Big Idea: Empathy

Mar 10, 2019

caring hands on cane

There is a general sense that we need more empathy in schools, workplaces, communities, and politics. Empathy is a good Big Idea because there is a lack of common understanding and agreement about how far it should extend. It is easy to say that everyone needs to be more empathetic and much more difficult to implement and sustain.

The challenge is to think deeply about empathy, learn about it from all angles, reflect on our personal experiences and with this knowledge develop sustainable solutions. Too often we do not take the time to do the necessary investigation, even at the level of developing a common vocabulary before we implement solutions. In order for us to develop and sustain a culture of empathy, we need to do the necessary work.


Big Idea: Empathy
Essential Question: How do we build empathy in our community?
Challenge: Create a culture of empathy!

Sample Guiding Questions

These are only example questions we encourage you to ask as many personal and contextual questions as possible.

  1. What is empathy?
  2. What is the difference between empathy, pity, sympathy, and compassion?
  3. Is empathy always a good thing?
  4. How do we build a culture of empathy?
  5. How do we make empathy sustainable?
  6. Why is empathy important?
  7. Why do people lack empathy?
  8. What does empathy look like?
  9. How do we learn empathy?
  10. How do we experience empathy?
  11. What does empathy have to do with school?
  12. What does empathy have to do with getting a job?
  13. What does empathy have to do with math, science, social studies and language arts?
  14. How can we practice empathy?
  15. What if everyone demonstrated empathy?
  16. Etc.

*Once you brainstorm all of the questions organize and prioritize them.


Guiding Activities and Resources
These are only a set of example activities and resources and the learners will need to evaluate the quality of the content. They are not verified or necessarily supported, just examples. The ones that you choose should be in direct relationship to your specific guiding questions and context. Activities and resources for adults, adolescents, and younger children will be different. The goal is to develop solutions that mean something in your community and are sustainable.

Example Activities

  1. Define your terms (empathy, pity, sympathy, and compassion).
  2. Create a Venn diagram that shows where there is overlap between the terms.
  3. Go on an empathy scavenger hunt and record examples throughout the day
  4. Write a story about when you felt empathy towards someone or something.
  5. Identify actions that demonstrate empathy and practice them.
  6. Read about the potential downsides of empathy.
  7. Listen to a Ted Talk on empathy and discuss, Divide them up and learn about all of them.
  8. Learn about the concept of historical empathy.
  9. Create a debate and argue all perspectives.
  10. Etc.

Example Resources

  1. The Limits of Empathy
  2. The Science of Empathy
  3. The Good and Bad of Empathy
  4. A Short History of Empathy
  5. 27 Ted Talks related to empathy
  6. Etc.


Using the research findings from your Investigations develop a synthesis that demonstrates a clear understanding of the challenge. For help with creating a synthesis explore this resource.

Solution Prototypes – Using your research synthesis create multiple ideas for solutions and review each one to make sure your research supports it. Share the prototypes with various stakeholders and get feedback.

Solution – with the feedback from the stakeholders develop one solution that has the most potential for success.


Implement – Develop a plan to implement the solution with the stakeholders and collect data about the impact.

Evaluate – Using quantitative and qualitative measures determine if the solution is valid and what can be improved.


Throughout the experience take time to document the events and reflect on what is happening to build on prior knowledge and identify future questions.

Share what you learned with your local community and the world. Use #CBLWorld on social media.