Using Books to Bring Empathy Back

Learn more about supporting students’ social and emotional learning through reading and instruction with tips and resources from media specialist Tanisha Ricks.

Have you noticed that many of your students could benefit from more social practice? Educators can reinforce appropriate social behaviors throughout the day by taking advantage of all those “teachable” moments.  There are many kids who don’t know how to treat their friends, don’t know how to navigate, major and minor, emotional situations, and who do not have empathy for others.  We talk about how very intelligent a child is but we forget how much more important emotional intelligence is.  

As a media specialist, I LOVE to use books for any and everything.  I’m always happy to see the cross-curricular movement to include books in all subjects.  One thing is true:  you can use a book to teach anything, including emotional intelligence.  My favorite book to read to students is Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson.  The book is AMAZING in the way that Woodson sets the stage for students to connect with little Maya, the new student who isn’t received very well by the other students in her class.  When I read it with passion and feeling, the kids really understand the mistreatment of Maya.  I also make sure that I relate the book to what we have been seeing, socially, with students, in recent years.  When I ask questions, I begin to call the students by the characters’ names and ask them to feel what the character feels or answer as the character would.  I love the way the children connect with this book and the lesson.  I end the lesson with the Wrinkled Heart Exercise.  Each student gets a cut-out of a heart and they raise their hand to say something that might be unkind to someone else.  They are told with each mean comment, that they must fold up their hearts.  When all hearts are folded, I begin to request positive comments that people would love to hear. With every positive comment, students unfold their hearts. I have them take a good look at their hearts and let them know that although their hearts are still intact, those negative comments had a profound effect on the heart and have created scars that will always remain.  I end by reminding students to be careful how they treat one another and take them back to how Maya felt in the story. This is just one example of how books can be used to reinforce and strengthen emotional intelligence and empathy among our learners. 

Here are additional links to some of my favorite resources for emphasizing social-emotional learning through reading and instruction:

Five Ways to Support Students’ Social and Emotional Learning during Reading Instruction 

SEL Questions & Discussion Prompts to Support Reading 

CASEL: SEL Reflection Prompts

Tanisha Ricks is a media specialist in Norfolk Public Schools and an eMediaVA Ambassador.

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