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Lesson Plan

Seeing Multiple Perspectives: An Introductory Critical Literacy Lesson

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Seeing Multiple Perspectives: An Introductory Critical Literacy Lesson

Grades 1 – 3
Lesson Plan Type Minilesson
Estimated Time One 50-minute session
Lesson Author

Theodore Kesler, Ed.D.

Flushing, New York


National Council of Teachers of English


Student Objectives

Session One


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will:

  • identify the central characters in Stevie.
  • consider the story from multiple perspectives.
  • recognize that all stories give only partial accounts.

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Session One

  1. Gather students in a comfortable meeting area of the classroom for an interactive read-aloud. Make sure each child has a partner to talk to whenever you ask them to turn to his/her partner and talk about the story.
  2. Introduce students to the picture book Stevie, by John Steptoe. Give some biographical information about the author.
  3. Stop in a few key places to think aloud and to invite the students to engage in partnership and whole class conversation about the book. Since the story is told entirely in Robert’s voice, give prompts that especially push students to consider Stevie’s perspective. For example:
    • Based on the information that Robert gives us (such as “Since he was littler than me, while I went to school he used to stay home and play with my toys”), how old might Stevie be?
    • When Robert complains about all the ways that Stevie makes life hard for him, you might ask, “In what ways might it be hard for Stevie?”
    • When Robert scolds Stevie for not being able to play with his friends, you might ask, “What can you tell about Robert and Stevie’s relationship?”
    • At the end of the story, when Robert says that Stevie was “kinda like a little brother,” you might ask: “How was Stevie like a little brother?”
  4. After the read aloud, engage the students in problem-posing questions:
    • Who tells the story?
    • Who does not get to tell the story?
    • How might the story be different if it was told by one of these other characters?
  5. Show students the first illustration in the book when the central characters are all gathered in the kitchen: Stevie, Stevie’s mom, Robert’s mom, and Robert, who is eavesdropping from the hallway. Encourage students to infer who is who in the illustration.
  6. What might each of these characters be thinking? Invite students to close their eyes and envision the scene. “Stevie’s mom is about to leave him for a whole week with these people that Stevie does not know. Stevie might be away from his mom and dad for the first time in his life. Imagine someone Stevie’s age facing that: maybe a little brother or sister, maybe a little cousin. Imagine yourself staying with strangers away from your family each week. How might Stevie’s mom feel about it? Look at Robert’s mom in the picture. Look at Stevie snuggling against her? What are they thinking? Look at Robert listening in from the hallway. What’s he thinking?” Demonstrate speaking in the voice of one of these other characters.
  7. Demonstrate using sticky notes (or the speech bubble templates) to compose the thoughts and feelings of each character and placing the sticky notes next to each character in the scene.
  8. If students need more language support, you might generate a word list of emotions on chart paper, such as angry, confused, frustrated, lonely, sad, caring, hurt, scared. You might demonstrate matching a word with one of the characters in the scene and generating a sentence using that word for that character. For example, pointing to Stevie, you might match the word scared, then generate the sentence, “I feel scared living with these strangers.” Make the chart accessible to students for their independent work.
  9. Give students a copy of the illustration and send them off to their desks. On each desk put sticky notes. Students will write a thought bubble for each of the characters in the illustration. Remind them to write their names on their work. You may wish to review the student samples yourself and/or share them with the students for modeling/guidance as they begin this project.  See Example 1, Example 2, and Example 3 created by first grade students.
  10. When students finish their responses, call them back to the meeting area to share their work. Then discuss: “What did we learn about stories today?” One conclusion to make: there is always more than one side to a story even though books often tell just one side.

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  • One modification to students writing thought bubbles for each character in the opening scene is to engage in the subtext strategy. In the subtext strategy, groups of four children would be assigned each of the four characters in the scene. They would assume the exact body positions of the characters to create a tableaux – a still life of the scene. On a signal from the teacher, the students would then put the scene in motion, acting it out for a minute or so, until the teacher signals freeze. Then the teacher taps one actor at a time to give the subtext, or the thought inside that character’s head at that moment. As Clyde describes, teachers might want to first demonstrate by playing one of the roles, such as Robert’s mom, with student actors, so that the children get the idea of speaking aloud what the character is feeling and thinking. By embodying the characters, Clyde explains that students move from outside observers to putting themselves in the characters’ shoes, thinking what they think and feeling what they feel. By using the subtext strategy consistently, students learn empathy for characters with lives that might be much different than their own.
    • Clyde, J. A. (2003). Stepping inside the story world: The subtext strategy: A tool for connecting and comprehending. The Reading Teacher, 57 (2), pp. 150-160.
  • In another reading of Stevie, students might re-write the scene that shows Stevie looking out the window while Robert is at school. Robert’s narration is: “Then he used to like to get up on my bed to look out the window and leave his dirty footprints all over my bed. And my momma never said nothin’ to him.” How might Stevie compose this part of the story? Students could then go off to write this part of the story in Stevie’s voice.
    • McLaughlin, M. & DeVoogd, G. L. (2004). Critical literacy as comprehension: Expanding reader response. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48 (1), pp. 52-62.
  • Lewison, Seely-Flint, and Van Sluys describe four dimensions of critical literacy: (1) disrupting the commonplace, (2) interrogating multiple viewpoints, (3) focusing on sociopolitical issues, and (4) taking action and promoting social justice. As an introduction, this lesson addresses the first two dimensions. In another reading of Stevie, teachers might take on sociopolitical issues by asking more problem-posing questions that make cause-and-effect connections, such as: Why does Stevie have to stay with Robert’s family each week? Why might Stevie’s parents have to work far from home? Why doesn’t Stevie stay with relatives? Why don’t they move right away? What’s unfair about the position that Stevie’s family is in? What are some ways to make it fairer?
    • Lewison, M., Seely-Flint, A., & Van Sluys, K. (2002). Taking on critical literacy: The journey of newcomers and novices. Language Arts, 79 (5), pp. 382-392.
  • Students might use the student interactive Postcard Creator to create postcards between characters after Stevie moves away at the end of the story. For example, Robert might write to Stevie, Stevie might write to Robert, or Robert’s mom might write to Stevie’s mom.
  • Similar explorations as the one described in this lesson can be done with any number of children’s picture books (see Children's Picture Books: Considering Multiple Perspectives ) that have multiple characters, but explore social issues from only the narrator’s perspective.

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  • One source of assessment is observing students during the interactive read-aloud.
    • What comments are students making to the prompted questions about the story?
    • What responses are students making to the problem-posing questions after the read aloud?
    • What comments do they make during the whole class sharing of their work?
    • Are students showing engagement with the story and realizing that Stevie, like all stories, gives only a partial account?
  • A second source of assessment is the students’ thought bubbles for each character in the opening scene.
    • Are they able to give subtext that fits with the difficult context of this opening scene for each character?
    • Are they using language that fits with each character’s discursive register? (Do they use language that fits with the way Robert talks, or the way the moms might talk, or the way Stevie might talk?)
    • Do the students’ responses fit with the thoughts and feelings that someone in each of the positions of these characters might have?

In the example of a response by first grader Olivia provided (Example 2), she uses language that fits exactly with the way each of the characters might think and talk. For Robert, she writes: “Who are these people and who is that stupid little boy?” She uses the word mother for Stevie’s thoughts – “I’m scared, Mother. How come I have to stay with these people?” – because Robert tells us at the end of the story: “I think he liked my momma better than his own, cause he used to call his mother ‘Mother’ and he called my momma ‘Mommy.’” Thus, it’s fair to say that Olivia has strongly appropriated the multiple perspectives of the central characters in Stevie.

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