A Question of Identity

In education, school, Uncategorized on February 23, 2012 at 6:27 pm

My blog readers know I rarely dwell on generalizations and that I prefer to share what I do in my classroom. If you are here now, I invite you to see how my students and I inquired into the concepts of “similarities” and “differences” in relation to ourselves and the people around us.

Obviously this is just one way to “teach” and by no means it is to be taken as a model of perfect teaching. I just share what I do and if you find some good ideas go ahead and use them. If you don’t, well then you wasted some precious time and I can’t help you with that. J

*NOTE: My students are second-language learners (like me) and are now in 3rd grade.

The central idea that guided our inquiry was, “I am a unique individual with similarities and differences in relation to things and people around me. “

The process might seem linear but it is only apparent. For the sake of easy reading I had to put the learning experiences in a timeline so you can have the big picture of the learning process as it unfolded.

Collage Profile

– provide students with a sketch of their own profiles

– students draw and write inside (words and pictures they feel relate to themselves)

– share and discuss (Gallery Walk strategy)

This activity gave me and my students an authentic glimpse into what they see themselves like. As usual, I made my own profile,too, because students need modelling and enjoy learning about their teacher. I also share my reflection, reading, writing  and doodling journals with them.


ME Box

– students share items they brought from home (favorite toys, books, other items)

– video record students and post the videos on the class blog for later reflection

– reflection: What do these object tell about me? 

– communicating likes/dislikes, abilities, interests helps in the inquiry process, but also in building orla language skills

This “box” is highly relevant because it contains what children cherish most and items that are related to their interests and abilities.



– brainstorm with students things that people can “see” about us

– students complete the outer circle with personal details

– sharing time, discussions

The purpose of this activity was for students to notice what is “visible” about themselves and and it was also a springboard for the next activity where we went deeper into the concept of “identity”. 


The ME You Don’t See

– students brainstorm things that cannot be “seen” by others but are very important to us as persons

– they complete a blank Iceberg Model and the words are then written by teacher above and under the “water”

– students complete the second part (Share some things we don’t know about you.)



– discuss the concept of timeline, show models

– students create a personal timeline with the most 5-7 most important events in their life

– I brought a timeline, too 

Some events shape our life, our personality and even goals. It was important for students to identify “big” events in their lives and make connections with who they are now as persons. 


If I Were…I Would Be....

I often encourage metaphoric thinking because it does stretch the mind and it provides a new perspective. The kids enjoyed this activity a lot and became aware of their uniqueness (even if, for instance, some chose the same color they did so for different reasons).


Knowing YOU

A. Human Treasure Hunt

– an in-class survey is designed by students (Find Someone Who….)

– students came up with a list of questions that we immediately put in a document and started “hunting” for answers around the classroom (e.g. Find someone who…plays an instrument.) We made a graph in the end and visualized both similarities and differences within our class.


B. Interviewing Our Classmates

– students paired up and prepared questions to ask their partner

– they interviewed their classmate and we “broadcast” that (we used a microphone, headset etc) under the theme “Today’s Special Guest”.

These interviews varied as I empowered students to make up their own questions and find out exactly they wanted from their peers. It was an engaging experience and one that deepened student reflection as they could see themselves in the videos posted on the class blog.


Tug of War: Similarities vs Differences

– prepare two statements and attach them to the end of the “rope”:

SIMILARITIES are more important because they make us a community.

DIFFERENCES are more important because they make us unique.

– students bring arguments that “pull” towards the end they select (use post-its)


As you can imagine, at the end of the activity we concluded that both similarities and differences help us as individuals.


A. Conceptual understanding

– make three groups of students

– provide 3 sets of photos, each set illustrating the same object but from a different perspective

– question prompt: “What do these pictures have in common? What do you think the big idea is?”

– the groups share their ideas; provide the key-word at the end (Perspective) in case students do not know it

You’d be surprised how smart kids are. After initial struggles ALL three groups concluded that “perspective” was the major concept.


B. Walk in My Shoes

– students bring  a pair of shoes that belongs to another family member

– they try to run, skip and move but it is, obviously, hard because the shoes are either too big (the parents’) or too small (their siblings’).

After the initial fun and smiles, we sat down and reflected. Their “big idea” was  that we sometimes judge people based on appearances without knowing what it feels like to be “in their shoes”.


C. Poems 

Reinforce this idea through poems, books, artwork. I used two poems and played music in the “background” for a greater effect. Allow students time to “sink in” and then reflect.


While we were engaged in these  whole-classroom activities, the kids had their own questions (see our Wonder Wall). They pursue them individually and complete their Inquiry Journals.


However, at some point, I noticed that many kids had inquired into gender differences (“Why are boys and girls different?”) so I changed my planning to address that.

GENDER Stereotypes


– bring magazine covers, ads and website pages (printed) that are designed for each gender

– use I See / I Think / I Wonder strategy so kids can make connections, clarify their questions and thinking

– bring the class together. Question prompt, “What words would you use for describing each set of pictures?”

– use Wordle to visualize the most frequent words

Kids noticed how different were the words used in relation to each gender, and also how different the pattern was – for describing girls there were a lot of adjectives about appearance, while for describing boys the focus was on personality/skills. Of course, this finding caused a very lively discussion! J



– make a chart and divide it into Shapes/Colors/Animals/Symbols

– ask students to select and glue them under the headings Boys/Girls

– gather students as a class. What were the most frequent items associated with each gender? Record together on a big paper.

