Exploring Where I'm From | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Exploring Where I'm From

Students prepare for reading the play by considering the relationship between the individual and society, and by reflecting on identity. After discussing a poem about identity, they write their own.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


Two 50-min class periods
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About this Lesson

In An Inspector Calls, playwright J. B. Priestley explores our interdependence and interconnectedness as human beings, highlighting how our behaviour can have consequences that reach far beyond our own lives. To prepare students to read the play, it, therefore, makes sense that they first reflect on the relationship between the individual and society, and how that relationship is both influenced by and influences our identity: Societal institutions, our experiences within them, and other people’s perceptions of who we are directly impact our identity, while at the same time our experiences and our identity directly impact our behaviour and how we relate to those in the world around us. Gaining an understanding of the complex relationship between the individual and society will help prepare students for in-depth analysis of the characters and setting of the play, and for thoughtful exploration of the play’s themes of social responsibility, inequality, growth, justice, and power. 

This lesson uses a poem to introduce the concept of identity. Students will read a poem by Melanie Poonai, winner of Foyle Young Poets of the Year 2007, entitled ‘Where I’m From’ and consider the many different factors that make up who she is, both those factors that are influenced by external forces and those that she chooses herself. Students will then have the opportunity to develop their own understanding of identity and its multifaceted nature further through the creation of personal identity charts and poems.

  • Analysis (Lit-AO2)
  • Clear and Coherent Writing (Lang-AO5)
  • Creative Writing (Lang-AO5)
  • Knowledge of Subject Terminology (Lit-AO2, Lang-AO2)
  • Reading Comprehension (Lit-AO1)

Students develop their understanding of and ability to analyse literary devices by thinking about how and why they are used in Poonai’s poem, and through writing their own poems. The act of writing a poem strengthens students’ ability to analyse poetry: in becoming a poet and crafting language, they are better placed to understand another’s linguistic choices as they have had to consider their own. Giving students an opportunity to personally connect with the content also boosts engagement: students share information that only they know and thus become the experts. The use of discussion and writing throughout gives students the opportunity to verbalise their thoughts and practise turning them into coherent sentences, which will help them across their English GCSEs.

Learn more about this unit's Alignment with GCSE Specification.

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

  • What makes us who we are? 
  • Which parts of our identities do we choose for ourselves? Which parts of our identities are determined by other people or by society?
  • To what degree are we all a product of our environment?
  • Students will read and analyse a poem in order to identify social and cultural factors that help shape our identities.
  • Students will identify social and cultural factors that help shape their identities by creating their own personal identity charts and writing poems that reflect their identities.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 5 activities
  • 6 teaching strategies
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 1 reading
  • 3 handouts
  • 2 extension activities
  • 1 homework suggestion

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Identity charts are a graphic tool that can help students consider the many factors that shape the identities of both individuals and communities. In this lesson, students will use identity charts to analyse the ways they define themselves and the labels that others use to describe them. Sharing their own identity charts with peers can help students build relationships and break down stereotypes. In this way, identity charts can be used as an effective classroom community-building tool. When using them as a teaching strategy, however, it is important to communicate to students that they do not need to show their charts to their peers. Rather, they can choose which factors of their identity they want to share and which they want to keep private. See this sample identity chart and consider making your own to model the activity for your students. 

Giving students the opportunity to discuss and share their ideas is useful as it helps them view the text from a range of perspectives, generate ideas and clarify their thinking. This sharing can be done in various formats ranging from whole-class discussion to small-group discussion. The benefits of using smaller, paired conversation strategies, rather than whole-group discussions, is that they encourage students to engage directly with and learn from one another, and allow for each student to share and be heard. This more intimate setting means that students may feel more comfortable to take risks and share ideas that they may not be comfortable to share in a larger group. 

Each lesson in this scheme of work includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Part I Activities

