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Students in a classroom
Back-to-School Toolkit
Lesson 1

Getting to Know Each Other


Essential Question

How can we work together to create an open, supportive, and reflective learning community?


Guiding Questions

  1. How do our names relate to our identities?
  2. What is important to know about each other in order to learn together this year?

Learning Objectives

Students will start to examine the sometimes conflicting factors that make up identity and discuss ways that they can participate in creating a welcoming classroom community for all.


Many teachers are in the habit of starting the school year with classroom rules, the syllabus, and name games. All too often, this teacher-centered approach results in disengaged students who sit through similar lessons in their other classes. The Back-to-School Toolkit offers an alternative approach by providing opportunities for individual reflection and meaningful collaboration before inviting students to help establish the norms and expectations that will guide their interactions. As a result, you will get to know them at a deeper level, and students will begin to recognize this space as something different and exciting—a space where they are known and they matter. This lesson uses names to help students consider the relationship between their identities and their communities. When we meet someone new, our name is usually the first piece of information about ourselves that we share. It is often one of the first markers of our identity that others learn. To begin, students reflect on their relationship with their names before considering the many ways in which a community, especially a classroom community, can impact an individual’s sense of identity and belonging. Finally, they will discuss what specific actions everyone can take to foster an inclusive and welcoming classroom space.

Notes to Teacher

  1. Journaling in a Facing History Classroom

    • Journals are an important means of participation for each student in a Facing History classroom. Before teaching this lesson, review the teaching strategy Journals in a Facing History Classroom for suggestions about how to incorporate them into your course. Decide if you will provide journals for your students or if they need to bring their own to class. Some teachers have students use composition books or exam blue books for journals. Students can also designate a section of their notebooks to their journals or staple 10 to 20 pieces of lined paper together. Regardless, it is important that their journal entries are kept together in one place and that students bring them to every class.

    • Student journals are not considered public. However, informally reviewing students’ journal entries can help you know the questions that are on students’ minds and provide topics for individual conversations between you and each student. If you choose to periodically review students’ journals, it is important to inform them (and remind them throughout the year) that you plan to do so and to give them a choice about which entries they would like to share and which ones they would like to keep private by stapling a page over the entry or taping pages of their journal together. You can also ask students to mark one to three entries that they would like to share with you with a star or sticky note. We recommend that you don’t grade journals, because they are places where students are developing their thinking and writing, not demonstrations of skill or content mastery.

  2. Using Identity Charts as a Teaching Strategy

    Identity charts are a graphic organizing tool that can help students consider the many factors that shape the identities of both individuals and communities. Start by modeling the Identity Charts teaching strategy on the board in the second activity of this lesson before asking students to complete the activity with a partner. You can find a sample identity chart on the Facing History website. Students will be creating their own identity charts in the next lesson after practicing the strategy in this lesson.

  3. Introducing New Vocabulary

    It is important that you review this lesson’s reading before teaching the lesson. You may need to create a key or pre-teach some of the vocabulary terms that Jennifer Wang uses in her reflection. If your students are more advanced readers or you have time for a longer reading, see the full text of Jennifer Wang’s essay.

Duration: 50-minute class period


Teaching Strategies


  1. Reflect on Names and Identity

    1. After taking attendance and introducing yourself to the class, jump into the first activity by introducing journaling to the students, perhaps by sharing your own experience with keeping a journal. Let students know why you would like them to write in journals, who will be reading them, and how journals differ from more formal kinds of writing, like essays. Let students know that while they will be sharing ideas from their first journal response with a partner, they will not have to read aloud from their writing. They can choose what to share and what to keep private.

    2. Project the following sentence starters and have students choose one or more to explore in a journal reflection:

      • I was given my name because . . .

      • I like / I dislike my name because . . .

      • My name is / isn’t a good fit for my personality because . . .

      • People assume ______ about me because of my name . . .

    3. Before having students apply the Think, Pair, Share strategy with a partner, acknowledge that it can be hard to share our ideas with others, and then model risk-taking by sharing something from your journal reflection about names with the class.

    4. Then have students introduce themselves to their partners and share one idea that they explored in their journals. Next, have everyone stand up, and instruct pairs to combine into groups of four. Each student should introduce their partner by name and explain what they learned in their pair-share. Time allowing, you can have pairs repeat this process a few times, creating new groups of four and meeting more students in the class.

  2. Read about a Student’s Experience on the First Day of Class

    1. Have students return to their seats, and pass out the reading “Orientation Day”. Explain to students that they will be reading part of an essay written by a 17-year-old Chinese American girl named Jennifer Wang, who came to the United States from Beijing, China, when she was seven years old. In her essay, Wang reflects on how she felt when her teacher asked her to introduce herself to a group of strangers at a new school.

    2. Read the essay out loud to the class while students underline phrases that Wang uses to describe her identity. To help students understand Wang’s imagery in the final sentence of the essay, you can have pairs work together to visually represent the idea of being stretched between opposing parts of one’s identity. Then have one or two students re-create their pictures on the board.

    3. Use the Identity Charts teaching strategy to help students visually depict Wang’s identity using the words and phrases that they underlined while you were reading. Model the strategy by starting to create Wang’s identity chart on the board, using examples from the first part of the reading.

    4. Finally, have students work in pairs to finish the identity charts in their notebooks. When they have finished, have them share ideas with the class while you add them to the identity chart on the board.

  3. Discuss the Reading in Small Groups

    1. Divide the class into small groups of three to discuss the following questions. Circulate to observe how students are interacting with each other and the text.

      • What could Wang’s teacher have done to make her feel more welcome in the class?

      • What could other students have done to make Wang feel like she belonged?

      • What is important to know about each other in order to learn together this year?

    2. Ask each group to report on key points from their discussion. To model active listening, maintain eye contact with the speaker and then jot down their ideas on the board. Let students know that they should do the same: look at the student who is speaking and then write their ideas in their notebooks. Encourage different students from each group to contribute to the discussion.

  4. Learn What Your Students Need

    1. Close the lesson by asking each student to complete the What Do You Need? Exit Card handout.

    2. Collect the exit cards and use the teacher reflection questions below to guide your thinking and planning process as you prepare for the next lesson in this unit.


  • Use your observations from class and the exit card responses to start to understand your students’ individual needs in the class. You can create an index card or notes on a computer for each student where you compile notes from the exit cards and observations from class. Use this information to guide your planning and instruction over the course of the year. Make note of any individual students who you want to follow up with this week.

  • Listen carefully to students’ contributions to their paired and group discussions in order to check for their understanding of the text and to hear the connections they are making between Wang’s experiences and their own classroom environment.

Teacher Reflection Questions

After teaching this lesson or at the end of the day, take some time to reflect on the following questions. You can think about your answers as you plan for the next class period and/or record your ideas in writing on your lesson plan or in a teacher journal so you can refer to them later in the year and when planning next fall.

  1. What do you feel went well today?

  2. If you could teach this lesson again, what would you change?

  3. What did you observe about students’ reading skills today (individuals and the class as a whole)?

  4. What did you observe about students’ writing skills today (individuals and the class as a whole)?

  5. What do the exit cards reveal about what your students need from you and from each other? How will you communicate to students that you understand their needs? How will you communicate to students what others need from them in this class?

Take the Teacher Reflection Questions with you

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