The following is one of fifty engagement tasks in Aaron's newest book Worksheets Don't Work. Each image is hyperlinked to a Google Slide that can be copied and edited as needed. The last section has been added to modify this task for virtual learning. To have upcoming blog posts in this series sent directly to your inbox, add your email address here.
Students, by default, view things from their own perspectives. Unless trained or taught differently, they’ll answer every question and solve every problem from their own points of view. While this natural inclination is to be expected, it can also be limiting. When students expand their mental landscapes to approach content and critical thinking from different perspectives, they exercise empathy and develop a more global outlook. Oftentimes truth moves into gray areas when examined from someone else’s point of view.
Utilizing point of view requires students to look at content, whether it be informational or literature-based, from a multitude of angles. Each point of view activity will change based on the nature of the material that students will examine. A common use of this can be found in social studies where students look at an event and analyze it from numerous outlooks. For example, students studying the American Revolution can interpret major events, such as the Battle of Yorktown, from American, British, and French perspectives. When reading novels, students can take on the persona of one of the characters and reflect on major plot points through their eyes.
Why It Works
Empathy is a valuable skill for students to cultivate. It not only helps with analysis, it’s essential for basic interpersonal relationships. To be able to view something from an outside perspective gives deep insight and forms the foundation of societal living. Like any other skill, however, it needs to be practiced. Children are naturally self-centered and adult guidance and demonstration are instrumental in helping them extend beyond themselves. A strong moral compass is centered around the skill of empathy.
Looking through others’ eyes has a decidedly emotional component. This neurological fact makes this worksheet alternative incredibly effective. More than just engaging the minds of students, using a point of view activity also touches their hearts. They have to identify with another person or group before they can describe an event or information from their perspective. The emotional connection that allows for the analytical reasoning creates multiple links in the brain and increases its potential for recall.
Young students are often baffled by highly contentious questions on morality. Whereas their worldviews only contain black and white, right and wrong, older students and adults realize that there are many shades of gray between the two extremes. Jumping between different points of view allows students the chance to explore these permutations in a safe environment. Not only are teachers strengthening their analytical skills, they are building their capacity to empathize with others.
Utilizing a point of view activity is fairly simple as long as it matches the content. Use these guidelines to get started.
1. For students to flourish, the points of view they explore must tie directly to whatever they are learning about. Whereas some other activities allow for generic categories or descriptions, this requires customization. The point of view activity should use perspectives that are natural to the text or subject.
2. Decide on the timing of the point of view activity. Will students look through various eyes as a warmup before diving into the material? Will it serve as a culminating activity, perhaps a product for a grade? It might simply be a discussion point while in the midst of examining the text.
3. Along the same lines, think about how students will be grouped. If the point of view activity happens as a pre-assessment or formative assessment, they might be partnered up to talk about the various perspectives. If instead it will serve as a summative learning task, students might work alone to answer a set of questions or write a short composition.
4. Realize that even older and more mature students still struggle with empathy. Interpreting the world through another’s eyes is not a natural habit for some. With a short scenario, model for students how to think about events from different perspectives.
5. The first few times that students engage in this activity, consider keeping it informal and oral rather than written. Instead of a one-sided dialogue, provide students with question stems to use when talking with a partner. Give them a chance to practice not only viewing something from a different point of view but also guiding another to that perspective through probing questions.
6. If the activity will be graded, make sure that students know what the expectations are. This is a highly subjective task and students should not be penalized if the teacher judges that they have wrongly interpreted another’s point of view. Empathy is an art form, not an exact science, and cannot be reduced to fill-in-the-blank questions.
Ms. Salyards’ honors 8th grade English class was going to read Langston Hughes’ short story Thank You, Ma’am. To capture the depth of the two main characters, Roger and Mrs. Luella Bates Washington Jones, and their brief interaction, Ms. Salyards designed a short point of view activity for the students to interact with before reading the text.
In the story, Roger is a young man in a northern city during the 1950s. He tries unsuccessfully to steal Mrs. Jones’ purse. Rather than calling the police, however, Mrs. Jones takes Roger to her room in a boarding house and begins to talk with him. She ends up feeding him and giving him money for some new blue suede shoes, the object of Roger’s desire that prompted him to try and steal the purse in the first place. To help students understand the text, Ms. Salyards wanted them to examine two archetypes from different perspectives.
“Class, before we read this short story by Langston Hughes, I want you to turn to a fresh page in your reading response journal and draw lines to split it into four equal quadrants. You will work with your elbow partner to brainstorm a list of adjectives to describe a thief and the thief’s victim. What makes this tricky, however, is that you need to describe each person twice. Once from their perspective and once from the other’s perspective.
“When you think of a thief, you will probably naturally tend to view that person with a negative skew. Do you think that’s how thieves view themselves, however? Do they see themselves as evil felons or simply opportunists? In the same way, examine a victim from both points of view. I imagine that the words a thief would use to describe his or her victim will differ greatly from the labels a victim gives him or herself.
“Once you’ve brainstormed some adjectives in these four quadrants with your partner, I want you to share them with your table. If someone else has an idea you like, go ahead and add it to your own journals. These perspectives will help you better understand Roger and Mrs. Jones, the two characters in the short story we are about to read.”
Though this does entail complex level of thinking, even younger students can examine something from various points of view. Instead of perusing issues of dubious moral certainty, however, they would enjoy looking at everyday objects or animals from a variety of perspectives. For example, they can look at a snail from different viewpoints. They can work together to describe a snail from their point of view and from a gardener’s point of view in conjunction with a science lesson. Students can even think about how their teacher would look at the snail and contrast that with a French chef’s perspective.
Students that need support having a deep conversation about different points of view can use some questions to probe deeper. The questions can be used to prompt their partner to consider many aspects of someone else’s viewpoint. They can ask about another’s actions, their feelings, and even their words in response to an event or about a topic. Even asking them to agree or disagree with another’s perspective provides them with a pathway to look through different lenses.
Many opportunities exist within literature to utilize a point of view activity. When novels have a large cast of characters, students can use their perspectives to describe major events throughout the story. A single event, such as the climax of the narrative, can be described from a multitude of angles utilizing the outlooks of the various characters. Students can even turn these descriptions into a memory match game using index cards. It makes for great review and builds empathetic prowess as students interpret events through different lenses.
How students represent the different points of view is also customizable. Artistic students can draw interpretations of a character, scene, or event from various perspectives. Whereas the protagonist in a novel might draw himself in a positive light, the antagonist would most likely make the protagonist into a caricature, highlighting their negative aspects as much as possible. When drawing an event or a scene, different characters would focus on the parts that mean the most to them.
While examining different points of view works most seamlessly with history and literature, students looking for a challenge can apply the technique to more skill-based content. They can work together to describe the scientific method from the perspective of a student, a teacher, and a scientist. A nice discussion can even be held with students if they think about standardized tests from not only their own point of view but that of teachers, parents, and administrators.
Modifying This For Virtual Learning
Using point of view in digital classrooms is an easy transition for students. One idea to make point of view come to life is to utilize video recordings available through iPads, Chromebooks, or web cams. Students can record themselves answering questions or responding to prompts from the point of view of different characters. They can even dress up to help play the different parts, taking on the different personas to help complete the assignment or task.
Similarly, students might not respond from different points of view but instead find videos, pictures, or animated gifs that represent the various perspectives. The key element to this engaging alternative is perspective taking, so how students best represent that is only limited by their imagination.