Voice and Choice in Literature | Facing History & Ourselves
Female students raises her hand.

Voice and Choice in Literature

Students analyze the voices and choices in a text in order to identify the perspectives that are represented.


At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts


  • Culture & Identity


About This Learning Experience

Many ELA educators are likely familiar with Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s metaphor that literature can work as a “mirror” to reflect and affirm a reader’s identity and as a “window” that enables a reader to experience the perspectives and beliefs of those who may differ from them. 1 Not only is this approach identity-affirming, it is also engaging and broadens students’ thinking about themselves and others.

In addition to reading widely, students benefit from opportunities to look critically at the texts they choose and the ones chosen for them in order to analyze the perspectives, voices, and representation included in and missing from these stories. Through this process, they can come to understand that there are different perspectives that the author deliberately constructs to convey what they want the reader to think about or know. In a similar way, students make choices in the stories they tell and how they tell them. 

The following learning experiences provide students with opportunities to evaluate texts in order to identify the perspectives that are represented and to see if there are other perspectives that they should take into consideration before reimagining their own perspective into the text.

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

  • Value the complexity of identity in themselves and others.
  • Practice perspective-taking in order to develop empathy and recognize the limits of any one person’s point of view.
  • Evaluate a text for the ways in which it upholds and/or challenges stereotypes of individuals and groups.
  • Demonstrate an increased sense of confidence in their ability to communicate their ideas orally and in writing.
  • Evaluate a text to discern authorial choices, representation, and perspective.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Produce a clear and coherent piece of writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the purpose and audience.

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.

While the Introduce learning experience below would work at any time in an ELA setting, Explore and Extend are well suited for after students have finished reading a text, whether a short story, informational text, essay, or work of literature. Alternatively, students could engage with the Voice and Choice thinking routine in Explore partway through the text and then re-evaluate their thinking at the end of the unit to see what may (or may not) have changed.

The first Extend activity invites students to create an original piece of writing that imagines their unique identity, perspective, and voice into the work of literature they are studying. This activity provides students with an opportunity for a meaningful transaction with the text in which they write themselves and point of view into the story. 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.

Students should create personal identity charts before engaging with this learning experience. See the Exploring Identity in Literature and Life learning experience for details.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In



Start by having students review their personal identity charts and journal reflections. Then have them reflect on the following questions in their journals before sharing their ideas with a partner. 

  • What aspects of your identity are most important to your sense of who you are? 
  • What do you care about? In other words, what matters to you?
  • How does your identity influence your perspective on the things you care about?
  1. Let students know that they will be evaluating the author’s choices about representation and perspective. Introduce the Voice and Choice thinking routine by having students work in pairs to discuss the following questions. They should use the publication information in the front of the text to help them answer questions about context. Depending on their familiarity with the author, they may need to skip some of the questions or do light research to try to answer them. 
    • Consider the context: Where was the text written and by whom? Where was it published? When was it published? What else was going on at this place and time?
    • Maker choices: What choices do you think the author(s) made when writing this text? Why do you think they made these choices? 
    • Voices present: Whose voices are present in this text? What perspectives are represented? What are the limits of the voices we are hearing? 
    • Voices missing: Whose voices are missing from this text? What perspectives are not represented? Why do you think that is?
  2. Have pairs form groups of four to discuss their ideas and add to their notes. Then have students respond to the following questions on their own. Let them know that they will be sharing their ideas with their small groups. 
    • My voice: What’s your voice? What perspectives do you bring to this text? 
    • My choice: What could you do to redesign or reimagine this text to better represent your perspective(s)? What makes you say that? (You can focus on a section of the text or the text as a whole).
  3. After students have had time to reflect on the previous two questions, invite them to share their ideas with their group members. 

    Interact: Share the perspective you bring and your ideas for a redesign with your group. Ask your group members to answer these questions: Whose voices and perspectives do you see represented in my version of the text? Whose voices and perspectives do you think are missing? 
  4. Then have students return to their journals for a final reflection that considers the following questions. 

    Reflect: Now that you have received feedback, look closely at your redesign and consider whose voices and perspectives are missing from the redesigned content. If the feedback from your peer(s) is not what you intended or expected, is that okay with you? If not, how might you continue to redesign this content? Finally, what do you think the author would think of your redesign?
  5. Facilitate a class discussion so groups can share ideas and new understanding from their discussions. You could frame the discussion with the following question: What surprising, interesting, and/or troubling new understanding or insight emerged from your Voice and Choice discussions and reflections?

This learning experience adapts the Voice and Choice thinking routine. 1

  • 1“Voice and Choice” is adapted for a work of literature from a thinking routine developed by educators at Harvard University’s Project Zero.

Recasting a text from their own perspective sparks students’ creativity and invites agency. For this writing task, invite students to reimagine a character, scene, or setting in the text to reflect their perspective and the ideas that matter to them. 

Students might choose one of the following ideas for this writing task:

  • Re-story the time or place to locate a scene from the text in the present day or in a familiar place like the student’s community or school. 
  • Retell a scene from the point of view of a character that represents an aspect of their identity or from their perspective so as to broaden the perspectives represented in the text. 
  • Recast the story in a different genre that the student cares about more deeply to better reflect their unique voice. For example, write a scene as a spoken-word poem. Reimagine a dialogue as a series of text messages. Recast an internal monologue as a blog post. 

When students write book reviews, they must engage critically with the text in order to evaluate it, as well as incorporate their own perspective as a reader. While this is usually done at the end of a unit of study, students can also write short reviews of a chapter to develop their writing skills and practice with a smaller chunk of text. 

  1. Start by reading a sampling of mentor-text book reviews as a class, choosing ones where the writer discusses voice and choice (represented and/or misrepresented or missing voices, as well as the author’s choices of character, theme, tone, etc.). You can find reviews on book review sites like Kirkus Reviews or Publishers Weekly, newspaper websites like the New York Times or Washington Post, or blogs like Book Riot. Discuss the components of a book review, listing ideas on the board. Most book reviews include a brief summary, a critical argument, and a recommendation for the reader. Focus on the critical argument that the author of each book review makes and the evidence they provide to develop it. 
  2. Have students draft their own book review for the text they are studying, using one or more of the samples you chose as a model. For the critical argument section, have them focus on the author’s choices, the voices present, and any missing/misrepresented voices, drawing evidence from the text and their own lived experiences. They can share their reviews in a gallery walk or small-group discussions to compare their analyses. 

Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

Get this Learning Experience in Google Doc format. 

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

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.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY