Last year, for the first time in my career, I needed to do a perspective-taking lesson with one of my “big kid” grades (4th). I had done one in 2nd grade before, and I’ve done many empathy lessons, but this was the first time my big kids really needed help seeing other points of view.
It started with a mediation I did between a few students. A small conflict had escalated and they all needed to work through it so they could move on from it. What was the conflict? Well, one of the kiddos was making jokes about something subjectively gross during lunch, and the others weren’t into it. When their first attempts at stopping it failed, they tried yelling – which of course made the first student feel pretty bad.
No one was being mean or breaking any rules. It was truly just a situation where students had different perspectives! I realized during my conversation with them that a lot of the issues their cohort had been having could be attributed to this, and I needed to add perspective taking into the curriculum map.
The first part of the lesson was walking through a couple of short stories (in a slideshow). Whole group, I asked for volunteers to share what each character’s perspective was. I also asked if anyone did anything wrong/bad, and if any of the perspectives were wrong/bad. This was important to me because I think it’s easy for some students to jump “yeah that’s their perspective but they shouldn’t think that because XYZ” vs. accepting a different perspective.
Here are the slides from one of the stories we went through:
Our next activity was done in small groups and it gave students the opportunity to practice perspective-taking (without as much of my help). Here’s what I did:
- Break students into groups of three or four.
- Have each group start at one of the situations posted around the room.
- Students take turns reading what’s on the page and the discussion questions. They discuss together the different perspectives of the characters.
- On my cue, students rotate to the next situation. 3-4 minutes should be enough time at each.
I created a million (okay, twelve) different scenarios. Eight of them gave a situation and then graphics of characters. Their job was to identify what each character was thinking and feeling. Four of the scenarios were just graphic scenes, asking the students to come up with two different explanations of what was happening. I believe flexible thinking, as well as understanding that things aren’t always what they first seem, are important subskills within perspective taking!
For each class, I picked seven-ish of the scenarios to hang around the room and used. Each of the homerooms had such a different set of personalities and needs. I was thankful for this easy way to differentiate for them!
After the groups had rotated through each of the scenarios, we circled up and discussed a handful of them altogether.
In the past, I would have pre-selected the ones for us to discuss deeper. Last year, I made small changes to several of my lessons to empower students and give them more voice. This meant I asked them to tell me which ones we should talk about together!
I had to make another instructional change last year: having independent work activities as backup. Since my classes weren’t used to small group work with their teachers, and the pandemic meant they’d had far less peer interaction than usual, some of the kiddos struggled intensely with partner and groupwork. I’ve experienced that before, of course, and usually I think it’s a great opportunity for me to coach them through it. It was even more of a struggle this past year for a handful then I’d ever seen before, so I started bringing worksheets or other activities that some students could do independently. This also worked on the few occasions where a student wasn’t struggling socially but instead was just emotionally dysregulated and knew they needed time to themselves.
When I first started working on the lesson, I thought I might want to find a book to use. It turns out I didn’t need one (the short stories worked great and served the same purpose), BUT I figured I should go ahead and share my findings with y’all. There are several children’s books on perspective taking out there, and I still love Hey, Little Ant (affiliate link) best. But, the rhyming would have immediately turned off my (very mature and “cool”) 4th graders. I’m sharing below what I would have used instead. (Another route would be to use one of the books that is a fairy tale from an alternate point of view but you have to be confident all your students know the original.)
Duck! Rabbit! is super short and simple, but what’s awesome about it is that it’s a back and forth dialogue. Actually, an argument! Since different points of view can often turn into conflict or argument, I think this is a good hook or model for a perspective taking lesson. It would be really fun to use this book as a role play/skit. You can have student volunteers act out and read each side – each perspective!
I would love to hear about any situations you’ve encountered with your students where the root of the issue was not being able to take another’s perspective!
Want to help your students with perspective-taking and understanding different points of view? This lesson helps children to practice identifying what others are thinking and feeling in order to prevent conflict and promote empathy! Use it for small group counseling, classroom SEL, or guidance lessons.