Enhancement of empathy outside school (friends, family, strangers
Development of empathic behavior at school
• Cardboard, scissors, glue, envelopes
• A CD, USB stick, etc (or any other appropriate equipment) with relaxing music, sea waves sounds and storm sound effects
• A copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
During their sea voyage, they encounter a number of life-threatening situations which propel them to throw away some of their ‘baggage’ in order to be rescued and keep what they judge as the most important for their survival and development.
Students are asked to place themselves in an extreme situation so that they can feel as experientially as possible what it is like to start life in a new community from scratch and set sail for a foreign land where nothing is taken for granted. Most importantly, they are asked to reflect on what is most important to them and negotiate with their classmates/co-travellers on what must be kept as most important for their survival and development and what can be discarded. The activity helps them realize the hierarchy of different needs and wants on a personal and then on a social level, since they need to decide on priorities not just as individuals but also as members of a wider community. They will need to make quick decisions, negotiate, compromise, defend, prioritize, convince others about their opinion and find solutions.
The strongest point of the activity is that it places the students in the centre, asking them to experience the situation and not just listen to or watch the teacher. It enhances active learning and learning by doing instead of passive learning. It helps participants recognize their own emotions about different sectors of their life and how important they are to them and also helps them perceive themselves as social beings and members of a larger social group, or in other words as political beings according to Aristotle’s definition. Moreover, it makes them realize what truly matters for a happy and fulfilled life and leads them to the formation of a hierarchy of various needs and wants in order for a whole community to thrive.
The activity already relies on emotional intelligence: the ability to identify one’s emotions about a situation and understand the wants, needs and viewpoints of the other people around them, the ability to harness these feelings and apply them to thinking and problem solving and the importance of cooperating with others effectively to achieve a common goal. Emotional intelligence can be further enhanced by asking students questions about how they felt during the activity, how they felt when they disagreed with their classmates and what they did to resolve differences, if they think all people have the same needs and wants, etc.
2. We split up the students into small groups and give each group an envelope with all the Wants and Needs cards; we explain to them that these are the things they will be packing to start their life in the new country. We ask each group to open the envelope, share out the cards and study them for a while. Allow 10 minutes for this part until everyone is settled, has studied and holds their cards. We can use simple props such as desks and chairs to simulate a boat. When everyone is ready we can begin with our story.
3. We explain that the ship is setting sail and begin the story in this way: At first, the journey is very pleasant (put on some relaxing sea music). The sun is shining and the sea is serene. Ask students to close their eyes and imagine their new life and the new land for a minute. When they have done so, we inform them that a big storm suddenly breaks out and the ship starts to tilt dangerously (put on storm sound effects). In fact, it is about to sink! They need to throw five of their cards overboard so that the ship can float. We ask each group to decide which cards they will throw overboard. Allow up to five minutes for this.
We explain to them that they will not be able to recover these items later on. We collect the cards that have been “thrown overboard” and place them in a pile.
4. We continue with the story: The storm has finally subsided. Everyone feels relieved. We let them quiet down for a minute and ask them to ponder on all the things they will do in their new life according to the cards they are holding. However, we then inform them that a weather forecast reports that a Category 5 hurricane is heading towards the ship. To survive the hurricane, students must throw another five cards overboard! Remind students to not discard items they will most probably need to survive in their new country. In the same way as before, we allow time for conversation and decision making and we collect the cards and place them in a separate pile. We allow another 5 minutes for this.
5. We continue with the story: We almost didn’t make it! However, we have almost reached the new continent. Everyone is very excited. However, just as we see land on the horizon, a huge whale crashes into our ship, tearing a hole in its side. They need to make the ship even lighter! Throw away four more cards.
We collect the cards and put them in a pile. (5 minutes)
6. You announce that they have finally reached the new continent safely and are ready to build a new country. We ask each group to ‘disembark’ the ship/boats and glue their remaining cards to a cardboard so that everyone can remember what they have brought with them to the new continent. (5 minutes)
7. We then ask from each group to present their cardboard collage and explain the importance of their choices together with the reasons behind their selection. (10 minutes)
8. Second lesson hour: We collect the students’ collages and place them next to each other so that everybody can see them. We compare the cards each group has decided to keep as the most essential. We can ask students:
What are the similarities and differences?
Do they have all they need to survive? To grow and properly develop?
Which things would they have liked to keep but decided were not essential? What is their conclusion? Do all the people have the same wants and needs? What do they think of their final choices?
Will they be able to survive in this foreign country?
Will they be able to grow and properly develop?
How did the group decide what to throw overboard?
Are they surprised by the final outcome?
If they were to repeat this activity a second time, would they discard different items?
9. We hand out copies of the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights to each group. We can point out that simply told human rights are based on human needs: the things that people need to survive, grow, properly develop and live a dignified life. We ask each group to study the Declaration and find connections between their cards or even some of the cards they discarded and basic human rights. Do they have all they need? (10 minutes)
We can then ask students:
Which cards represent things we might want but don’t have to have for survival?
Which cards represent things we have to have for physical survival?
Which cards represent things we might need to grow and develop well?
What would happen in this new country if you didn’t have _____? (Choose several different examples from the cards.)
10. As a follow-up to this activity we can show students a short video about human rights found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDgIVseTkuE
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Students are asked to see the activity critically and make connections between what they have done and human rights as written in the Declaration. The debate that follows together with the study of the Declaration and the shot film helps them consolidate their knowledge.