Shadow Reading Teaching Strategy | Facing History & Ourselves
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Teaching Strategy

Shadow Reading

Use this strategy to help students consider, compare, and analyze various perspectives on a complex topic.


At a Glance

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Teaching Strategy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies




What Is Shadow Reading?

The Shadow Reading strategy provides a structured way to expose students to various perspectives on a complex topic, often through first person accounts from individuals who experienced a particular event or era. It also provides an opportunity for students to practice analyzing the concept of point of view.

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Lesson Plans

How to Use Shadow Reading

Each student reads all of the texts included in this activity. Often teachers will choose to use only two texts, to keep the activity focused on the two most common opposing viewpoints on a given issue. However, it may also be appropriate to choose more than two texts, depending on the content being covered. You may want to provide guiding questions ahead of time to help ensure that students focus on the parts of each text that provide information about the author or narrator’s perspective on a particular issue.

Ask students to imagine a meeting between two authors or narrators with opposing viewpoints. Students should use the texts they examined in the first part of the activity to help them compose a dialogue for such a conversation. Depending on the content of the texts students read in the first step, select some of the following questions for students to answer in the dialogue:

  • How would these two people start a conversation? What would they talk about?
  • What would be the tone of their conversation?
  • What would each person want the other to know about their experiences and or beliefs?
  • How would each person defend their position? What arguments would they make?
  • What emotions would each person feel during the discussion? How would they express those emotions?
  • Is there anything these two people have in common that they could discuss?
  • What might they share? What might they want to conceal?

Invite pairs to act out their dialogue for the class. After a few, have students consider what the conversations have in common. What do they add to the class’ understanding of the issue or historical period under study?


Letter Writing: Rather than compose a dialogue between two people, you can ask students to adopt one perspective and write a letter to a person with an opposing perspective. Once students have read the texts, ask them to do the following:

Ask students to adopt the perspective of the author or narrator from one of the texts. To ensure balance, it is best to assign each student to a specific perspective rather than allowing students to choose for themselves.

Adopting the perspective assigned to them, students then address the author of the opposing perspective, typically by writing a letter in which the student explains his or her position on the central issue.

It is important for students to hear examples of what others—from either perspective—wrote. The easiest way to accomplish this is to have students read the letters that they wrote aloud to the class. This can lead to worthwhile discussions about perspective and can help call attention to specific ideas or experiences that contributed to the complexity of a particular issue or period of time. Typically this step works best when students hear from alternating perspectives. As students read, you may want to keep a running list of examples cited on either side of an issue. You may also have students complete this step in small groups. Utilizing small groups may be especially useful when working with more than two texts.

Use Another Medium: Rather than having students analyze a text, you may also have them view or listen to another source (such as a video or an audio recording) that conveys a particular perspective.

  • 1This teaching strategy is adapted from our resource The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy, page 40.

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