Point of view is the perspective formed from an individual’s experiences and biases. In English Language Arts, educators are tasked with helping students meet the standard of identifying a speaker’s point of view in a text, and then explaining how the point of view affects the overall meaning of the literature.
The speaker might be a fictional character, a narrator, an author, or a living person. Point of view is also an important skill to teach when students learn how to evaluate and conduct arguments.
In the following article, we’ll break down the three major types of point of view, explain the importance of and prerequisites to learning point of view, provide effective strategies for teaching point of view to middle and high school students, and conclude with differentiated tools to help struggling students learn point of view.
What are the types of point of view?
In English Language Arts, educators typically introduce students to three points of view: first person, second person, and third person.
A story told from a first person point of view is told from the perspective of the narrator or protagonist. Readers are likely to encounter first person point of view in memoirs, autobiographies, or fictional texts. First person point of view is often used to make readers feel like they are a part of the story and to cultivate investment in fictional characters’ lives.
Second person point of view is rarely used in fiction and more often seen in how-to manuals, advertisements, sets of instructions, and more technical writing. Second person point of view addresses the reader through the pronoun ‘you,’ and is typically more directive in nature.
There are several types of third person point of view, all of which can be discerned by the use of ‘he/she,’ ‘him/her,’ and ‘they/them’ pronouns: objective, omniscient, and limited.
In third person objective point of view, the text is narrated by a seemingly detached and neutral observer, who may not be privy to the inner thoughts, desires, and motivations of the characters.
In third person limited point of view, the narration is told from a single character who may be neutral or detached, but whose perspective could be limited by their own biases, motivations, or familiarity with the characters in a text.
In third person omniscient point of view, the narrator has access to all the characters’ thoughts, desires, and motivations. They are all-knowing and most often removed from the conflict or core group of characters.
Why is it important to be able to identify a speaker’s point of view?
Authors are deliberate in their choice of point of view. Their decision to reveal or conceal information helps create dramatic tension and foreshadowing, and often prompts a reader to make their own conclusions about how the characters or plot will develop.
Secondary English Language Arts educators spend a substantial amount of time teaching point of view to students, as it is foundational to learning more complex literary elements, such as theme, irony, juxtaposition, and rhetoric. Understanding an author’s or character’s point of view helps readers interpret the meaning of a fictional or nonfiction text. Rarely does an author state their point of view or a character’s point of view outright—it is up to the reader to use context clues and make inferences as to what motivates an author or character.
Another skill that is useful for students to use while analyzing point of view in literature is the ability to identify an unreliable narrator based off of that character’s biases and individual conditions. An unreliable narrator is a narrator that readers can’t fully trust for some reason. For example, you may recall the unnamed narrator in Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” or Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye. A narrator’s perspective may be compromised for a multitude of reasons. Common examples include: the narrator is a child, they are naive, they are mentally unstable, they have an intellectual disability, they are a pathological liar, or they have a skewed perception of reality due to substance abuse. Authors will sometimes use an unreliable narrator to make the literature more interesting and present a work of fiction with multiple layers. The competing levels of truth require students to use a higher level of thinking while analyzing the point of view.
Developing these skills is part of the thrill of reading and learning. All of these skills can then be applied to real world contexts, such as professional environments or personal relationships. Students can further apply their skills in analyzing point of view in the news and media. Additionally, considering point of view can help a student develop empathy for others who have diverse backgrounds and bring different experiences to a relationship.
What do students need to know in order to learn point of view?
There are several “prerequisite” skills that students will need to develop before they can consistently determine a speaker’s point of view and understand how it impacts the meaning of a text. First, they should be able to identify the elements of a story, such as plot, character, and conflict. Second, they must understand the difference between characters and narrators, as well as narration versus dialogue. Finally, they should be able to compare and contrast information. Without these basic skills, it may be difficult for a student to make less obvious connections between characters’ motivations and plot or conflict development.
What are effective strategies for teaching point of view?
The following strategies may be useful for helping students identify a speaker’s point of view. Keep in mind that what works for one learner may not be effective for another, and encourage learners to try an array of strategies to see which works best for them.
#1 Create an anchor chart
An anchor chart is essentially a poster-sized document that includes text, visuals, and graphic organizers. Teachers co-create anchor charts with their students to learn new skills and appeal to multimodal learners. Anchor charts can serve as a focal point and useful reference when learners are engaged in guided or independent practice. Involving the students in building the anchor chart also fosters engagement.
