I tell students that today they will be introduced to a topic that they will be exploring for the next couple of weeks, Identity. In introduce the topic with the following definition for Identity: Identity is the answer to the question WHO AM I? I tell students that the definition may sound simple and may suggest that the answer can be simple. To illustrate, I tell them that I could potentially answer this question by saying, "I am Ms. Soto, the teacher in room 136," but that is actually not the way I would describe my identity. When people describe their identity, they are essentially identifying elements that make up who they are as human beings. I also address a common point of confusion I often find, which is that my students tend to equate identity with identifying information one would find in a drivers license or ID. I explain that a document, like a drivers license or a student ID, does not qualify as as identifying elements that make up who we are as human beings.
I tell students they will be creating an identity chart in small groups. The identity chart will be for a familiar character, the bear from the story The Bear That Wasn't. In a previous lesson, students saw an animated short of this story I played off of YouTube. It is a short cartoon by Chuck Jones and is approximately 10 minutes long. Students really enjoyed it. I use this story to introduce the topic of Identity because of its ability to engage students and because it lends itself to an interpretation around issues of identity.
I explain that someone's identity can be made up of a combination of labels and categories they assign themselves as well as labels and categories society assigns them. To create this identity chart, students must think of the labels and categories the bear assigns himself as well as the labels and categories the bear's society assigns him.
I instruct students to work in groups of four and ask them to select one person to do the writing. They only need to produce one chart per group. I give students about 4 minutes to start charting labels and categories. I interrupt their work to make an important point. I ask students whether they have identified more labels/categories the bear assigns to himself or more labels/categories his society assigns him. They will all say they have identified more from the latter. I explain that this is because the actual texts says more about the labels/categories his society assigns to the bear. However, there is enough information in the text to suggest how the bear may view himself. To access this information, students must use evidence to infer, which is required of students in the Common Core. I encourage them to spend the second part of this activity making inferences and adding these to their chart.
I ask students to take 30 seconds to look over their chart and select the most important labels/categories they included in their chart. I have each group take a turn sharing what they just selected. I chart what they share on the board or poster paper. I color code the chart by writing the labels/categories the bear assigns himself in one color and those his society assigns to him in a different color. This is the Identity Chart for the bear we created together on the board. This will serve as a model for the one they are about to create individually. Students may still end up with more labels/categories assigned by his society. I spend some time helping them infer how the bear may view himself by asking them to think of significant parts of the story. In essence, students are inferring character traits and finding supporting evidence. The are also explaining their thinking aloud, practicing important Speaking and Listening skills of the Common Core.
I ask students to create an identity chart for themselves. I ask them to somehow differentiate the labels/categories they assign to themselves and those society assigns them. I point out that their society is a lot larger than that of the bear and that it can include their friends, family, teachers, government, neighbors, etc. I also point out that if we wanted to, we could come up with an extremely long list of these labels/categories, but that it is unnecessary. When speaking of our identity, people only refer to those labels/categories that play an important role in their life. I give them about 10 minutes to complete this. During this time, it is important that I walk around and take a look at their work. I still expect students to write details that say something vague about themselves and that I know would not make it into a thoughtful description of their identity. For instance, I saw a student had written "I like junk food" on his paper. This detail does not qualify as a label/category and it is unlikely part of what makes him the human being that he is.
I ask students to turn to a partner and share identity charts with each other. This is another way in which students practice Common Core speaking and listening skills. I tell them to note any similarities in their charts.
I ask students to share with the whole class. Specifically, I ask them to share any categories they had in common with their partner. I guide the class to note trends. Some of the common categories and labels my students came up with included artist, gamer, musician, athlete, as well as some personality traits such as lazy, confident, and shy. A few students included race and culture on their chart. These responses sound more like the categories that are important to their identity. Part of the reason why I have them share aloud is so they can see how what is at the center of their peer's identity, and this in turn may prompt them to be more thoughtful. The artists and musicians are very good examples of clear identity categories because everyone is used to seeing these kids walking around with musical instruments and drawing in class. These responses do a good job of illustrating what I want them to identify in themselves.
I explain to students that there are common labels and categories many people use when describing their identity and that they have already used some of these on their own charts. I let them know that in the next lesson, they will get to see these common labels and categories and engage with them.