Last Updated on October 5, 2023 by Editorial Team
In a world where people are so connected to technology, it is easy to lose touch with our emotions. College students are especially at risk for this, as they often feel overwhelmed and stressed due to uninvited exposures. Therefore, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
It is a vital skill for college students, as it can help them build relationships, resolve conflicts, and find common ground with others. Research shows that most college students can understand their friends’ feelings while they show a mixed response in identifying the pains of others. While college students should develop empathetic skills, teachers and parents can play a good role in this.
There are many ways to develop empathy, including workshops and seminars, reading books and articles on the topic, and practicing active listening. However, one of the best ways to develop empathy is to participate in activities that allow you to experience it firsthand. These activities can help students understand and share their feelings, leading to closer relationships and a more peaceful campus environment.
Here are some empathy activities:
Engaging empathy activities for college students
Empathy is a vast concept that simply cannot be taught by reading or writing. However, as it involves acknowledging feelings, these activities are great for developing empathetic skills in college students.
1. Discuss Feelings
College students go through multiple emotions as this period of life brings them new friends, opportunities, and also the feeling of missing their old days. This game is a good way to make students understand the importance of acknowledging feelings and being empathetic toward them.
- In this game, divide the entire class into teams of 2 members each. You might also have 3 members per group.
- Give students a set of 5 questions they need to ask their team members to find out the good and bad parts of their life.
- These questions can be designed in the below-mentioned way.
- Tell me something about your childhood
- Are you in touch with your school friends?
- How do you feel in college?
- Describe the best moment of your life.
- What does happiness mean to you?
- Now, give students enough time to discuss and get their respective answers.
- Once they have had the conversation with their team member, ask the opposite member to list at least 3 different emotions about their partner.
- For example, they can talk about emotions or their general interpretation. It can include the following statements.
- Sam misses his school friends and is trying hard to bond with new people.
- Same enjoys traveling with his family.
- Off lately, Sam has been juggling studies and football.
- In this manner, the entire class knows one unique aspect about each student.
This fun and unique activity encourages open and non-judgmental conversation between team members. Even when students wouldn’t want to express themselves, this activity helps them express themselves as if they are talking to a normal classmate who would not judge or bother their emotions.
2. Weekly Emotions
This activity about Weekly Emotions is simply like the name suggests. However, it emphasizes acknowledging one’s emotions and analyzing feelings to better understand oneself.
- For this activity, each student shall be given 5 minutes to note down their highs and lows of the week.
- After this, each student has to openly discuss their feelings for the entire week.
- For example, students can be real and quick with this activity. They might note down the following statements.
- I went out this Sunday and felt rejuvenated after a long time.
- I was busy with my art class and could not enjoy myself with my friends.
- The teacher should give some examples to help students note their emotions in a detailed manner.
This activity focuses on knowing oneself and knowing the emotions of different students. This activity also suggests that “I am not the only one.” When students realize how their classmates go through similar or distinct feelings, they develop empathy for everyone around them.
3. What’s My Emotion?
This simple activity greatly results in understanding emotions and reflecting on them through acknowledgment. Teachers need to prepare an emotion list on the whiteboard to conduct this activity for students.
- In this activity, students must copy the list of emotions mentioned by the teacher.
- For example, the list can include the following emotions.
- Now, within 10-15 minutes, students must list when or how they feel these emotions.
- For example, they can write, “I feel happy during the art class,” or “I feel frustrated when my father is angry.”
- After listing, students should exchange sheets with anyone randomly in the class.
- Now, make these students sit in pairs who have exchanged the sheets.
- Each student has to say 2-3 sentences that show empathy and encourage the other person.
- For example, they can say, “Oh, you love art class, let’s do it together then,” or “Hey, that’s okay to feel frustrated, I understand your situation.”
This is a helpful activity as students exchange sheets while exchanging emotions. Students also learn the correct way of emphasizing and learn to differentiate it from sympathy. As they give each other words of reassurance, they also gain confidence to speak about their issues.
4. Appreciation Acts
“Appreciation Acts” is an activity surrounded by kind words said to others. This simple activity enforces a positive culture and empathy.
- In this activity, make a team of 3 to 4 members each.
- Now, ask the team to talk to each other for 5 minutes and begin with the activity.
- Students must now note at least one good statement about each team member.
- After noting, everyone reads these statements in front of the entire class.
Everyone loves hearing good words about themselves; empathy can develop when students learn to appreciate others. This activity creates a helpful environment for students who struggle to express their feelings.
5. Thank You Post
This is a useful activity for students to learn the art of expressing feelings and the importance of empathizing with people.
- In this activity, ask students to write a thank you letter to their friends, family members, or anyone they adore.
- They can write this letter to their neighbor, teachers, or other people in their lives.
- Once they write the letter, ask them to read the thank you note in front of that person.
- The next day, ask them to describe the recipient’s emotion while listening to that letter.