An anchor chart for teaching point of view should involve an objective written at or near the top, as well as rules written in list or graphic organizer form for distinguishing among the types of point of view. Written examples and drawings representing each type of point of view will help visual learners. Make sure to display the anchor chart in a prominent location, where all learners can view it and use it as a reference. The teacher should ideally refer to the chart, as well, and involve the students in making changes or additions as needed.
#2 Send students on a scavenger hunt or webquest
Students motivated by competition may enjoy participating in a point of view scavenger hunt or webquest, which can be done either independently or in small groups. With an extensive classroom library or a school library, teachers can create bulleted lists of items a student should retrieve, such as:
- A science fiction novel told in first person point of view
- A how-to manual told in second person point of view
- A play written in third person point of view
No access to a library? Not a problem. Create a digital scavenger hunt (or webquest) where students have to retrieve articles, PDFs, poetry, and other multimedia based on point of view, such as:
- A news story written in third person point of view
- An infomercial told in second person point of view
- A tutorial told in first person point of view
The added benefit of a scavenger hunt or webquest is that you can expose students to different genres of text and challenge them to draw conclusions about why certain text forms are more frequently narrated in first, second, or third person point of view.
#3 Expose learners to a diverse range of mentor texts
Exposing learners to a range of mentor texts is a great way to help students practice identifying a speaker’s point of view. Below are a few examples of texts, divided by type of point of view, that middle and high school learners may find accessible and interesting:
- The Stolen Party by Liliana Heker
- Always Running (excerpt) by Luis J. Rodriguez
- Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl
- Raymond’s Run by Toni Cade Bambara
- Say Yes by Tobias Wolff
- An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce
- The Sniper by Liam O’Flaherty
- The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
- The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs
- Girl by Jamaica Kincaid
- Snow by Ann Beattie
- The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
- What to the Slave is the Fourth of July? By Frederick Douglass
- Mother to Son by Langston Hughes
- The Lady or the Tiger by Frank R. Stockton
- Mending Wall by Robert Frost
- We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks
- Mothers by Nikki Giovanni
- The Wife’s Story by Ursula K. LeGuin
- My Lucy Friend Who Smells Like Corn by Sandra Cisneros
- Shooting an Elephant by George Orwell
- Immigrants in Our Own Land by Jimmy Santiago Baca
Additionally, the CommonLit website hosts hundreds of free short stories, speeches, poems, and other forms of text that educators can filter based on standard, literary element, theme, or grade level.
#4 Reach multimodal learners with multimedia
Images and videos absolutely qualify as texts! When so many middle and high school learners prefer scrolling through social media and watching Netflix shows over reading books, using images and videos may be an effective way to reach reluctant readers.
For an image activity, it may be useful to provide students (or small groups of learners) with random photos without context. Independent learners can narrate what is occurring in the picture using the different types of point of view. In groups, each student can propose a different interpretation of what is happening.
Transform Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok into powerful instructional tools by challenging students to identify the points of view being used in different posts, or having them compare and contrast multiple posts that focus on a specific topic. If a class or majority of students is not mature enough to handle using their social media accounts as instructional tools, teachers can always use advertisements, tutorials, podcasts, or webisodes from YouTube.
#5 Rewrite text from different points of view
Any story can be retold based on a different perspective. Retelling popular stories from the villain’s perspective — such as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Wicked from The Wizard of Oz, and Joker from Batman — has become quite the trend in literature, film, and music.
Pick one of the mentor texts from the list provided above and task students with rewriting the story from a different character’s perspective — either a character from the story or a detached narrator. Have students discuss, in small groups, how changing the point of view changes the meaning of the text, and the consequences of such in real world contexts.
How can I help students who are struggling to identify a point of view?
It can be difficult to identify a speaker’s point of view in more challenging texts. Some texts may include multiple narrators, and some authors may quickly switch point of views within the same chapter or passage. It can be easy to miss these transitions, and therefore get lost or confused in a text.
To start, it is helpful to have the learner consider if the narrator is part of the story or not. Are they involved in the plot? Do they interact with characters? Are they a prominent character? A detached observer? Or the author? Being able to make this distinction is the first step to identifying point of view.
Searching the text for pronouns is a useful strategy; however, it is important to do a close read of the passage instead of a skim, as learners may be confused by first or second person dialogue in a text that is narrated in third person.
Finally, learners might benefit from chunking a longer passage into smaller sections. It may be that a lengthier text with multiple characters speaking is overwhelming to some readers, and they may be better able to identify a point of view in a smaller section of text with fewer characters speaking.
When a student can understand a point of view, they can make more accurate predictions and deeper connections within a text, across texts, and from the page to reality. Understanding someone’s perspective is a life skill, and the more strategies a learner has to interpret someone’s perspective, the more successful they can be in relating to and collaborating with others.