Mix It Up Year Round: Build Empathy Through Active Listening

When students approach differences with a gentle curiosity, they discover they have more in common with each other than they thought.

To successfully interact with a diverse peer group, students need to be able to put themselves in each other’s shoes.

When students approach differences with gentle, respectful curiosity, they also discover they have more in common with each other than they thought. One way to get them to do both is to have them practice empathetic listening, which opens the mind.

Check out these activities that can build students’ empathetic listening skills and help them learn to speak confidently about themselves.


Active Listening

  1. Pair students up.
  2. Ask one partner to tell the other about one of the following: an embarrassing moment, a time they were scared or something that made them sad. If students are not comfortable sharing a real-life experience, they may share the experience of a fictional character.
  3. Have students speak for two minutes without interruptions. Partners should listen closely by nodding and maintaining eye contact and then reflect back what was said to clarify that the student speaking was heard and understood clearly. The listening partner can also ask follow-up questions.
  4. Finally, have students switch roles and repeat the procedure.


Go Deeper: Fishbowl

  1. Have students form two concentric circles in the middle of the room. The students in the outer, larger ring will be observers. Those in the inner, smaller circle will be in the “fishbowl.”
  2. Ask the inner circle—fishbowl—students to discuss questions such as, “What is the hardest part about being a middle/high school student?”
  3. Allow students to move between the inner and outer circles freely during the discussion.
  4. Debrief after 20 minutes.

Keep an eye out for more activities coming your way as we build toward Mix It Up at Lunch Day!

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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