Perspective storytelling is a lesson we use with students because of its powerful ability to inspire care for our community and the planet – the very reason we are here!


Dr. Priya Pugh, IslandWood Graduate Program Senior Faculty, and Natalie Akers, IslandWood Graduate Program, Class of ‘23 & current University of Washington Master’s in Education grad student, share what perspective storytelling entails and its impact on students below.

What is perspective storytelling?

Dr. Priya: Broadly speaking, perspective storytelling is a lesson that encourages students to experience the world in a new way – and explicitly, in a way other than their own way of viewing the world.  The activity combines two skills: taking the perspective of others (perspective taking) and sharing ideas and information through stories (storytelling).


The practice of perspective taking is a foundational concept in social studies, literacy, and science. By shifting one’s point of view away from the self, we provide opportunities to build empathy and develop an understanding of the relationships we have with one another.


Similarly, storytelling is an interdisciplinary and deeply cultural practice. We tell stories to share ideas, convey messages, and explore complex phenomena in an engaging and personal format. When we bridge perspective taking and storytelling in an outdoor learning setting, we offer opportunities for students to use their senses to not only observe more-than-humans (plants, animals, insects, rocks, water, etc.) in the ecosystem, but to imagine what it would be like to be in their metaphorical shoes (or slug slime!).


What is our goal in using this approach? 

Dr. Priya: Many science and environmental learning experiences typically reinforce an orientation that positions humans as apart from the natural world, rather than humans as part of the natural world. Studies have shown that part of models lead to deeper understanding of socio-ecological phenomena (such as climate change), and more pro-environmental behaviors and decision-making.


Perspective storytelling is an example of a lesson that does this. By encouraging students to put themselves in the position of more-than-humans, perspective storytelling fosters empathetic, relationship-focused learning opportunities.


When students feel empathy and a sense of understanding about what it’s like to be someone or something else – it’s a critical link in then caring about someone or something else and acting on their behalf. When we can see and understand another’s perspective, we are more likely to be invested in actions and solutions that will also be of benefit for that other person or, non-human.


Perspective storytelling asks students to not only observe more-than-humans, but to imagine what it’s like to be them.

How did you find 4th – 6th students reacted to the idea of perspective storytelling?

Natalie: As a field instructor and grad student, I was constantly reminded of the creative capacity of the students I worked with. To me, it did not seem like most students were challenged by imagining themselves as a tree or leaf, rock or root (whatever they chose to observe and build connection with). Instead, I saw my position as supporting them in recognizing their existing practices of creative reflection as tools for scientific thinking.


What did you find students took away from perspective storytelling?

Natalie: I think perspective storytelling leverages young people’s existing aptitudes for creative expression as inroads for building connections with place and more-than-humans. It also sends a message that storytelling (or drawing comics, writing poetry) are real ways to observe the world around us. At IslandWood, we are always trying to call out that this kind of gathering and interpreting evidence is the key to the scientific process.


Finally, as a field instructor I held immense power facilitating the (often first) meeting between students and the particular place we call IslandWood. When students build relationships with the world around them, I think it helps them also feel a sense of power and agency in the natural world. I remember revisiting the same place in the woods (or “neighborhood”) with a group for four days. During that period of time, students focused on witnessing relationships in one small hula-hoop sized section of our neighborhood. Together, we got curious about which animals and plants moved through the space or lived their entire lives contributing (even when decomposing) to the world around them. We started to ask and dig into “who lives here?” and “what happens here?” At the end of the week, multiple students requested we go back to this place to say goodbye. Over the course of the year, it wasn’t uncommon for 5th graders to beg to revisit a tree or plant they’d spent time with, especially those whose perspective they’d taken in Perspective Storytelling. I think this illustrates the ways in which an activity like Perspective Storytelling – which demands we consider the fullness of another natural kind’s experience – fosters a broader sense of belonging in the world.


Are there any examples of student stories or work with perspective storytelling you’d like to share?

Natalie: Yes! A student invented an illustrated nursery rhyme about a leaf’s journey. It shows the Big Leaf Maple they were observing with patches of moss and wind. It says: “It’s windy I’m falling” / “The moss is baling” / “I hit the ground / I hear a sound”/ “It’s the leaf falling.” When presenting this to their group, the student sang their rhyme! I love this example because it illustrates the connections the student was seeing when donning the perspective of a leaf. Suddenly, they’re considering the important relationship between natural elements in November like the wind and leaves. The leaf and moss are also drawn into a relationship. Other students explored the experience of leaves reuniting with their family (trees) when they decompose and contribute to nutrients in soil.



A student’s illustrated nursery rhyme about a leaf’s journey falling to the ground

Interested in bringing perspective storytelling into your classroom or group? Here’s a basic framework you can start with and make your own!

Writing Your Perspective Story

Take the perspective of a plant/animal and write a story. Take 10 minutes to sit and decide how you’re going to tell your perspective story. Write? Draw? Charades? Dance?


Some prompts to think about:

  • How am I situated in the world? Am I big or small, high in the air or low to the ground, stationary or mobile?
  • Who am I in relation with? Who are my neighbors? How do I experience the other elements of this ecosystem?
  • What do I need to survive?
  • What do I contribute to this ecosystem?


Want even more inspiration and ideas about perspective storytelling? We have more in-depth information here!


If you haven’t already, subscribe to our newsletter to stay in the know about blog posts, news, and events!

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Linkedin