Playing with Perspective | Facing History & Ourselves
Female students engage in classroom discussion.

Playing with Perspective

Students reflect on the concept of perspective and consider the importance and limitations of our ability to see things from another’s perspective.


At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts


  • Culture & Identity


About This Learning Experience

Perspective-taking is a foundational social-emotional skill that helps us interpret the motivations and behaviors of others and come to understand and appreciate values and beliefs that are different from our own. For young people, it is a critical tool in building their social awareness. To this end, literature offers meaningful opportunities for students to consider different perspectives and to develop empathy and compassion for characters in the books they read. 

The following learning experiences introduce and support perspective-taking through close reading and analysis of a character’s identity, sense of self, motivations, and feelings. They provide opportunities for students to consider the importance as well as the limitations of our ability to see things from another’s perspective, as well as to consider how taking the time to understand someone else’s perspective can broaden our understanding of others and the world around us.

In order to deepen their understanding of the text, themselves, each other, and the world, students will . . .

  • Practice perspective-taking in order to develop empathy and recognize the limits of any one person’s point of view.
  • Read critically and ethically to understand thematic development, characterization, conflict, and craft in order to make personal and real-world connections between the text and their lives.
  • Evaluate a text for the ways in which it upholds and/or challenges stereotypes of individuals and groups.
  • Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues and existing knowledge.
  • Analyze examples of direct and indirect characterization in the text in order to determine a character’s perspective, feelings, and motivations.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Demonstrate creative thinking to produce an original piece of writing that takes into account the author’s craft.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before using this learning experience, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Facing History learning experiences are classroom-ready activities that you can incorporate into your lesson plans. They are designed to be modular and adaptable, so you can use them over and over again with a wide range of texts to help students explore characterization, point of view, perspective taking, setting, and thematic development through a Facing History lens.

This learning experience is divided into three sections—Introduce, Explore, and Extend—which increase in complexity and depth of analysis, but they don’t need to be used in sequence. The entry point depends on students’ familiarity with the concept and the level of complexity they are ready to tackle. Educators might choose to incorporate just one section into a lesson plan, teach all three over the course of one or two class periods, mix and match, or repeat one multiple times during a unit to help students track character or thematic development.

  1. Introduce: The first activity introduces a concept and helps students develop the schema they will need for deeper exploration. It may involve vocabulary work, schema building, and opportunities for personal reflection and pair–shares.
  2. Explore: The second activity engages students in a deeper exploration of the concept and helps them apply it to the core text of the unit. It includes opportunities for close reading, literary analysis, collaboration with peers, and rich questions for small-group and whole-class discussion about the text and how it connects to the real world.
  3. Extend: The third activity invites students to produce a reflective, expository, analytical, or creative piece of writing (or other form of expression) in order to explore connections between the text, key concepts from the learning experience, and/or their own lives.

The activities in this learning experience invite students to explore a character’s perspective and to consider the value and limitations of perspective taking. When done with care and intention, considering and articulating someone else’s perspective can foster empathy and respect. However, with any perspective-taking activity, it is important that students have choice and are never asked to write about traumatic experiences or assume the character of a perpetrator or target of violence or oppression.

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Before class, find one or more ambiguous images to introduce the concept of perspective. For example, you might choose “My Wife and My Mother-in-Law” or “Rubin’s Vase,” both of which you can find online. These images help to convey that it is possible to have very different interpretations (or perspectives) of the same reality. 

  1. Project your ambiguous image and have pairs discuss what they see. Solicit ideas from the class, inviting students to the board to outline the shape. Then introduce the concept of perspective by explaining that an individual’s perspective refers to how they see and understand the world and what’s happening around them. Everyone has a perspective that is influenced by their identity as well as the communities to which they belong. 
  2. After defining perspective, project the following questions one at a time so students have a chance to process the concept in their journals:
    • How do you get ideas and form impressions about people who live in your community or who you interact with on a regular basis? 
    • How do you get ideas and form impressions about people who live far away from you or who you don’t interact with on a regular basis?
    • How do you think other people get ideas and form impressions about you? 
  3. In pairs and then as a class, discuss the following questions: 
    • What is the value in understanding someone else’s perspective? 
    • What factors can make it challenging to understand someone else’s perspective?
    • Can we ever fully understand someone else’s perspective? What makes you say that?