  • Explain to students that they will be thinking about what factors make up their identities and reading a poem about identity.
  • Project the following questions and have students choose one or more to explore in a journal reflection:
    • How much of who you are is determined at your birth? 
    • How much of your identity do you decide? 
    • What aspects of your identity, if any, are determined by others?
  • Give students an opportunity to share any ideas that they feel comfortable sharing in small groups or using the Think, Pair, Share strategy.
  • Explain to students that a range of different factors influence our identities. Then as a class, brainstorm these various factors, writing the suggestions on the board. Ask students to record this list in their books to refer to when they are making their own identity charts. If necessary, choose from the following factors to generate ideas:
    • Religious/spiritual affiliation
    • Culture, race, or ethnicity
    • Appearance/style
    • Language or nationality
    • Hobbies/interests
    • Gender
    • Sexual orientation
    • Beliefs and values
    • Group/organisation/community membership
    • Personality traits
    • Place
    • Socio-economic class
    • Work
  • Pass out and read aloud ‘Where I’m From’. Try reading it a few different ways. Perhaps you read it out loud the first time so that students get a sense of the rhythm of the poem. Then, using popcorn or wraparound, which are explained in the Read Aloud teaching strategy, have students read the poem out loud sentence by sentence and/or line by line.
  • After reading the poem, ask the students to choose 1–3 lines that resonate with them for one of the following reasons and to explore this in writing in their journals:
    • Because of something about who I am (What in particular?)
    • Because it reflects human nature or how people are in the world (What human characteristics or ways of being in the world?)
    • Because of how the poet expressed the idea (What did the poet do that stood out to you? How did it make you feel?) 1
  • Give students an opportunity to share any ideas that they feel comfortable sharing in groups or using the Think, Pair, Share strategy.
  • Next, divide the students into small groups and project the following questions for them to discuss. If necessary, before the discussion refresh your students’ knowledge of literary devices by having them complete the Literary Devices Definition Match handout.
    • List five things that we learn about Melanie Poonai and her family in the poem. 
    • What do you think Poonai means when she uses the phrase ‘a life filled with colour’? What might this phrase suggest about who she is and her experiences?
    • Where in the poem does Poonai use anaphora? What is the effect of this repetition?  
    • What features of her identity has Poonai chosen for herself? Which ones have been determined by others or external factors?
    • Why do you think Poonai wrote the poem? What message does she want to send?
  • As a class, complete an identity chart for Melanie Poonai on the board using ideas from the poem. 
  • If time allows, ask students to select the line or device that they think is the most powerful in the poem (this could be the most emotionally powerful or the one that sends the clearest message). Give students the chance to share their lines in a wraparound.
  • 1David Perkins, Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014), 126.

Part II Activities

  • Explain to students that they will be continuing their reflection on identity and will have the opportunity to write their own poem in the same style as Melanie Poonai.
  • To help them to generate ideas for their poems, project the following 3-2-1 prompt for students to complete independently in their journals:
    • 3 adjectives to describe your family
    • 2 similes to describe your home and/or cultural heritage
    • 1 metaphor to describe how you do or don’t view yourself
  • Explain to students that they will now be completing their own identity charts in their books (or using the Starburst Identity Chart handout). Encourage them to think about both the way they view themselves (signalling this with arrows pointing away from their name) and how others might view them (signalling this with arrows pointing towards their name).
  • To help them complete their chart, they can use their previous journal entry, the identity factors they brainstormed on the board in Part I of the lesson, and the ideas from Melanie Poonai’s poem ‘Where I’m From’ . You can also project the sample identity chart or create your own on the board. Completing your own version is an effective way to model risk-taking and can help students feel more comfortable about sharing their identity charts with their classmates.  
  • After students have spent at least three minutes completing their identity charts, encourage them to share the elements of their identity charts that they feel comfortable sharing with a partner. They do not need to show their partners their charts; they can keep it hidden and talk about it. One student should share their chart for two minutes, whilst the other student actively listens, and then they should switch around.
  • Tell students that for the next activity, they will be working individually to create their own identity poems in the ‘Where I’m From’ style. 
  • Pass out the handout Where I’m From Brainstorm, and ask students to complete it independently, giving them seven minutes to do so. Explain that the goal of this brainstorming exercise is to generate ideas for writing their poems.
  • Then have students share their brainstorms with another student. Encourage students to pose questions that will help their partners generate new ideas to add to their brainstorm handout.
  • Explain to students that they will now have time to begin drafting their identity poems using the same structure as Poonai (give them ten to fifteen minutes). Encourage them to use a range of literary devices, using both Poonai’s poem and the Literary Devices Definition Match handout to help them. Alternatively, you can give students a list of specific devices to use, writing them on the board as success criteria. 
  • If students do not have time to complete their poems in class, you may ask them to complete them at home.

Next, give students the chance to Think, Pair, Share in response to the following questions before leading a short class discussion:

  • What has reading and writing poems taught you about your own identity?
  • Which parts of your identity do you choose for yourself?
  • Which parts are chosen by society? 
  • To what degree are we all a product of our environment?

Extension Activities

Ask students to think about Poonai’s poetic craft by selecting three striking images from the poem and drawing them in their exercise books, writing the line below each image and mindmapping the meanings, connotations and messages. You may wish to model how to do this by starting your own mindmap on the board first and doing a ‘think aloud’ to explain the rationale behind your choices.

  • Explain to students that you are interested in understanding more about their identities and how they have been misunderstood in the past, so you can help them reach their academic and personal goals for the class and in school. You can either project the sentences below on the board and have students journal their response or give students a piece of paper on which to write their response and then hand it in at the end of the exercise.
  • Before students complete the task, share your own response to the two sentence starters:
    • One misunderstanding people might have about me/my family is. . .
    • But in reality, the truth about me/us is. . .

Homework Suggestion

If students have not finished writing their poems, you may wish to ask them to finish it for homework.

Materials and Downloads

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