Altruism is the ability and willingness to help others. It's a mindset that can last a lifetime. When a student develops a spirit of cooperation, empathy and generosity, these qualities enhance every lesson learned in the classroom and beyond. Altruism is often taught as part of philosophy, religion or psychology classes, although it can fit with many different subjects. Altruism activities not only help students learn more about the concept, but also experience altruism themselves.

Bystander Activity

This classroom activity shows students how altruism can be influenced by different factors. Students will need to consider why some onlookers help strangers in need while others are only passive bystanders. The activity helps illustrate the complexity of altruism and is especially suited to older students. Students complete the activity in three stages. First, each student reads a scenario in which a stranger needs help and there are bystanders present. The student tries to predict whether or not the bystanders will help, and justifies the answer. Next, students share their findings with each other and create a collective list of factors that could promote altruism. Finally, the students write short papers and engage in classroom discussions about how altruism develops in public settings.

Interviewing Volunteers

Altruism means helping others without payment or reward. Volunteers donate their time and energy in order to improve the lives of others. They are strong examples of altruism in action. As a classroom activity students can interview volunteers to find out more about their motivations and experiences. Each student chooses a volunteer from a different type of organization, such as homeless shelters, pet shelters, low-income outreach or disaster relief organizations. After the interview the students get to share the results with the entire classroom through an oral presentation, a poster or another method.

Meeting Society's Needs

Altruism extends beyond the classroom and has a real impact on society.
Altruism extends beyond the classroom and has a real impact on society.

This classroom activity focuses on the broader picture of altruism. Students not only learn the definition of altruism but understand how it can improve society and make an impact on the lives around them. Students begin by considering the different kinds of need people might have, such as food, shelter, money, education, friendship or transportation. Working together they compile a list of these needs and place them into categories, such as "material needs" and "emotional needs." Once students have identified these needs they can discuss whether or not these needs are being met for different members of society. For example, people from low-income areas may not have access to education. After students have become more aware of needs in society, the whole classroom plans an altruistic project. They might volunteer at a soup kitchen or hold a fundraiser for a school in a poorer area. Students should work in teams and organize their time effectively in order to develop teamwork skills and experience altruism in action.

Kindness Corner

As an ongoing classroom activity students can keep a special bulletin board in a corner of the classroom or set aside a blank area of wall. Throughout the school year students can add clippings from newspapers, magazines or newsletters, sharing stories of altruism in the community or the country. Students can also write their own experiences with altruism or plans for future experiences with altruism.