This is an interesting activity where students recognize the hard work or efforts taken by friends, family, or teachers. When they learn to express their appreciation or other feelings, they are more likely to understand and empathize with the recipient’s situation.
Importance of empathy for college students: Understanding through situations
Empathy is an important skill that develops social behavior, communication, and leadership abilities. Explore the below examples to understand the importance of empathy through realistic situations.
1. Meet Amber
Amber has been studying in the same college for 2 years now. She has an amazing social circle and is often surrounded by her friends. Amber spots a student, Jack, who has recently joined the program.
She realizes that Jack sits alone, walks away from people, and cannot interact. She decides to approach Jack and then comforts him with kind words. She also introduces him to her social circle. After this, Jack gains confidence and can conveniently communicate with other classmates.
In this example, empathy skills help Amber polish her social skills, learn collaboration, and build a positive class environment.
2. Meet Shane
Shane studies in the IT department at a reputed college. He is also the head of various cultural events and programs. Being the head, he often auditions students to include them in community programs.
While auditioning, two other heads straightaway reject a fresher named Tom. Shane understands that Tom belongs to a different community that does not match most college students. Shane apologizes to Tom, asks him to perform again, and selects him. He also reassures the other two heads about Tom’s talented moves.
In this case, empathy skills helped Shane break community differences, enhancing a strong cultural influence in the college.
3. Meet Lilly
Lilly is an active girl in the college who prefers a small social circle. She has two best friends, Hannah and Lara. While Lilly initiates different plans and parties, Hannah and Lara sometimes have communication difficulties. They often indulge in fights while Lilly tries to calm the situation.
As the fights progressed, Hannah and Lara started abusing each other. Lilly had mastered the skills of empathy and knew she should be an active listener. After actively listening to both sides, she put her perspective in a way that would not hurt.
In this case, Lilly empathized with her friends by applying an important aspect of empathy. She gave space to both individuals to talk and express their feelings.
4. Meet Kevin
Kevin is a college student who experiences fame due to his helpful nature. He is always there for people and ready to help other students in difficult situations. With this, Kevin achieves the position of a leader in the class.
Another student, Ben, tries to put Kevin down with cheap tricks. He shows signs of jealousy and hatred towards Kevin. While Kevin is aware of Ben’s reactions and hate feelings, he tries to keep calm and ignore them. However, while Ben tries to pass judgment on him, Kevin decides to approach him and confront his feelings. He says that he understands how Ben feels and how it is completely okay to feel a bit jealous. After all, Ben has also been the leader. Instead of violence or hate speech, Kevin chooses to express feelings.
In this case, Kevin shows empathy as it lets people feel peace and connection with themselves. Kevin is empathetic and wins the argument with his ability to comprehend Ben’s emotions.
5. Meet Jennifer
Jennifer is a shy girl who has recently joined college. She prefers her own company and avoids interacting with everyone around her. While she likes to focus on studying, she is always open to helping people with notes. One of her friends, Stacy, experiences bad feelings. Stacy believes Jennifer to be straightforward and does not share her feelings.
When Jennifer notices Stacy, she decides to confront Stacy about her sadness and dull face. Stacy, without any hesitation, expresses her feelings of being missed out in family gatherings as she is often surrounded by siblings who excel in their fields. Stacy feels she cannot score well, and nobody would love to talk to her.
Jennifer listens to this and creates a sense of relatability with her life. She confides that she feels the same way, and that’s why she prefers to study than interact with people. In this case, Jennifer creates a sense of relatability by stepping into Stacy’s shoes. Her empathetic behavior makes Stacy feel better, knowing that she is not alone in this situation.
Empathy is an integral part of human development. As humans develop, they experience various emotions, and empathy helps them accept and understand different perspectives in any given situation. Because of their daily interactions with new people, empathy is vital for college students. As these students are unaware of the history or story of any student, they might end up hurting their classmates due to a lack of emotional understanding.
Empathy activities promote positive culture, acceptance, good social behavior, and great communication skills in such situations. Therefore, teachers need to focus on activities that develop the overall emotional development of students. The more empathetic students are, the more emotionally intelligent they become. When students face and learn empathy, they are likely to understand their own emotions, act on time, and stay away from negative perspectives.
- Jagannarayan, Nandini & Chitra, Jaya. (2020). An Empirical Study on the Presence of Empathetical Feelings in College Students. ISBN: 978-81-944813-0-0. 63-71.
I am Shweta Sharma. I am a final year Masters student of Clinical Psychology and have been working closely in the field of psycho-education and child development. I have served in various organisations and NGOs with the purpose of helping children with disabilities learn and adapt better to both, academic and social challenges. I am keen on writing about learning difficulties, the science behind them and potential strategies to deal with them. My areas of expertise include putting forward the cognitive and behavioural aspects of disabilities for better awareness, as well as efficient intervention. Follow me on LinkedIn