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Lesson Plan 3: Building Empathy

Written by Mariruth Leftwich
November 09, 2017

Materials and Resources Required:

  • Instructors should identify 5-10 historic images that relate to the topic of the project that document the social issue.
  • Resource Appendix: Observing and Describing the Past
  • Social Change Timeline from Activity 1
  • Rapid Prototype Supplies – these can vary based on supplies available and can include sheets of aluminum foil, popsicle sticks, yarn, felt, scissors, glue sticks, etc.


  • The purpose of this activity is for learners to think about the past and social change in a more affective way, building empathy around the social change issue. Begin by sharing a historic image that is evidence of the problem. In the case of the Green City Remix project, which focused on air quality issues, a ‘night scene’ image was used that shows the city at what appears to be nighttime, but was in fact a darkened mid-day scene that was the result of air pollution.
  • Instead of completing an analysis of the source, ask learners: how does this image make you feel? If you were standing in this image, what words would you use to describe your emotions at that moment?


  • Using the set of historic images, ask them to observe and describe the past using the descriptive framework. This exercise has learners explore the environmental setting, the people, and the interactions they see in the image. Have learners title the image and writing a descriptive paragraph about the experience represented in the image.
  • As learners share out their descriptions, record the words that are used to describe the past. How do the immersive descriptions of the past help us build empathy for the social issue?
  • When the participants begin planning their remix installation it will be important that they consider how the installation will make the viewer feel, using emotions to connect the audience with the issue. Using the list of descriptive words from the first part of the activity, form students into small groups and ask them to represent the feelings around the social issue using rapid prototyping supplies.
  • Each group should select one event, person, action, or strategy from the Social Change Timeline and create a prototype installation that reflects their chosen timeline item.
  • Give groups 20 minutes to create their mini-installation that will accompany the timeline. This exercise will also give participants an opportunity to think about how they might use supplies and approaches in their installation.

Each group should share out their prototype. Before the group describes what they were trying to achieve with their installation, ask other participants what they think the installation represents and how it makes them feel as a viewer.

Open Resource — Observing and Describing the Past.pdf