Zoom Out

The following activity is part of a series we created to support students, teachers, and caregivers, during this unprecedented time. Read more about the project here. If you try this activity with your student(s), we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Created by:  Jenna Fournel
Discipline:  Literacy, Social Studies
Age level: Elementary through High School
Time:  30-45 minutes
Materials:  Writing materials, a handout, a meaningful personal object

When things feel particularly daunting in your own life, in your school, in your family, in your community, in the world – it can be incredibly helpful to pause and situate the challenges within a larger perspective. Considering the size of our problems in the relation to a bigger context can help us understand the nature of the issue better, and sometimes even make the problem seem less huge. This activity is good practice for “zooming out” and can be accessed by students of many ages. 

What to Do: 

Begin by talking to students about how perspective shapes the way we see the world. Here is one way to do that:

Hold up an apple and ask students the following, listening and giving space for discussion in their responses:

  • What is this?
  • What is it for?
  • How do you know?
  • How would you describe its size?
  • How would you describe its flavor?
  • Now imagine you are an ant. What would an ant think this is?
  • What would an ant think it is for?
  • How would an ant know?
  • How might an ant think about its size?
  • How might a horse think about its size?
  • How about an elephant?
  • Now imagine that you are an extraterrestrial alien who has never seen an apple before. What would they think it is?
  • What might inform an extraterrestrial alien’s understanding of what it is?
  • How might an extraterrestrial alien figure out what to do with it?

Once you feel your learners have grasped the idea that perspectives can vary based on who we are an our lived experience, introduce the idea that perspectives can also shift based on whether we’re looking at something close up or from a distance. Share a video or book that looks at something familiar from vastly different perspectives. These two short videos are great examples:

Now have your learners practice zooming their own perspective out using this reflection sheet.

  1. Have them choose a small object that is important to them. It should be familiar, perhaps something you look at every day: a favorite toy, family photo, or your school bookbag, for example. They can do this while at home or bring that object into class to look at and share. (If they are bringing it to school, remind them not to bring in something that is so valuable they would be sad if it got lost or broken.) This is the object they will be writing about.
  2. Give them a copy of this reflection sheet – formatted for your particular needs. This link will ask you to make a copy of the sheet so you can edit and adapt it.
  3. As the example at the top shows, learners will write down a description of the object and why it holds meaning for them. Then they will “zoom out” considering that object in the larger context in which it sits (a book bag, for example, next to a classroom desk) and write down why that larger context holds meaning for them. Then they take that larger context (the classroom desk) and zoom out to see it in its larger space (the classroom as a whole) and write down why that holds meaning for them.
  4. Students can zoom out as many times as they like, continuing to consider things from a bigger and bigger frame.
  5. Invite your students to share their discoveries with you and with one another. Remember to share your discoveries with your students too.

After they’ve practiced zooming from this very personal perspective you can apply the learning in other ways. Here are some examples:

  • Begin with a photograph from a historical moment and have students zoom out from that moment to situate it in a bigger historical context.
  • Look at something small in nature and zoom out to consider its connection to a larger ecosystem. (For example: a cell>in an organ>in a system>in the body.)
  • Look at exponential growth in math class starting with something like how many shoes a student goes through in a year, how many shoes students in the class go through in a year, how many shoes students in the school go through in a year – etc.
  • Listen to individual instruments in an orchestra and then hear them played all together. (“In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Edvard Grieg is a good song for zooming out.)
  • Consider the skills of a particular physical movement in a sport (i.e. kicking in soccer) then the skills of an individual player executing that movement, then how that player functions as part of a team, and then as part of a game overall.

The “zoom out” experience can serve as a powerful metaphor you refer back to in many ways throughout the school year.

Inspired Teaching connection:  

An activity like this taps into each of the 4 I’s, Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity. Validating the perspectives of your students as you listen and share through this and related activities reinforces mutual respect between adults and children.  In addition, the prompts and writing activity situate students as experts with their lived experiences at the center of both the discussion and the writing that stems from it.  

See our instructional model here.