As a society, we are enthralled with the idea of smiling. The smile inspired a familiar show tune in the musical Annie, has been studied by psychologists for decades and is the subject of inspirational wisdom handed down by everyone from Mother Theresa to Mae West.

It is in this vein that the creation and celebration of World Smile Day came about in 1999, thanks to the efforts of the commercial artist and smiley face creator Harvey Ball. Ball’s smiley face is one of the most widely recognized symbols of kindness and happiness throughout the world today.

Teaching Empathy and Kindness in the Classroom 

Teaching Empathy Smiley FaceBall’s intention in commemorating the smiley face through the creation of World Smile Day was simple. He wanted to ensure the purity of the symbol and keep it from becoming too commercialized.

Essentially, he wanted to reiterate what a smile represents: the importance of human kindness.

These concepts can be easily applied in the classroom to instill or bolster a sense of empathy in our students—and to foster a collaborative and heartfelt community within a school or classroom. Both of these are extremely topical as current anti-bullying efforts continue to grow.

While it is likely that many elementary school counselors are already administering lessons created around teaching empathy and kindness, implementing a character-focused atmosphere in a regular day-to-day classroom setting can have profound and lasting effects. Even better, you can foster this type of atmosphere in a relatively small amount of time—so as not to take away from content-based learning.

7 Resources to Help Teachers Guide the Development of Empathy 

Teaching Empathy and Kindness Bulletin Board

In an attempt to spread Ball’s mission of world happiness and kindness on World Smile Day, we’ve compiled a list of resources that can be applied in classrooms of varying levels to help teachers guide the development of empathy.

1. Teaching Tolerance

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project has developed lessons applicable for grades K-12, broken into four ranges:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayTeaching Tolerance also features a Happy Faces lesson that begins with a reading of Judith Viorst’s classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

2. Edutopia

The popular education site Edutopia has a variety of resources to choose from, including videos geared towards the middle school classroom to highlight the concepts of kindness, empathy, and connection.

3. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center

A wealth of information on gratitude, empathy, altruism, happiness and related topics for educator, community or personal use is available at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

4. Jeremiah’s Hope for Kindness

This non-profit—which was started by the parents of a bullying victim who took his own life in 2006 at the age of 21—has compiled a comprehensive list of Activities, Lesson Plans and Strategies to use in the classroom.


A myriad of lesson plans for all grade levels are available at Even doing something as simple as printing compliment cards and leaving them out for students (or co-workers) can have a positive impact on character and community building.

6. Books!

Books always make an amazing resource for any classroom lesson. Start teaching empathy in an early elementary classroom with a book like Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch.

7. Random Acts of Kindness

On the Random Acts of Kindness website, there’s an entire section dedicated to helping educators teach kindness in the classroom.

If you like the idea of using literature for teaching empathy, understanding and other character-based lessons, we offer several carefully curated collections of popular titles to support what you’re doing in the classroom. Take a look below!

Booksource Recommendations