Spend a Day in My Shoes: Exploring the Role of Perspective in Narrative
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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus explains to Scout that "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (36). Make this advice more literal by inviting students to imagine spending a day in someone else's shoes in this writing activity. Students examine a variety of shoes and envision what the owner would look like, such as their appearance, actions, etc. They then write a narrative, telling the story of a day in the shoe owner's life. While this lesson plan uses the quotation from To Kill a Mockingbird as a springboard and ties nicely to discussions of the novel, it can be completed even if students are not currently reading the book.
Interactive Circle Plot Diagram: Use this online tool to plan out the sequence of events in a piece of narrative writing.
From Theory to Practice
Creative writing may not be your first choice when you think of ways to encourage students to explore the themes in their readings; however, by embracing the opportunity for students to think and write imaginatively about the issues introduced in their readings, teachers move beyond the typical expository, analytical reactions to text in ways that engage students. As Christian Knoeller explains, "By guiding students to explore a work in specific ways, teachers can support interpretation and criticism. As such, imaginative response provides an instructional strategy that ultimately contributes to more insightful formal analysis" (43).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- An assortment of different types of shoes (a cowboy boot, a high-heeled pump, a running shoe, a beach sandal, and so forth); or pictures of a variety of different types of shoes
- Writing supplies (paper, pens, pencils, etc.)—Writer's notebooks will work for this activity.
- Walking in Someone Else's Shoes
- Overhead of quotation from To Kill a Mockingbird
- Make copies of the Walking in Someone Else's Shoes handout.
- Gather your collection of shoes. You might borrow shoes from family, friends, and neighbors to get specimens from many "walks of life."
- Alternately, collect pictures of shoes—you might save catalogs and newspaper ads or search for shoes online. The "Apparel" tab on the Amazon Website can provide a variety of images that you can use as well as descriptions of the shoes.
- Make an overhead of the quotation from To Kill a Mockingbird, or write the quotation on the board or on chart paper.
- Test the Circle Plot Diagram student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- define point of view and discuss the importance of perspective in writing.
- explore the role of perspective in the stories that someone tells.
- write a story from someone else's point-of-view.
- Introduce the activity by displaying and reading the quotation from To Kill a Mockingbird that inspires the activity: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (36).
- Ask students to consider what the quotation means—what is the speaker trying to explain to his daughter? What does the speaker mean by the term point of view? How does perspective, or point of view, come into play in writing? Introduce the idea of empathy and discuss its relationship to the quotation.
- If you're reading the novel with your students, ask them why Atticus offers this advice to Scout. What events in the story to this point have prompted him to share this advice? SparkNotes provides an explanation of the quotation that can inform discussion.
- After you're satisfied that students understand the ideas expressed in the quotation, hand each student (or each group, if you prefer that students to work in small groups) a shoe from the collection.
- Ask students to brainstorm details based on their first impressions of the shoes in their writer's notebooks. Give them approximately five minutes to gather ideas.
- After examining the shoes, ask students to envision the owner of the shoe and complete the Walking in Someone Else's Shoes handout, writing their answers in their writer's notebooks or on notebook paper.
- When finished analyzing the shoe's owner, students share their answers in class. There are always a lot of laughs at this point as students reveal details about the invented owners, such as Harry Evandorf whose favorite movie is Forrest Gump and who can be found hidden behind Money magazine smoking a Cuban cigar.
- (Optional) After all the groups have introduced their owners, you can disclose information about the actual owners of the shoes. The students enjoy hearing how close (or how far off) they were to describing the real owner.
- Ask students to take the questionnaire and write a narrative about the owner, telling the story of a day in the owner's life and incorporating the personality traits and lifestyle of the invented owner.
- Remind students of the characteristics of narrative writing. You might write the information on a piece of chart paper or on the board so that writers can refer to the list while working.
- Focuses a clear, well-defined incident or series of related events.
- Develops plot, character, and setting with specific detail.
- Orders events clearly.
- Uses description and dialogue as appropriate to develop setting and character.
- Shows events rather than just telling about them.
- Establishes and maintains a tone and point of view.
- Uses a logical and effective pattern of organization, such as chronological order, flashback, or flash-forward.
- Uses transitional words and phrases to maintain coherence and establish sequence within and between paragraphs.
- Focuses a clear, well-defined incident or series of related events.
- Explain that students will plan out their story using the Circle Plot Diagram student interactive to plan out the sequence of events in their shoe's owner's life. Demonstrate the interactive, showing students how to add items to the diagram.
- If you want students to create a more formal piece of writing, allow additional class sessions for them to revise, type, and edit their papers. Alternately, you might have students do simple "first draft" writing, or write in their journals or writer's notebooks.
- Allow time during the next class session for students to share their stories with the class or in small groups.
- This lesson plan is also successful with younger students. You can introduce the idea of point of view with a picture book including Alvin Granowsky's Point of View Stories series and Another Point of View series (Steck-Vaughn). Jon Scieszka's The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs (Puffin, 1996) can also provide an excellent introduction to the idea of perspective. Once students understand the concept of point of view, they can complete this activity, where they imagine the point of view of a shoe's owner.
- Another option is to choose a short passage from a read-aloud book, such as Summer of the Monkey, and ask students to rewrite the passage from another character's point of view. As above, once students understand the concept of point of view, they can complete this activity, where they imagine the point of view of a shoe's owner.
- The lesson can be particularly successful at the end of a history unit if you provide students with images of period shoes that match the time period they've just explored (colonial America, the Civil War, and so forth). This activity connects their understanding of point of view to the background information that they have learned about the historical period. The finished piece would be a day in the life of the shoe's owner, but the shoe's owner is now a figure from another time period. The Bata Shoe Museum, in Toronto, includes images of shoes from many countries and historical periods.
- Add a social action piece to the activity by having students collect shoes for a local thrift shop. Kathy A. Megyeri describes a similar activity from her class:
During the reading of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1960), we complete the "Walk in Our Shoes" project....From Thanksgiving until the middle of December, students collect used shoes that are cleaned, labeled for size, and donated to charity. Before the shoes are delivered, students select a pair and write a story about the person who might have worn them. In the story, students give names to the donors, tell their life stories, and describe how they have come to give up their shoes. They then present their stories before the class while wearing the shoes they selected.
From p. 30, "How Do You Incorporate Concepts from Other Disciplines into Your Classroom?" English Journal 88.1 (September 1998):30-31.
- If you decide to have students write more polished pieces, you can spend additional class sessions developing narrative technique. Based on student need and experience, you might add one or more minilessons that will help students complete their work. Though they range in grade level, any of the following items can make a useful minilesson for writers composing narratives:
- creating a lead:
Leading to Great Places in the Middle School Classroom
Bright Morning: Exploring Character Development in Fiction or
Using Picture Books to Teach Characterization in Writing Workshop
- connotation and details:
She Did What? Revising for Connotation
Using Picture Books to Teach Setting Development in Writing Workshop
- punctuating dialogue:
Inside or Outside? A Minilesson on Quotation Marks and More
- paragraphing dialogue:
Character Clash: A Minilesson on Paragraph Breaks and Dialogue
- creating a lead:
Student Assessment / Reflections
- If students write their stories in their journals, you might read and simply note things that stand out as specific and well-detailed which tie well to the invented owner of the shoe which has inspired their writing.
- If students complete multiple drafts of this piece, you could use the Peer Review: Narrative lesson plan to give students the chance to do self-assessment and revise their texts. Then use similar guidelines to respond to their writing.
- For more formal feedback, use the Narrative Writing Rubric.