Niki was teaching a unit on Rights and Responsibilities. She wanted the students to learn about inequality, what it looked like, how it felt.

One day, without any explanation, she divided the class in half and gave half the students a boring page of math work, some old pencil stubs and a couple of broken crayons. She told them to work on the floor. The other half of the class were allowed to participate in a fun math game, work on the computer or do an intriguing art activity. After working for a while, Niki told the students it was snack time. The first group got bread and water. The second group were given cake and ice cream.

The first group (the “have nots” group) were extremely upset and disappointed. What was surprising was that they felt powerless. They did nothing to improve their situation.

Upon debriefing and reflection the students said they were sad, mad, angry. “It is not fair!” they said. Yet, they did not voice it at the time (they showed their anger through body language but did not act to improve their situation). The same activity was done again, reversing the roles. Surprisingly, it was just as effective! The ‘have nots’ group was upset!

This activity was very powerful. The students talked about it all year. In our international school communities our students do not have many opportunities to experience ‘have nots’. This activity allowed the students to have a memory that helped them become empathetic.