3 Ways to Use Your Empathy Toy Teacher's Kit at School

The Empathy Toy has its roots in the classroom. It was first developed as a school project, and it’s now in thousands of schools worldwide. Students play the Empathy Toy in primary classrooms in Switzerland and in high schools in the United States. It’s part of an EMBA program in Hong Kong, a STEAM program in Kenya, and a program for student leaders in Canada. You can find the Empathy Toy being played in 47 countries, and in all kinds of educational settings. By purchasing an Empathy Toy, you’re joining a global community of people facilitating the Empathy Toy, and Educators and schools are still the largest group of people in that community. They are teaching us all the time about new ways to use the toy, but if you’re not sure where to start, here are 3 of the most popular ways to use the Empathy Toy in school.

  1. Improve School Climate and Inclusion

    Assumptions can be the root of problems like bullying, exclusion, and discrimination, inside the classroom and beyond. The Empathy Toy can offer students the opportunity to practice recognizing assumptions and exploring how those assumptions can get in the way of our ability to collaborate and succeed. At St. John’s High School in Winnipeg, student leaders use the Empathy Toy to combat bullying and racism, and the school has seen an 85% drop in the number of referrals to the office related to bullying or conflict. The Empathy Toy also helps students to practice active listening. Knowing that we can never completely step into another person’s shoes, active listening is critical to the perspective taking that Dr. Brene Brown says is one of the critical components of empathy. We’d love to see more schools getting results like this.

    Some questions to ask while playing:

    • What clues or generalizations informed the assumptions that you made in the game?

    • Did the assumptions you made make it easier or harder for you to succeed as a group?

    • When in real life have you made assumptions about someone’s skills or abilities? What might you do differently now?

    Check out these pages in your Educator’s Guidebook for suggested game scenarios:

    • Pages 22 and 23 (Active Listening)

    • Pages 26 and 27 (Identifying assumptions)

    • Pages 50 and 51 (Conflict Resolution)

  2. Second Language Classes and Cross-Cultural Studies

    Whether you are teaching a second language class or working with groups of students who have different first languages and cultural backgrounds, the Empathy Toy can be a playful way for students to practice their developing language skills and to find common ground. Playing the Empathy Toy in cross-cultural situations, such as with exchange students or newcomer students is an opportunity for students to learn about each other and build connections through a shared challenge. Playing the Empathy Toy in a second language class allows students to practice giving directions and using vocabulary related to orientation, position, and movement. It's also an opportunity for students to practice their auditory comprehension and conversation skills. In both cases, the toy allows for peer to peer learning and creative problem solving, even if they are working across a language barrier or cultural difference. TESL students from Niagara College play the toy as part of their program and explore ways to use the Empathy Toy as part of the scaffolding for their students' language development.

    Some questions to ask while playing:

    • Do you think that having a limited vocabulary made the game easier or harder?

    • What strategies did you use when you didn’t have enough vocabulary and couldn’t use gestures or body language?

    • What made the directions easier or harder to follow? How can you use these strategies to bridge a language barrier?

    Check out these pages in your Educator’s Guidebook for suggested game scenarios:

    • Pages 30 and 31 (Differentiated Communication)

    • Pages 66 and 67 (Self-Advocacy)

    • Pages 74 and 75 (Using Analogy)

  3. STEM and Design Thinking Lessons

    Empathy is the first stage in the design process, so whether you work with students in makerspaces, shop class, computer programming, or business classes, practicing empathy is a key part of product and service development. Empathy helps people to think about problems in a different way by examining diverse perspectives, as well as the possible positive and negative impacts of solutions. Playing the Empathy Toy can also improve group collaboration on projects, so it’s a great way to start a new unit or project. Play Nairobi uses the Empathy Toy as part of their STEAM programming to foster dialogue before their students start their tech projects focused on the global refugee crisis. You can also play the toy over the course of the program, like our friends at the ROM, who use the toy as part of their STEAM program. This keeping empathy at the centre of your process and really allowing student to practice this skill.

    Some questions to ask while playing:

    • What did you find to be the hardest part of playing? Was this different for different people in your group?

    • What was something that you didn’t plan for in your game strategy that would be helpful in future games?

    • What factors might change someone’s experience playing the Empathy Toy? Do you think the toy could be adapted to be easier or harder for these people?

    Check out these pages in your Educator’s Guidebook for suggested game scenarios:

    • Pages 38 and 39 (Peer Assessment)

    • Pages 46 and 47 (Collaborative Problem Solving)

    • Pages 78 and 79 (Identifying Patterns)

    If you’re inspired by some of these ideas and are looking for more opportunities to learn about the toy and play with like-minded people, sign up for our training list here to find out about upcoming training days especially for educators!

The Empathy Toy

…is a blindfolded puzzle game that can only be solved when players learn to understand each other.

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