Empathy Activities for Middle School

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Are you doing a unit on empathy with your middle school aged students? These activities will help your students better understand themselves and each other as they work collaboratively and actively.

Empathy Related Activities

Middle school years are those years in which both boys and girls are going through major changes. They are growing up, becoming more adult, but often still have the minds and attitudes of young children. Society expects much from these preteens whose emotions and hormones are in full swing.

Empathy is understanding another's emotions. This can be incredibly difficult for middle school students because they often don't fully understand their own emotions, much less someone else's. Additionally, their lives have been mostly egocentric, thus understanding that others might not respond to similar situations in the same way is very difficult.

The activities offered here are designed to get your students reflecting on emotions, in general, and empathy specifically.

Who Feels That Way

This activity helps students realize, in a concrete way, that everyone responds to situations slightly differently. This is an important step for true empathy.


  • Prepared scenario cards
    • Include scenarios specifically related to online situations
  • Blank cards (or rectangles of paper)


  • Divide your class into small groups (4-5 per group).
  • Hand out up to six cards to each student.
  • Read out a scenario card, such as:
    • I went to the store to get my favorite treat, but they were out.
    • My best friend posted a picture from a party when he/she was supposed to be with me.
    • I saw a nasty comment about me on a friend's social media account.
    • I posted a cool picture of myself at an event but no one liked it.
  • Ask your students to think about how they would feel in that scenario.
  • Give your students a few minutes to write a brief response to the scenario, like:
    • I was disappointed, but I just got something different instead.
    • So, I got mad and left the store.
    • It didn't really bother me. I just went to a different store.
  • Student responses must:
    • Be brief - 1 or 2 sentences.
    • Include an emotional response word.
    • Include an action response.
  • Remind your students to write their response in secret.
  • When everyone is finished with their responses, all students should put their cards face down in the middle of the group.
  • One student should gather the cards and shuffle them.
  • Then, that student should read each card one at a time.
    • All students in the group should try to decide who wrote each response.
  • After all the cards have been identified, encourage the groups to discuss their differing reactions to the scenario before continuing with the next scenario.


  • This activity could be completed as a class with you collecting all the cards and selecting a few at random to read out.
    • Have students raise their hands to indicate whether or not they concur with the response read.
  • You could use online-only scenarios to help your class focus on issues related to internet usage and the severely different ways in which people perceive online behavior.

Reading Faces

Being able to express emotion and read emotion is important for the development of empathy.


  • Note cards with emotion words printed on them.
    • Use only 4-5 words total (you will need multiple of each word).
    • Choose words that suit your students' emotional skills (like happy/sad versus ecstatic/devastated)

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