AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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All Grades

  • Encourage your students to enter the Valentine’s Day Card contest.
  • Ask your students to recommend a book, poem, lyric, movie, painting, etc. that they feel illustrates compassion and explain why they selected it.
  • Have students keep a journal to reflect on what they think compassion is, what they learned about compassion in their class and whether their original thinking changed and in what way.
  • Profile those who give back. After learning about compassion, have students work in small groups or independently to nominate someone that they believe is compassionate and share their story with the class.
  • Partner different classes where older students can mentor younger students. Older students will have an opportunity to model the values and behaviors they've learned, and younger students will have an opportunity to experience the values firsthand.

Early Elementary School

  • Read to students or have your students read the Grimm's Fairytale Grandfather's Corner and ask them to explain the moral of the story. Does the moral apply to life today? In what ways?
  • Introduce students to key historical figures or heroes who worked to improve the lives of those living in poverty or who didn’t have the same opportunities as others (Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, Abraham Lincoln). Have students think about heroes they know and why they are a hero.
    Ask students: What makes a person a hero? Can anybody be a hero? What kinds of things do the students do to support their family, friends or classmates?

Late Elementary to Middle School

  • Have students look for unsung or lesser-known heroes (historical and contemporary) who helped better lives of others. Students will share their hero and why they selected him/her.
  • Introduce students to the concept of helping others by having a representative from the local food bank or community service organization come to talk to the class about who they help and ways anyone can help. Ask students to list ways they or others could help out. Pick one or two of the ideas (canned food drive, donate books to the library, etc.) for the school to do during the school year.

Middle to High School

  • Have students read or watch the movie To Kill a Mockingbird . Ask them to look for examples of compassion in the book/movie and be prepared to share them with their classmates in a small- or whole-group debrief.
    Put up the following quote from the book: "…if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."   What does this quote mean? Atticus felt this was an important lesson for Scout to learn and emulate throughout her life. Do you agree? Why? Can you provide examples where this skill might be used in school? In the community?
  • Explain the difference between sentimentality and compassion to your students. Have your students read the Walt Whitman poems O Captain! My Captain! and Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night and identify which poem is an illustration of sentimentality and which illustrates compassion. Have them explain their reasoning. Ask students if one value is more important than another. Why or why not?
  • Read an excerpt of Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America about Americans' natural compassion for one another. Do you think the author's observations about America in 1831 hold true today? Does anything surprise you about the excerpt?
  • Introduce students to key events and activists who have fought to improve living conditions across the country. Events/activists could include: March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, A. Philip Randolph, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez, the role of labor unions.

High School

  • Have students read The Forgotten Ones , an excerpt from Mother Teresa of Calcutta's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech with special attention to poverty. How does she define poverty? Are there different types of poverty? Have students work in small groups to create a definition for poverty. Based on that definition, groups will develop a plan for ending poverty and share it with the class.
  • Students should read the section on pity from Aristotle’s Rhetoric and write in their journals their feelings about the writing. Aristotle wrote: "In order to feel pity we must also believe in the goodness of at least some people; if you think nobody good, you will believe that everybody deserved evil fortune." Ask students if they agree with this statement and to provide support for their position using historical and current examples. Ask students: Can compassion exist without pity?