Teachers often promote the trait of voice through creative assignments involving point-of-view writing. For example, writing in first-person as if a pencil lying on the hallway floor or a Thanksgiving turkey about to be eaten. These writings give students a chance to experiment with a unique attitude and to play with the voice in their writings. So, what’s the difference between perspective and point of view, and how do we explain these concepts to students?
Perspective is all about a person’s schema–one’s background knowledge and experiences. What a person knows impacts how he will act and react to a circumstance or topic. Compare a 10-year-old’s choices based on his experiences to the choices made by an 80-year-old. One draws on his limited background knowledge, while the other has vast experiences. With each perspective we can hear the different voices and attitudes of characters. To understand perspective requires acknowledging that each person/character comes with a limited set of information (i.e., perspective).
The majority of the time when teachers are talking about voice and attitude, they should be saying perspective rather than point of view. Perspective includes the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the character.
Point of view impacts how you write the piece (first-person, second-person, third-person). Is it a firsthand account or a directive? Is it a story told about characters, or does one of the characters tell the story? Point of view is all about the pronouns used in writing (e.g., first-person: I, we, our, mine, us; second-person: you; third-person: he, she, they, them, theirs, etc.). And depending on the POV the piece is told in, certain perspectives are utilized.
For a couple new strategies, try some of these:
BE THE CHARACTER–Start first by teaching students to empathize and feel for a character. Second grade teacher Terri Myers read Letters from a Desperate Dog to her Clinton Prairie Elementary School (Frankfort, IN) students. They discussed what it would feel like to be a sad, lonely dog who wants an owner. The students’ task was then to write a persuasive letter to prospective owners as if they were dogs wanting to be adopted. Terri displayed the students’ letters on a bulletin board titled “I Need a Home.” (NOTE: Staff members then read the letters and adopted each dog. Some new owners even wrote letters to their dogs.)
SWITCHING ROLES–Once students can think like a character, have them think through the different perspectives of multiple characters in a similar situation. Deb Conley, fourth grade teacher at Central Local School District (Sherwood, OH), teaches perspective using a photograph with multiple “characters” in the same scene. After inserting the same photo on three slides of a PowerPoint presentation, Deb models how to add dialogue-bubble graphics. Each speech bubble is to be written in first-person point of view from the perspective of that “character.” After sharing her teacher example and the PPT instructions, the students each generate a 4-slide PPT (student examples: Sample 1, Sample 2).
CHOOSING SIDES–With a strong understanding of varying perspectives, move into debatable topics and argumentative writing. Teach students how to look through the lenses of each person/group who has a stance on an issue (e.g., professional athletes’ salaries example and eating more candy example). Students need to consider all perspectives and the credible points they each make. Then they must choose a side to support based on the argument they can best prove. Experiment with this concept using the Choosing Sides handout.
APPLYING PERSPECTIVE IN THE CONTENT AREAS–Similar writing experiences relevant for the content-area teacher are archived on our website within the Idea Library.