– discuss findings

You can only imagine the debate that followed! I also contributed my own view (at the end, so I wouldn’t influence their choices). I told the kids how I dislike shopping (an activity usually ascribed to women), that I love dogs and used to play a lot of “boy” games when I was young, and I never wore pink in my life!


These activities raised many questions and the kids’ feedback was that “labeling” is unfair, that we do, indeed, are different gender-wise but that is also influenced by the media and the grownups around them.

Well, hoping that I didn’t bore you too much, I conclude here. I am aware that this unit of inquiry could be designed in many ways and that I certainly can improve. I had to take into account age-group characterstics and the fact that my students are scond-language learners (this involves simplifying language in some cases). Retrospectively, however, I feel I created activities that are engaging and relevant for students, developing skills and a sense of awareness that goes beyond “cute” busy activities. The end of the unit feedback from students also emphasized that aspect.

If you have time, leave a comment and do not refrain from criticism – I always prefer it because it makes me reflect and grow. Thank you!

  1. Cristina, This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing all of this!! It is an awesome lesson plan, with some really great resources. Looks like you are doing everything you can to help make successful students. Thanks!!

  2. Thank you, Kylie! Perhaps what can be improved is the use of more tech tools but we were busy in the meantime using tech for other projects (Skyping with teachers, completing VoiceThreads for other classes, writing in the class blog or other blogs, writing on our Flat Stanley wiki etc). An outsider might not know this but that is fine. 🙂

  3. No doubt a fine piece. But how do we take care that children don’t develop the fragmentary approach to life that prevents them from seeing the connectedness and interdependence that exist within the whole. Fragmented thinking germinates from the ideas of ‘Me’, ‘Mine’ and ‘Not Mine’. To some extent it is OK. Otherwise children would not learn to navigate the real world when they come to grips with it as adults. But at the same time I think by inculcating too much sense of these three things we forget to ‘share’ ‘live for others’ and ‘do something for the collective good’. How do we balance between the two through education? Do you see what I see?

  4. Hi Dibyendu,Thank you for the comment. As for your question, I think I tried to create that balance by looking not only into what makes us unique but also into similarities between us. The very act of sharing personal stories and discussing our relationships with others promoted a better understanding of "the other". We tried to break the "labels" and see beyond what we used to take for granted. I didn’t elaborate in the post what the discussions were, but for instance, after the Walk in My Shoes activity we discussed what it meant to be blind or have another disability etc. We also brainstormed acts of kindness we can do (I drew a big jar and the kids came up with ideas and wrote them "inside" the jar).In the following unit, The Challenges of Change (which I will post another time), we looked into how we can change the community we live in. As said at the beginning of the post, the activities might seem "fragmented" but they all drove the learning into a coherent whole. I am wondering what you would have done.

  5. Thank you. Now I get it. Wonderful. I briefly taught very small children between the ages 5 to 6 years (1974 just when I was just out of school). There I usually began with objects and allowed them to identify objects, describe it and name it in English (2nd lang), find its use and then always put the question ‘how is this related to other things’ and ‘what may we do so that it becomes helpful to others and self’. These children have now grown into responsible citizens and when I meet them I still see the same spark in their thinking and action, which gives me unbounded joy of a life well spent. In my later years when I taught engineering graduates (I still teach) I kept the same line of questioning to uncover the underlying rules and the paradoxes that create the emergence they see.

  6. Thank you. Because you are not a regular reader of my blog you couldn’t have known that the PYP approach is rather complex (see here )

  7. Oh, Cristina! This is such deep and thoughtful work! Marvellous, Marvellous YOU! Your students must so enjoy spending time with such a creative and dedicated educating mind! This whole unit is inspirational. It is very generous of you to share it in this way. Keep doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep learning as I’m learning!Best wishes,Zoe

  8. Thank you, Zoe!I am especially honored by the compliment as I know your own work and how much you pushed my thinking, too. I am grateful for having met you – your own explorations into inquiry and creativity, and sharing your own reflections on your two blogs have inspired me a lot!

  9. Hi Cristina, what a beautiful and inspiring post! I felt as being part of your class, community during my reading. The learning engagements seem very woven together building a continuum and a growth in the student’s conceptual understanding. I particularly liked a lot when you ‘changed’ paths and followed your students wondering about gender! Isn’t this fun? I would like to ask you how you deal with students questions and wondering? When do they get to answer them or when do you allow time for them to pursue their wondering? On the same note, as they are second language learners how do you help them find resources that match their age/language skills and will be interesting and at the same time challenging to answer their questions? Best wishes,VanessaSao Paulo – Brazil

  10. Hi Vanessa, Thank you for stopping by and making time to comment. Students have their own Inquiry Journals and I allow time for pursuing their own questions. Classroom activities only build the broader, conceptual and enduring understandings that I want all the students, regardless of their own focused inquiry, to have. As for classroom resources, we have a class wiki where studens find resources and tech tools to use. I select them taking into consideration studen safety, the possibility to use them collaboratively and the flexible nature of the app (i.e. it can be used in many activites). We also have a class blog where not only I, but other students as well, post links to adequate resources for their inquiry process. *If you follow the tag #inquiry activities and #reflection you can see more samples from the classroom work. Thank you again for engaging in conversation!

  11. Totally brilliant! I wish I still worked with children, then I could use your stuff as is. Your students are lucky to have you as their teacher. Thank you for sharing (someone already said that. Tough) keep up the good work.

  12. Are you a teacher who cares, or a carer who teaches? 😉

  13. Thank you, Catherine. I will!

  14. David, now that’s a good question. 🙂 Thank you for stopping by.

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