Developing Empathy for Others

From FUTURESTATES collection, lesson plan 13 of 13

Audience: This lesson is designed for high school students of all ability levels.

Duration: This lesson will take about 2 days.

Summary of the Lesson: In this lesson, students will analyze Tia and Marco, focusing on the development of empathy. They will discuss the impact of empathy (or its absence) in their own lives and produce a story that models empathy. This lesson develops skills in drawing inferences and character analysis.

National Educational Standards: This lesson addresses Writing Core Standard 3:

For grades 9-10:
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

For grades 11-12:
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matt

Curricula Writer: Carla Beard teaches high school English in Indiana. She often presents at NCTE and has served as Teacher in Residence for the Indiana Department of Education, where she helped teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. She maintains Web English Teacher, a web-based resource for English Language Arts teachers.


Teacher Preparation

  • The teacher needs to preview Tia and Marco, just over 14 minutes long. The teacher will also find it helpful to watch The Making of Tia and Marco (about 8 1⁄2 minutes).
  • Make sure a projector is available so that all students can watch the film together. Bring copies of the Viewing Guide and Predict-O-Meter evaluation sheet.

Objective: Students will analyze the details that move the narrative forward and that reveal changes in a character.

Lesson Structure

Beginning (5-10 minutes)
Invite students to consider their own stereotypes by having them complete the following sentences, either individually or as a whole class.

  1. Teachers fall into two categories: and .
  2. Joe knows a lot about computers. His social life must be ___.
  3. When they drive, old people ___.
  4. Women drivers are ___.
  5. Rednecks are ___.
  6. French people are ___.
  7. Televangelists are ___.
  8. Teens are considered bad drivers because ___.
  9. A few homeless people are mentally ill. The rest of them are ___.
  10. Rich people are ___.

    Discuss briefly: we all know that stereotypes aren’t true. Somehow, though, they continue to exist. Have you ever been on the receiving end of a stereotype? What happened?

    Middle (60-75 minutes)
    Announce that students will be watching a film in which one person initially clings to her prejudice, but then changes her mind. Ask students to watch for the moment when she starts to change her mind. Then show the film (just over 14 minutes long).

    Afterwards, have students gather in groups of about five to share their impressions of when empathy starts to appear in the film. Compile answers, working toward consensus. (Tia is a no-nonsense, effective border patrol officer at the beginning of the film. She has also, however, lost her sense of empathy for Mexicans attempting to cross the border into the United States. By the end, however, she has connected on a human level with Marco and tries to help him escape. She gains her empathy — slowly — while watching over him one night, feeding him, considering herself as a new mother- to-be, and finally witnessing that the racist border patrol officer has harmed him. In this, she feels his humanity even more deeply and begins to understand people as individuals, not as part of an “offending” group.)

    Distribute the Viewing Guide and ask students to watch the film again, this time as writers. How has the writer of Tia and Marco made this conflict realistic and vivid for the audience? Encourage students to take notes as they watch the second time.

    Play the film again. Because it can be difficult to take notes while viewing, allow students to share their observations informally for a few minutes before compiling them into a master list at the front of the room. Discuss the power details have in conveying a message in everyday life.

    Point out that Tia didn’t understand her prejudice against Marco until she witnessed the racist border patrol officer causing him harm and began to respect him as an individual. Ask students if there are any other ways to fight prejudice. Ask them to identify the strategies that they use themselves.

    Suggested Follow-up Activities Depending on the quality of the closing discussion, students might establish a plan of action leading to a campaign against prejudice in their school. This could include posters, films, and/or guest speakers.

    Invite someone who has been a victim of prejudice to speak about how to combat it. This might include a Holocaust survivor, someone who worked for civil rights in the Sixties, a gay rights activist, a member of an ethnic minority, or a Muslim cleric.

    Students could produce a digital story on the life of someone who demonstrated empathy for others. (Find more information on digital storytelling.)


  • Investigate and analyze predictions for Tia and Marco as posted on the FUTURESTATES Predict-O-Meter.
  • Formulate and post their prediction on the Predict-O-Meter site.

Beginning (5-7 minutes)
Reactivate prior knowledge by reviewing discussions related to the film.

Middle (30-35 minutes)
Students will investigate predictions as presented on the Predict-O-Meter located on the FUTURESTATES website. After selecting and evaluating three of the predictions using the evaluation rubric, students will develop at least one prediction to post on the website. The proposed prediction will be evaluated by a peer and approved by the instructor before posting. The predictions may alter the course projected in the Predict- O-Meter predictions. Students may require an example of a valid prediction. Using the rubric to instruct the students, prepare a sample prediction and lead the class in an analysis of the statement. The following is an example of a proposed prediction and the evaluation of it using the prepared rubric.

Proposed prediction: “In 2025, Tia, plagued by memories of Marco, writes a best-selling book about her Year of Service and about how she was trained to think about illegal immigrants as not quite human. She starts a non-profit organization to fight prejudice and spread empathy.”

  • Is the prediction based on realistic possibilities? Yes. People often write about events in their lives.
  • Do the consequences of the prediction support the film? Yes. Tia seems genuinely sorry when Marco is taken away.
  • Do known events in the past support the prediction? Yes. Many nonprofit organizations exist to improve society.
  • Is this prediction plausible? This is the evaluator’s opinion based on the evidence presented in defense of the prediction.

End (Time Varies)
FUTURESTATES Predict-O-Meter Activity
Distribute the FUTURESTATES Predict-O-Meter Evaluation Sheet and go over the instructions with the students before directing them to complete the activity.

  • Film module:
    Tia and Marco
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