Posts Tagged ‘identity’

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!