The Step In–Step Out–Step Back thinking routine can help students explore a character’s perspective: their views, beliefs, experiences, and feelings. 1 When engaging with the steps of this routine, students should support their thinking with evidence from the text. 

  1. Start by leading students through the following steps, having them record their ideas in their journals:
    • Choose: Identify a character at a specific moment in the story. Reread this section of the story and use examples from the text to reflect on the following questions. 
    • Step In: Given what you know from your close reading of the text, what do you think this character might feel, believe, know, or experience? 
    • Step Out: What else would you like or need to learn in order to understand this character’s perspective better?
    • Step Back: Given your exploration of this character’s perspective so far, what do you notice about your own perspective and what it takes to understand somebody else’s perspective? 
  2. In small groups and then as a class, have students discuss some or all of the following questions. Alternatively, have each group discuss the first and last questions, and assign groups b, c, or d to discuss and then present to the class. Note that question (c) provides an opportunity to introduce dramatic irony.
    • What new, different, or deeper understanding do you have of your character after trying to see things from their perspective? 
    • How aware of what your character is feeling, believing, knowing, or experiencing are the other characters in the text? How does this awareness (or lack of awareness) impact the story? 
    • What, if anything, do we see as readers that the character can’t see? How does this insight influence how you think or feel about the character? Is it possible that we, like the character, are operating in a world where others (because of their different perspectives) know or experience things we don’t?
    • What are the limitations of how well you can truly understand the character’s perspective? How about in real life? What are the limitations of how well you can truly understand someone else’s perspective?
    • How might we use the Step In–Step Out–Step Back routine to better understand other people in our lives and in the world today?
  3. Have students respond to the following question on an exit ticket: Given your exploration of this character’s perspective, what do you notice about your own perspective and what it takes to understand somebody else’s perspective? 
  • 1“Step In–Step Out–Step Back” is adapted from a thinking routine developed by educators at Harvard University’s Project Zero.

Explain to students that they will consider a scene in the text from a different character’s perspective than the one the author chose to develop and share their learning using visuals and text on a one-pager. 1 Re-storying perspective has the power to build empathy and understanding for characters who may not have a voice in the text. 

  1. If possible, introduce this task by reading aloud a children’s story like Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, which retells the familiar events of the children’s story from the perspective of the wolf. Discuss with students the limitations of a story when we only hear one perspective and the creative possibilities when a different character is empowered to tell what happened. 
  2. Generate a list of possible characters and scenes that students might choose from in case they are struggling to come up with their own ideas. Then have them choose a character and scene to explore in their journals.
    • What is your character’s attitude about what’s happening to them or around them? What do you think this character might feel, believe, know, want, or experience in this scene?
    • How does the character think and speak about what’s happening? Are they happy, frustrated, sarcastic, angry, confused? Something else? 
    • What details does the author use to bring your character to life? Consider words and phrases specific to the character, dialogue, and figurative language like similes or imagery. 
  3. Explain to students they will create a Perspective one-pager for their character that uses words and images to express key ideas from the previous journal response and class discussions on a single page. The language can include their own reflective writing, quotations from the text with short analysis, and connections to their own lived experiences. The images can use color, sketches, and/or collage to represent key concepts and ideas. While artistic students tend to gravitate toward these kinds of assignments, it is important to remind students that one-pagers value deep thinking, not artistic ability. Model the assignment by sharing your own one-pager. Consider providing students with a template with shapes like boxes and circles as an option.

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif