Walking In Someone Elses Shoes Assignment

The ability to feel empathy is essential to the emotional and social growth and development of young people. Although adolescents are famously self-centered, they are also increasingly aware of the world around them. Learning about empathy helps students connect to others within their family, class, community, and beyond. Empathy allows young people to respond with kindness and thoughtfulness and gives them a broader perspective on human history. It is also an effective tool against bullying, prejudice, and injustice, and in breaking down gender stereotypes. Being empathetic helps young people make and keep friends as well as understand those who have different viewpoints, backgrounds, and cultures.

This lesson begins with a preliminary discussion about the meaning of empathy. Students watch a video that explores this ability or experience in greater detail and discuss how a Native American saying, “walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins,” relates to the practice of empathy. As a class and in small groups, students examine a well-known fairy tale, Cinderella. To try to “walk a mile” in the shoes of each character, good and evil, students develop histories, backgrounds, and motivations for the characters and share these with the class. They then rewrite the fairy tale (or other well-known story) from another character’s point of view. For example, they could portray the villain as a sympathetic character. As an optional extension activity, students write about an experience from their own life regarding empathy.

Time Allotment

  • Approximately two class periods plus additional time for peer review

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the meaning of the core value of empathy
  • Identify characters’ backgrounds and motivations and understand how those factors impact their choices and actions
  • Understand that there are (at least) “two sides to every story” and use that to evaluate notions of “truth” in singular narratives
  • Evaluate the role of context (time, place, etc.) in shaping behavior and decisions
  • Understand how perspective taking plays a critical role in developing empathy

Prep for Teachers

  • Examine the media resources to familiarize yourself with the lesson content.


  • Smart Board or whiteboard and markers for note taking
  • Oversized sticky notes (or large paper)

Media Resources

Learning Activities

Part I: Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes (15 mins)

1. Ask students to define empathy. Jot down students’ ideas on the board. You will return to these ideas later in the lesson.

2. Show the video Young Peace Leaders: Cultivating Empathy, in which middle school students complete an activity designed to help them gain the perspective of another person and explore the quality of empathy. They choose a shoe and imagine the life of that shoe. As they write about the shoe—figuratively “walking” in those shoes—they reflect on how the experience helped them become more understanding and compassionate toward others.

After watching the video, discuss the following questions:

  • What was the most memorable moment in the video?
  • Why did that moment have an impact on you?

3. The saying “Never criticize (or judge) a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins” has been attributed to various Native American tribes and is the inspiration for the exercise shown in the video. Examine the saying together.

  • Why is walking or standing in someone else’s shoes such a powerful metaphor?
  • Why might it be necessary to walk a mile (and not just for a moment or a few steps) in someone else’s shoes?

Explore the notion of perspective taking and how it leads to empathy. Ask students, Why is it important both at an individual and a more global level to understand and respect each other’s experiences? (People’s experiences inform their viewpoints.) Have students brainstorm other ways a person can use to become more aware of how another person is feeling, thinking, or behaving and why such insights are important.

Part II: Developing Empathy Through Retold Fairy Tales (40 mins)

4. Traditional fairy tales, especially those from Western cultures, generally provide one perspective. We are rarely shown a multilayered villain or a hero or heroine who is not perfect all the time. For example, in some versions of Cinderella, we are told that the stepmother had a cold heart and that the stepsisters are cruel. But what caused the stepmother to treat Cinderella so badly? What motivated the stepsisters’ mistreatment? Reimagined fairy tales are ideal for perspective taking.

Start by unpacking preconceived notions. Begin the discussion by asking students what they know about the story Cinderella. Students should discuss both the plot and the characters. Have them provide descriptions of
 key characters, including physical attributes and attitudes. Write the information in a graphic organizer on the board so students can keep track. If the story is not well known to all, give a summarized account of the story that reinforces these character descriptions.

Next, introduce the idea that there are “two sides to every story,” or multiple viewpoints. Use the following questions to help guide the discussion:

  • What makes us identify with a character in a story? How do our attitudes and beliefs influence that choice?
  • What does it mean to see a situation with a fresh perspective?

5. As a class, list the main characters in Cinderella and write each on an enlarged sticky note. Then, divide the class into small groups. Allow each group to choose a character and consider these questions:

  • What does this character perceive (i.e., see or feel)?
  • Where does this character spend his or her time? What are the surroundings like?
  • What are some things that this character might know about?
  • What are some things this character might not know about?
  • What experiences has she or he lived through?
  • What things does this character care about?
  • What are his or her wants or fears?
  • What are the character’s moods, goals, and beliefs?

