Teaching Literary Elements: Point of View

October 27, 2017

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells Scout that, "You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." As I teach point of view, I impress upon my students that to really understand a story, they must just as carefully consider the point of view. Whether you are teaching these as new concepts for your students, diving in deeper, or just reviewing the basics, read on to find activities and resources that will benefit all levels of students.
In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells Scout that, "You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." As I teach point of view, I impress upon my students that to really understand a story, they must just as carefully consider the point of view.

Whether you are teaching this as a new concept for your students, diving in deeper, or just reviewing the basics, you'll find activities and resources below that will benefit all levels of students.

Terms to Teach
At the start of my teaching career, I taught primarily ninth grade students at an urban, Title 1 high school. My students came from a variety of K-8 schools, which meant they came with varying English Language Arts experiences. To ensure that all of my students started high school with a strong foundation in the literary elements, I found it best to give direct instruction followed by ample opportunities to apply terms and practice skills.

During my direct instruction, I introduced students to the following terms: narrator, unreliable narrator, tone, voice, first person point of view, second person point of view, third person limited point of view, third person omniscient point of view, and third person objective point of view. Many of my students were unaccustomed to taking notes so I provided them with a guided note taking template. This three column sheet provided a structured space for the term, definition, and examples.

Activities for Reinforcement
Before applying these newly learned terms to a short story or novel, I like to give my students opportunities to practice using shorter texts or media. As with many other skills, I like to use short video clips as visual reinforcement although point of view is a little tricker in film than on the page. I have collected examples of different types of narration in this playlist. I play a few and have students identify whether the narration is most similar to first person point of view, second person point of view, third person limited point of view, third person omniscient point of view, or third person objective point of view. We also discuss the reliability of the narrator.

Another way I reinforce the types of point of view is by using a menu of activities based on Bloom's Taxonomy. Students choose activities from four different section of the menu: knowledge and comprehension, application and analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Students examine short text examples of different types of point of view and can use their knowledge to complete tasks such as creating a cartoon strip written in one of the main types of point of view.

If I'm in the midst of a novel story, two activities that are fun to use with any text are Literary Postcards and Tweet Sheets. Literary postcards are a great activity for any grade level and can be used to reinforce the ideas of character and point of view. This activity can be done during or after reading with any short story or novel. Students brainstorm important character and events, illustrate a key event, and write from a character's point of view reflecting on that event. You can read more about the activity and see examples here.

Similarly, Tweet Sheets also reinforce character and point of view. Students will create Twitter handles based on character analysis and write "tweets" based on events in the novel from the different characters' perspectives. You can read more about the activity and see examples here.

If I have students who are still struggling to identify the different types of point of view after a few practice opportunities, I pull them into a small group and do some "drill and kill" with these free point of view practice handouts. In a small group, I can get a better understanding of where the root of their confusion is and give them immediate feedback as they work through a series of examples.

Incorporating Movement and Hands-on Activities
One year I taught at an all boys school so giving them opportunities to move around and get some of that energy out was a must. Using stations focused on point of view is one way I did that. I pushed together desks, but you can also use tables, to set up six stations around the room. At each station, students completed activities such as matching terms and definitions and categorizing types of point of view. Because all of the station activities involve matching, sorting, or sequencing, they are easy to check and offer feedback to students on their mistakes.

Another way to incorporate movement is having students create short skits of the same scenario using different points of view. In each skit, there should be a narrator who is using either first person, second person, third person limited, third person omniscient, or third person objective. I like to use silly scenarios like a circus train has broken down in your hometown and all the acts have entered the local restaurant or a member of your soccer team doesn't understand that he/she can only play for your team, not both sides.

Texts to Read
The first person narrators in Edgar Allan Poe's short stories are great characters to climb into the skin of and walk around. I like to use "The Black Cat" as I teach unreliable narrator; students are always freaked out by the narrator's actions. Although it is one of Poe's shorter short stories, I often use an adapted and abridged version to minimize the challenging vocabulary. I usually pair that short story with the poem "The Raven" as another example of first person and reliable narrator. Students love to debate if the narrator is dreaming, crazy, or if things happened just as he described.

To show how third person limited point of view can also alter a reader's understanding of events, I like to follow that up with "The Stolen Party" by Liliana Heker. Because the character that the narrator focuses in on is a young girl, her thoughts and feelings are unreliable and may skew students’ understanding of the story until the final event.

If I'm just reviewing the different types of point of view with students, I like to use a vignette from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros titled "Geraldo No Name." It does not include the novel’s main character Esperanza, but instead focuses on Marin, an older girl Esperanza idolizes, and Geraldo, a young man Marin meets at a dance. The point of view in this vignette is subtle  and leads to discussion about how the story would be different if narrated from a different point of view.

Creative Application
Once students seem comfortable with the terms or if students need a challenge, I introduce students to a digital breakout, "From Another Point of View" for additional practice. A digital breakout is an online scavenger hunt-like game where players use teamwork and critical thinking to solve a series of challenging puzzles in order to open a series of locks.

In this breakout, students are competing in an essay contest, in which the winner of the contest will be exempt from all writing assignments for the rest of the year. But before students can submit their essay discussing a character's point, they have to prove to their teacher that they understand the different types of point of view. They must demonstrate their knowledge through a series of tests to find the codes that will unlock the essay submission form.

In addition to needing content knowledge to successfully complete the game, breakouts require students to think critically, communicate, collaborate, and use creativity. I also love breakouts because they provide students with many opportunities to fail and try again. Every unsuccessful attempt to open a lock forces them to reexamine their information and their thinking.

Assessment
While many of the activities described above allow students to show their understanding of skills and terms, as a summative assessment I use a set of text-based assessments, each with a reading passage and 10 multiple choice questions, to assess my students’ knowledge of conflict. The variety of passages and text complexity levels allows me to retest students as needed and make accommodations for struggling readers. The variety was also helpful in the years that I had classes whose eyes tended to wander during quizzes or tests.

You can find all of my resources for teaching point of view here.

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