Students write at their desks.
Lesson

Cultivating Identity Literacy

Students learn about a project, created by two young adults, that engaged people across the country in conversations about race, identity, and culture. Then they start to envision what sharing their own stories can look, sound, and feel like. 

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At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — US

Subject

  • English & Language Arts

Grade

8–10

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • Culture & Identity

Overview

About This Lesson

Over the course of the “Identity and Storytelling” text set, students have explored the complexity of identity and considered how sharing aspects of ourselves with others can be both validating and challenging. 

In this final lesson, students watch a TED Talk in which Priya Vulchi and Winona Gao, authors and co-founders of the nonprofit CHOOSE, discuss the importance of prioritizing what they call “soul stories” over “ego stories,” and how engaging in meaningful conversations about race and culture can help us challenge assumptions and deepen our understanding of one another. 

After watching the video, students apply these lessons to their own lives in order to generate concrete steps they might take to share their stories, make space for the stories of others, and start to develop their own “identity literacy."

  • What makes me, me? 
  • What story do I want to tell about who I am and what matters to me?
  • How can we talk with each other across our differences?
  • What would need to happen at your school for students to feel like they could share personal stories about who they are and what they believe with their friends, peers, and adults?
  • Recognize the power that comes with telling their own story and engaging with the stories of others. 
  • Evaluate a text for the ways in which it upholds and/or challenges stereotypes of individuals and groups.
  • Recognize that their decisions matter, impact others, and shape their communities and the world.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 1 handout, available in English and in Spanish
  • 1 video

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

These activities are designed for one class period.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

Prepare to watch this lesson’s video by having students reflect in their journals on assumptions that someone, even a close friend, might make about them. Let them know that they will not be required to share what they write. The following questions can prompt their thinking: 

  • Based on your identity, what assumptions do you think individuals, even close friends, might make about you? 
  • What questions might they ask in order to better understand you—your identity, values, experiences, and perspective?

If you feel comfortable, share ideas from your journal response with the class and then see if any volunteers want to share as well. 

Show the video Lessons of Cultural Intimacy (07:23). To help students process the video, pause twice and use the following questions for quick pair-share discussions:

  • (02:45) What is the difference between “ego stories” and “soul stories”? Think about your own experience as a student. What are some examples of ego stories that you tell or hear others tell about themselves? 

  • (05:20) By sharing their soul stories with one another, what experiences did Priya and Winona learn that they shared? What assumptions did they realize they were making about each other? How did sharing soul stories, and not just ego stories, help to strengthen their friendship? 

If time allows, show the video a second time straight through. Then have students choose one of the following questions from Project Zero’s “Take Note” thinking routine to reflect on in their journals and discuss with their small groups as part of the next activity: 

  • What is the most important point? 

  • What are you finding challenging, puzzling, or difficult to understand? What question would you most like to discuss? 

  • What is something you found interesting?

Divide students into small groups and give them time to explore their ideas from their “Take Note” reflections. Then let them know that they will be discussing Winona Gao and Priya Vulchi’s idea that we can develop racial and cultural intimacy by “investing ourselves into digging deeper into our soul stories and how they have shaped our lives.”


Divide the class into small groups and distribute the handout The Challenge of Sharing Soul Stories Discussion. Encourage students to support their ideas with evidence from the text set’s personal narratives, informational texts, journals, handouts, and their own experiences.

On an exit card that you create, have each student write a concrete step they can take in the upcoming weeks to help foster a space in the classroom that invites authentic storytelling. They can also explain the impact it would have on their learning, the classroom environment, and others in the class community if they follow through with this step, as well as how you can support them.

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Facing History and 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.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY