Writing
Activity 5: Pantomime
Lesson 4: Our Emotions from The Compassion Project offers an activity to help students understand the connection between emotions and compassion. For this activity, give a student an emotion card (provided in Lesson 4) and ask the student to act out the emotion written on the card without talking or making a sound. Have the rest of your class guess which emotion is being acted out and explain their guesses. This activity helps students realize that they can understand how someone else is feeling without them having to say it.
Skill building for: Empathy
Activity 6: Compassionate Casey
After learning what it means to be compassionate, your students can now provide examples of compassion in action. Have students draw a stick figure on a piece of paper dubbed Compassionate Casey, who represents an incredibly compassionate person. They can add color and details with crayons or markers to their drawings. Have your students write three things Compassionate Casey likes to do that would make him or her compassionate. Then have a few students share their ideas with the rest of the class or in pairs.
Skill building for: Critical Thinking, Empathy
Activity 7: Compassion Cards
Let your students think about how they can show compassion to people in their own lives. Have them write the names of four to five people (or even a pet!) in their lives on separate index cards. Then on the back of each card, they should write something they would do to show compassion toward each person or pet. Allow a few students to share who they chose to put on their index cards and what they would do to show compassion. Challenge everyone to fulfill at least one of their cards as a Compassion of the Week activity.
Skill building for: Empathy, Writing
Activity 8: Caught with Compassion
To encourage your students to show compassion to their classmates, designate a day or multiple days when you can “catch” your students showing compassion to their peers. Track how many times you caught each student showing compassion with a chart, and reward them based on how many times they demonstrated compassion that day.
Skill building for: Empathy, Relationship Building