Confession time: Approximately how long have you been using the terms point of view and perspective interchangeably? Me: 7 years. ? Please, tell me I am not the only one. Believe it or not, the two terms are different, and they mean different things.
Point of View is how a narrator tells a story. A narrator can tell a story in the first person (I, me, we), second person (you, your, yours), or third person (he, she, they) point of view. All three types of narration provide different experiences due to how intimately they allow us to experience the story.
Perspective is who is narrating the story. Perspective matters because the character impacts how the events and characters in a story are conveyed. Consider how a 70-year-old man and a 5-year old girl might experience a war. The two characters would experience the same situation in very different ways!
While point of view and perspective might always be taught together, and there is no shame in that, I think we need to do better about using the terms interchangeably. After all, our students don’t stand a chance in understanding the difference if teachers aren’t clear on it, either!
Ideas for Teaching Point of View and Perspective
First things first, teaching the two terms explicitly is a great place to start. To help with this, I’ve put together a free set of point of view and perspective posters you can download and post in your classroom as a reminder. You can subscribe to my newsletter and grab them here for free.
Next, give your students opportunities to practice thinking about point of view vs. perspective in different ways.
Point of View Scavenger Hunt: Getting students up and moving is a high priority for my classroom, and I love a good scavenger hunt. Doing a scavenger hunt for the different points of view is a quick activity that requires little prep. Have students locate the different types of narration (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd limited/omniscient) and record the title, POV, and evidence. This activity takes just 15-20 minutes to complete! You can complete it in your room if you have enough books, or you can take a short field trip to the school library and get in some extra steps.
Read Alouds: Choose a few of your favorite books that use different types of narration. Read aloud a scene written from the first-person point of view and ask your students how that scene would be different if written from a second- or third-person point of view. Don’t accept copout responses like “the pronouns would be different.” Probe them to think through the information that would or would not be revealed if written from a different point of view. Repeat this with the other types of narration and various excerpts. Another great question to ask your students is why the author might have chosen a particular narration type.
Rewrite the Scene: Students usually have experience with this one, but it’s still loads of fun nonetheless. Give students an excerpt or allow them to choose one from a book. Have them rewrite the scene from a different point of view. Again, don’t let them get away with simply changing the pronouns. If they shift from the third person to the first person, they’ve got to include some thoughts and feelings! If they shift from first to third, they might remove the feelings and include more outside observations. Students love this activity, and it can easily be adapted. You can also do this activity by shifting perspectives!
Adopt a Perspective Through Quick Writes: Get students to find their creative voice by having them adopt various perspectives. I like to use quick write writing prompts to do this activity. I’ll offer up a sentence starter, excerpt, or image paired with a prompt for students to work with. Here are a couple of examples:
Day before yesterday, I dressed the wounds of 64 different men – some having two or three each. The days after the battle are a thousand times worse than the day of the battle – and the physical pain is not the greatest pain suffered…”
Continue writing the letter from the perspective of a soldier.
“A SMALL PIECE OF TRUTH-
I do not carry a sickle or scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it’s cold.
And I don’t have those skull-like facial features you seem to enjoy pinning on me from a distance. You want to know what I truly look like? I’ll help you out. Find yourself a mirror while I continue.” Markus Zusak, The Book Thief
Write from the perspective of death or its opposite – life.
Hopefully, this post has given you some ideas for teaching the difference between point of view and perspective! Which idea do you plan to try?