Prior to investigating a source, students examine the variety of people and groups that would interpret the source differently. Members of the class brainstorm to arrive at a list of all the different viewpoints, then one by one speak from the perspective of the varying stakeholders. This thinking routine, published by the Visible Thinking project at Project Zero, helps students consider the social and historical context for a primary source. It provides a perspective-taking activity that guides students to draw on what they know to imagine different viewpoints, including the author(s), the intended audience, and others who were or were not directly affected.
Social Studies educators can use this activity to develop a safe environment for discussing difficult topics in history. Educators develop discussion guidelines based on the varying perspectives from the Circle Activity. Teachers can then create a system of hand signals indicating comfort level with discussing a topic and incorporate time for discussion and reflection. Students will benefit from a discussion that is student-driven and not fully directed by the teacher.
- Link to Harvard's Project Zero for an explanation of the Circle of Viewpoints routine.
- Broaden this investigation at the blog, Selecting and Using Primary Sources with Difficult Topics: Civil Rights and Current Events, where the Library of Congress starts with this example of the Circle of Viewpoints routine from Project Zero.
- Explore Emerging America's comprehensive discussion of approaches to Inquiry.