Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Creative Ways to Teach Critical Lenses

I feel that it is essential for every English literature student--whether that be honors, regular, or support level-- to have the ability to read a single text through a different critical lens. This skill teaches students how to have an open mindset and view the world through someone else's perspective--which is one of the fundamental purposes of reading.

Here are some fun activities for teaching critical lenses for ANY learning level! 

(***Make sure you read all the way to the bottom of this post for a special giveaway and link up!***) 

1. Start out with a fairytale picture book. 

Storybooks are perfect for scaffolding complicated concepts, and I especially love fairytales for teaching critical lenses because all of the major ones contain gender stereotypes and social class issues. My go-to is "Little Red Riding Hood" because Roald Dahl has an amazing and hilarious twist to this story which flows right into looking at a single story from different points-of-views. In the original, Red is vulnerable, gullible, and weak; in Dahl's version, she is sassy, strong, and violent. When I teach sophomores, I use this lesson as a segue into our first short story-- "Lamb to the Slaughter" also by Roald Dahl 

***Side note: Please tell me that I'm not the only 80's baby to have one of these CREEPY Little Red Riding Hood dolls pictured above!? I love to use it to freak my students out because underneath her dress is a two-sided grandma and wolf. Ha!

2. Use well-known movies for examples 
There are lots of examples out there for The Lion King including this teacher's website and this student project, but since I have a Harry Potter obsession (see my classroom here: High School Harry Potter Classroom, I tend to always use HP related examples. Here is a visual of Harry Potter Critical Lenses (click to enlarge):

If you are a Harry Potter fan, you should follow my Harry Potter Classroom board where I pin all the ways I add a little HP magic into my classroom every day! :) 

3. Use tactile "lenses" to physically teach the concept of looking through different lenses at a single piece of text 
This one is my favorite because it adds an element of fun to the really challenging concept of understanding critical lenses. Either by using the glasses as group roles or having each student do a multi-read of a single text, students physically wear a critical lens to help them remember how they should be viewing the text.

They really get a kick out of anything silly like this!
Follow my Instagram for English class shenanigans like this! @Bsbooklove 

Even though there's an element of fun, this activity isn't all fluff. By wearing the different lenses, students have a kinesthetic way of comprehending a text through multiple views. If you would like a set of these lenses along with full explanations of the Harry Potter critical lenses, check out my lesson here: 

This is MY best of the best lesson in my classroom, but if you want to see lots of other bests from amazing ELA teachers, then follow the links below. We have all teamed up to write about the best of our classroom, so the content is English teacher vetted and approved!


  1. 80's kid here... no creepy doll! I've never seen one, lol! These are great ideas, and I really like the fun side of including the glasses.

    Thanks, Ashley!

    1. Oh man. I'm totally taking a video of this and sending it to you. It's beyond creepy!!!

  2. I love this idea of using actual glasses. When I say the word "lens," I can literally see my students' eyes glaze over! Ha! This is such a simple but practical and fun idea. Great tips for teaching critical lens units. As a side note, you mentioned The Lion King...and I just have to say how much fun I have using that movie as an introduction for literary terms. It's perfect for so many things. I've never seen the disturbing doll before...but she's perfect for Halloween. :)

  3. I'm sorry...I don't know why the comment above is posting under a different account (I'm new to all this and slightly overwhelmed!). Anyway, this is who I am: rwhaven.wordpress.com.

  4. Sold! I love the lens idea and want to try something like this out in my class. Even though some of my students may think it's goofy, I know they will love it!

  5. Another 80s girl without that creepy doll! Sorry!

    I love this idea... I do a Fairy Tale analysis paper with my students and this is making me think of mixing it up this semester.

    Do you have readings on each of those "lenses" that students read or just the examples from HP?

  6. The use of the actual "lenses" is a really thoughtful addition. It can help the kids to "see" the difference-- though I imagine many of mine would be too resistant, it can still help them. Wonder if it would help for the resistant ones to write notes about what the lens means on it, so they have it handy even if they won't wear the glasses (because of "image" issues.)

  7. Love this! Love This! Did I tell you I LOVE This? I do. thank you for sharing I am bouncing with ideas, this is such a new way to teach an important skill.

    Not to mention I am very impressed you have the pic for the blog hop, the rafflecopter AND the links. I tried to load them and crashed my whole site.
    I bow to your talents. Thanks again and I will be back to see what other great ideas you have.

  8. This looks like such a fun, engaging activity,Ashley!

  9. You had me hooked at Harry Potter! Seriously, this looks like a fantastic way to get students thinking critically in a fun way. I love the addition of the actual lenses. I will definitely be sharing this blog post with my ELA teacher friends! Thank you for sharing such a creative and student-friendly activity!

  10. This is such a fun idea, and I'm sure that using the actual lenses would add a ton to my lessons where my students struggled. Super creative!

  11. The more goofy I am or the lesson is, the more they like it! I think my middle school students would LOVE this!

  12. I absolutely love literature and truly enjoy analyzing different texts with my students! I love how they each discover that having different perspectives is great and they can still all have correct answers nevertheless! Really liked your ideas, especially the critical lenses activity, as I teach high school students. Please, keep them coming... :)

    1. Wow thank you so much for the encouragement and kind words. This means so much :)

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