As the groups deepen their understanding of their characters, they should write down or express their ideas through drawings. Circulate among groups and ask guiding questions to help students answer the questions. For example, “What did you read or hear that makes you write/draw that?”

Here is an example of what students might write down about one of the stepsisters:
This stepsister may be cruel toward Cinderella, but she is also fragile. Although she was born into a wealthy home, she has a cold, disapproving mother for whom neither she nor her sister is good enough. She has never felt loved. Her only self-worth is from her appearance. And because Cinderella is more beautiful than she is, the stepsister can’t help but feel competitive. That’s why she never misses a chance to put the shabbily dressed Cinderella in her place by showing off her own fancy clothes.

6. Groups should take a few minutes to share and reflect on their work, either with other groups or as a class. Here are some questions to consider:

  • What new ideas do you have about the character that you didn't have before?
  • Why might different characters see things differently? 

7. Return to the notes you took at the beginning of class about the meaning of empathy. Ask students to add or revise their ideas based on what they’ve learned so far during the lesson. Then, ask students to talk about how viewing a character from a different perspective might lead them to have empathy for that character. Why might this be useful, not just as part of a school lesson but in real life?

If students are having trouble generating ideas, mention the following key points about perspective taking and empathy:

  • listening without judgment
  • putting your own opinions aside
  • looking beyond your own experiences, concerns, and viewpoints
  • acknowledging what people have to say (even if you don’t agree)

Part III: Rewrite Your Own Fairy Tale (30 mins + additional time for peer review)

8. After discussing some of the core skills that are needed to be empathetic, present students with their assignment as well as a rubric. Ask them to choose a folk or fairy tale or myth and rewrite it from the perspective of a different character. (They can choose a hero or heroine, but it may be easier to choose the villain.) How would a more empathetic understanding of the character change the narrative? How would it affect the meaning of the story?

If you prefer, you may connect this exercise with a book you have read in class, such as The Crucible, The Giver, The Diary of Anne Frank, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Outsiders, or The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. If you do this, have students rewrite a chapter or section of the book from a point of view other than the narrator’s.

When students have completed their writing, divide the class into small groups for peer review. Review the rubric with the students and set norms for how to give constructive feedback. Then, have students critique each other’s work. Circulate among groups and direct discussions as needed.

Extension Activity: Challenge students to relate empathy to a real-world situation. Have students reflect on a time when they might have shown someone else empathy. Have them describe what happened and how the situation would have been different if they could have been more empathetic.

  • What was the problem?
  • Why was it hard to show empathy for the other person?
  • If you had been able to be empathetic, how might that have changed the situation? How would it have affected how you and the other person felt about the experience and each other?

Culminating Activity

Check for Understanding (5 mins)

Briefly wrap up the lesson. Ask students:

  • What new ideas do you have about empathy that you didn't have before?
  • In what ways did the lesson content push you or challenge you?
  • What new questions do you have?


This lesson is based on “Developing Empathy Through Retold Fairy Tales,” a lesson written by Rosemarie Sese, a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.


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Lesson Plan

Spend a Day in My Shoes: Exploring the Role of Perspective in Narrative


Grades9 – 12
Lesson Plan TypeStandard Lesson
Estimated TimeThree 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author





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.

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Interactive Circle Plot Diagram: Use this online tool to plan out the sequence of events in a piece of narrative writing.

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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).

Further Reading

Knoeller, Christian. "Imaginative Response: Teaching Literature through Creative Writing." English Journal 92.5 (May 2003): 42-48.


Adapted from:  Dana, Kimberly A. 1996. "Walking in Someone Else's Shoes," Ideas Plus, Book 14. pp. 22-24.  Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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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.



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.



Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.



Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).


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Resources & Preparation


  • 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.

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Grades   3 – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Organizing & Summarizing

Circle Plot Diagram

The Circle Plot Diagram can be used as a prewriting graphic organizer for students writing original stories with a circular plot structure as well as a postreading organizer used to explore the text structures in a book.


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  • 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.

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Instructional Plan


Students will

  • 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.

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Session One

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. (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.

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Session Two

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Allow time during the next class session for students to share their stories with the class or in small groups.

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  • 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:

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  • 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.

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Related Resources


Grades   4 – 7  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Story Writing from an Object's Perspective

Students explore writing from non-human perspectives through a picture book read aloud, mini-lesson, collaborative writing, and the writing process. Students create "A Day in the Life of…" story about an inanimate object.


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Grades   3 – 12  |  Student Interactive  |  Organizing & Summarizing

Circle Plot Diagram

The Circle Plot Diagram can be used as a prewriting graphic organizer for students writing original stories with a circular plot structure as well as a postreading organizer used to explore the text structures in a book.


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