A stack of papers with Michelle Obama's "Becoming" on top.

Becoming Ourselves

Students read a personal narrative and reflect on the relationship between storytelling and identity development.


At a Glance



English — US


  • Advisory
  • Civics & Citizenship
  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion


About This Activity

Students consider the  importance of owning and telling their stories, as well as being open to hearing—really listening to—the stories of others. After reflecting on the power of stories and storytelling, they engage in a jigsaw activity where they read and discuss personal narrative essays written by young people who share their personal stories of becoming and belonging in their families, peer groups, and schools.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

In the first step of this activity, students respond to a quotation by Michelle Obama. Consider using the Notable Quotable opening routine with this activity so you can welcome students with an inspirational quotation that also builds schema for what is to come.

For students who would benefit from reading personal essays with a higher level of text complexity, consider the following Facing History resources: Finding One’s Voice by Julius Lester and One Identity, Multiple Belongings by Amin Maalouf.

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Steps for Implementation

  • To prepare to read personal narratives about identity, invite students to consider the relationship between who we are and the stories we tell. Project the following quotation.
    “There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” —Michelle Obama, Becoming (p. 421)
  • Read Michelle Obama’s quotation out loud and share the following sentence starters. Give students time to choose one or more sentence starters (or create their own) to write a reflection in their journals, and then ask them to discuss their responses with a partner. Invite volunteers to share their ideas with the class. If time allows, point out connections or patterns that you notice.

    Notable Quotable Sentence Starters
    • The quotation makes me think about . . .
    • Michelle Obama wants us to consider . . .
    • I wonder what she means by . . .
    • I don’t understand . . .
    • I can relate to this quotation because . . .
  • Let students know that they will be working in small groups to read a personal narrative written by a young person. As they read, they should keep in mind Michelle Obama’s ideas about the importance of owning and telling our stories, as well as being open to hearing—really listening to—the stories of others.
  • Assign one reading to each group and distribute the handout Becoming Ourselves Group Work. Read the instructions on the handout and then break students into groups for 15 minutes.
  • Provide an opportunity for students to share key takeaways from their story. Ask each group to share one lesson or valuable idea from their story that they want to remember. 
  • Then ask if anyone notices patterns or interesting ideas that resonate with them. You can get them started by sharing an interesting idea that resonates with you and explaining why.

Extension Activities

  • One way students can reflect on their own unique stories is to create a personal Life Road Map. You can find guidelines on the Life Road Maps teaching strategy page (see the first variation). To help students understand what is expected of them, and to continue the process of relationship building, share your own personal Life Road Map while explaining the task. 
  • Students can share their completed maps with the class or if you are checking in one-on-one with students in the opening weeks of school, their personal Life Road Maps could help frame the discussion. Students can tell the story of one or more points in their maps, and you, in turn, can do the same.

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif