Empathic Role Taking in Social Studies: A Fifth Grade Curriculum Based on Critical and Creative Thinking

Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

Delores B. Gallo


This thesis evolved from a unit of work created by the author to engage and enhance the critical and creative thinking of her fifth grade students. It is composed of a series of activities; however, special emphasis is placed on a role playing activity in which students took on personas of children of the 1770s, focusing on the events of the Boston Massacre. The author contends that empathic response was a factor in the mastery and application of particular critical and creative thinking skills introduced at this grade level. The author further contends that the development of empathy in individuals is crucial for the continuance of a productive and humane society and that his development can, and should be, a vital part of the educational setting. Theories of those prominent in the fields of critical and creative thinking, empathy, and classroom drama are considered, and connections regarding the implementation of these fields in the classroom are discussed. It is suggested that critical and creative thinking in 10 and 11 year old children can be enhanced through role taking strategies. The implementation of an original social studies curriculum composed of six activities to foster critical and creative thinking is described. These activities include schema development, promotion of cognitive organization, content reading, assignment of general and specific personas, role playing, and evaluation. The author summarizes what went well, what could be improved, and what could be done differently in each of the activities. Furthermore, a quantitative analysis of students' participation in the role taking activity is presented. Factors which influence students' success in the role taking are considered, as well as factors which may have hindered success. Competencies and dispositions of critical and creative thinking and empathy exhibited by the students in the role playing activity are reviewed. Reflections on the role taking activity and its potential as a learning strategy are put forward. Appendices include transcriptions from the role playing active of the students in role, transcriptions of the children's reflection on the role playing activity, and a list of materials used in the curriculum unit. It is this author's hope that others who work with children will benefit from this thesis by paying particular attention to the role that empathy can play in the development of critical and creative thinking skills.


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