Getting Perspective

Helping students understand perspective can be difficult. It can be especially difficult helping them to see things from a perspective that isn’t their own. I have a writing mini-unit I do that helps with this process.

The first thing we do is discuss the definition of perspective and its synonym point of view. To help students truly understand this concept, I use a PowerPoint that I made based off a Chlloe article, Pictures That Show Just What a Difference a New Point of View Can Make.

In the article, Jade Kerr uses photos of familiar things and places, taken from unusual perspectives, to help us understand the difference point of view can make. I took these photos, and the descriptions given in the article, and paired them with photos of the same things and places taken from a more familiar point of view. The first slide has the familiar point of view with a title labeling the object or place. The next slide has the unusual perspective with the explanation text from the article. You can download the PowerPoint using the link below.

The students and I look at each slide in the PowerPoint, discussing the various photos and the difference perspective can make in how we view familiar objects and places. After looking through all of the images, the students get into pairs or small groups, choose one set of photos from the PowerPoint (I print out the slides and place them in plastic sleeve protectors, giving each group the set they’ve chosen as reference), and work together to write two paragraphs, one from each perspective.

The pairs/groups take turns sharing their paragraphs and we discuss as a class how the photo’s point of view influenced the way the students wrote each paragraph. This leads into a discussion of how an author’s perspective can influence a piece of writing and how fictional texts we’ve read in class would be different if told from another character’s point of view.

The final part of our mini-unit on perspective is to write fractured fairy tales by changing the perspective in some way. I start out by reading them the story of the Three Little Pigs (yes, even my adult students love having picture books read to them). Most of my students are familiar with the story and we take time to discuss any differences between the version I read and those they know from their own childhoods. Then I read them Jon Scieszka’s book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. We discuss how the story changes based on the new perspective. This leads into their writing assignment.

Students then choose a classic fairy tale, either one they already know or one from the collection of books I bring to class. They then change the perspective in some way, usually by changing the narrator of the story. The retelling of Cinderella from the step-sisters’ point of view, Snow White from the perspective of the Wicked Queen, and the Giant’s version of Jack and the Beanstalk are all popular choices. Sometimes the students choose to turn the villain into a misunderstood victim (as in Scieszka’s book), others they give an alternative motive for the hero’s actions, and still others choose to take the story in a completely new direction.

The entire unit usually takes about a week. Sometimes, if we have the time, we’ll spend extra time on peer editing and the revising of our writing, taking a full two weeks to complete it. It’s the perfect unit for immediately before or after exams because it gives students a bit of a break from the more serious nonfiction writing we usually do. Whenever we do the unit, it’s always a lot of fun and the resulting texts are some of my favorites to read and grade. I encourage you to try something similar in one of your classes. Happy teaching, everyone!