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Lesson Plan

Analyzing How Narrative Structure Generates Empathy in Wonder

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Analyzing How Narrative Structure Generates Empathy in Wonder

Grades 4 – 8
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Eight 50-minute sessions plus additional time for reading
Lesson Author

Scott Filkins

Scott Filkins

Champaign, Illinois


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



This lesson on R.J. Palacio’s Wonder helps students better understand its themes of empathy and understanding by focusing on its structure. First, students define the lesson’s key terms (sympathy, empathy, and compassion) and think of characters from other books for whom they have and have not had those feelings. Then, after each section the novel is read aloud, students write about their impressions of major characters based on the perspective of the current narrator. They then reflect on what they learn about each character through the sections those characters narrate themselves. To close the lesson, they choose one character to address in a letter, explaining how hearing his or her point of view changed their understanding of him or her.

While this lesson takes a read aloud approach to the novel, students can read the text on their own or in small groups, particularly after the first chapter narrated by Auggie.

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  • Two-Column Character Chart: Students create a small flipchart to keep track of their impressions of each character first as they are introduced by Auggie, and then again when they narrate part of the story themselves.
  • Letter Assignment and Rubric: After completing the book, students write a letter to one of the characters to explain how their feelings about him or her developed over the course of the novel.

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Vogt, Chow, Fernandez, Grubman, and Stacey argue that post-modern young adult literature, particularly those texts that employ first-person narration, encourage readers to view a range of diverse people and characters “from empathetic rather than sympathetic perspectives” (38) In particular, a text such as Wonder that “seamlessly shifts from one perspective to the other” (42) has the potential to “yield complex themes that create multiple points of empathetic access throughout the text” (40). This lesson asks students to consider how sympathy can develop into empathy, as well as how empathy can develop out of previously negative impressions, by learning more about someone, their experiences, and their perspectives.


Vogt, Matthew T., Chow, Yuen Pun, Fernandez, Jenny, Grubman, Chase, and Stacey, Dylan. “Designing a Reading Curriculum to Teach the Concept of Empathy to Middle Level Learners.” Voices from the Middle. Volume 23 Number 4, May 2016.

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