Identity Charts Teaching Strategy | Facing History & Ourselves

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An example of an identity chart for a high school student living in the Boston suburbs.
Teaching Strategy

Identity Charts

Use identity charts to help students consider the many factors that shape their own identity and that of groups, nations, and historical and literary figures.

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At a Glance

teaching-strategy copy
Teaching Strategy

Language

English — US

Subject

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

Grade

6–12

Overview

What Is an Identity Chart?

Identity charts help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. An identity chart is a diagram that individuals fill in with words and phrases they use to describe themselves as well as the labels that society gives them. In addition to personal identity charts, students can create identity charts for historical figures, fictional characters, and groups of people as part of their learning.

Use identity charts to deepen students’ understanding of themselves, groups, nations, and historical and literary figures. Sharing their own identity charts with peers can help students build relationships and break down stereotypes. In this way, identity mapping can be used as an effective classroom community-building tool.

Credit:
Facing History and Ourselves

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Procedure

How to Use Identity Charts

Before creating identity charts, you might have the class brainstorm categories we each consider when thinking about the question, “Who am I?”

Brainstorm Aspects of Identity

Examples of identities could include categories such as our role in a family (e.g., daughter, sister, mother), our hobbies and interests (e.g., guitar player, football fan), our background (e.g., religion, race, nationality, hometown, place of birth), and our physical characteristics.

If it doesn't come up in discussion as you generate your group list of categories, prompt students with questions that help them think about the following ideas:

  • Some aspects of our identities are consistent over our lives; others change as we gain skills and have different roles in life.
  • Some aspects of our identities feel very central to who we are no matter where we are; others might feel more like background or depend on the situation.
  • Some identities are labels that others put on us, While others see us as having that identity, we don't.

It is often helpful to show students a completed identity chart before they create one of their own.

Personal Identity Chart Activity 

Alternatively, you could begin this activity by having students create identity charts for themselves.

If you plan to have them share their identity charts with a partner or in groups, it is important that they know in advance. Any students who don't feel comfortable sharing their identity charts can elaborate on one or two facets of their identity but keep their charts private.

After discussing their charts, students can create a list of the categories they have used to describe themselves and then apply this same list of categories as a guide when creating identity charts for other people or groups.

First, ask students to write the name of the character, figure, group, or nation in the center of a piece of paper. Then students can look through text(s) for evidence that helps them answer the question, “Who is this person/group?” Encourage students to include quotations from the text(s) on their identity charts, as well as their own interpretations of the character or figure based on their reading.

Students can complete identity charts individually or in small groups. Alternatively, students could contribute ideas to a class version of an identity chart that you keep on the classroom wall.

Reviewing and revising identity charts throughout a unit is one way to help students keep track of their learning.

Variations on Identity Charts

Use a Starburst Identity Chart to help students visualize the difference between factors that they feel make up their identities (arrows pointing out from the center) versus labels that others place on them (arrows pointing into the center). Because we may agree with some ways that the outside world views us and disagree with others, there may be some overlapping ideas between the two sets of arrows. Students can also use examples from texts to create Starburst Identity Charts for characters and historical figures to help express the complexity of their identities.

Explore a lesson plan that incorporates this teaching strategy.

Ask students to reflect on their personal identity charts in their journals by selecting from the following questions:

  • What parts of your identity do you choose for yourself? What parts of your identity do you think are determined by others, by society, or by chance?
  • Whose opinions and beliefs have the greatest effect on how you think about your own identity?
  • What dilemmas arise when others view you differently than you view yourself?
  • What aspects of your identity do you keep private in order to be accepted? What aspects of your identity are you willing to change to fit in?

You might ask a few students to volunteer to share from their responses. Because students are writing about a personal topic in this reflection, it is important that they not be required to share. 

Explore a lesson plan that incorporates this teaching strategy.

After students create an identity chart, you can ask them to select the five items they think are most significant in shaping this person or group’s identity. As students compare their lists, this often deepens their understanding of the person being studied.

Individual and group identities are comprised of multiple factors, some having more significance in particular contexts. To help students appreciate this concept, you might ask them to think about the five factors that are most significant to shaping their identity in one context, such as school, and then in another context, such as home or with friends.

Ask students to create a mock online-search results page for themselves. They can use the handout Online-Search Identity Chart to brainstorm ideas. 

On the page they create, instruct students to show what they would like to see in the results if they did an online search for themselves. Tell students that the “results” could include websites, images, videos, shopping profiles or reviews, and other types of pages or links. 

Consider creating a search results page for yourself as a model for your students, including images representing one of your interests, the website of a school you attended, and other basic information you are comfortable sharing.

Explore a lesson plan that incorporates this teaching strategy.

Like the Starburst Identity Chart, this identity chart template helps students compare how they see themselves to the way others perceive their identity. 

In the first circle, have students write words or phrases that describe what they consider to be key aspects of their identities. In the second circle, have them write labels others might use to describe them. In the overlapping portion, they can insert any factors that fit into both categories.

Explore a lesson plan that incorporates this teaching strategy.

Remote Learning

If you are using identity charts in a remote learning setting, view our editable student-facing handout.

Identity charts are a graphic tool that can help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. Use identity charts to deepen students’ understanding of themselves, groups, nations, and historical and literary figures. In an online learning environment, we advise against asking students to share their identity charts with their peers. While sharing parts of their identity charts can help students build community and relationships in the physical classroom, posting their identity charts online can feel especially risky for students.

The following questions can help you plan to use identity charts in a remote learning environment:

  1. What digital tool(s) do I want to use to facilitate this activity?
  2. How am I going to deliver instructions to students about completing the activity?
  3. If teaching asynchronously, what is the defined time-period I want to set for completing the activity?
  1. Brainstorm Ideas for Identity Charts
    Before creating identity charts, you might have the class brainstorm categories we each consider when thinking about the question, “Who am I?”—categories such as our role in a family (e.g., daughter, sister, mother), our hobbies and interests (e.g., guitar player, football fan), our background (e.g., religion, race, nationality, hometown, place of birth), and our physical characteristics.
    To help prompt students’ thinking, you can ask them to think about a person—either real or fictional—whom they know a lot about. Then, they can brainstorm a list of words or phrases that they could use to complete the sentence:
    This person is ______.
    Once students have a list of characteristics, they can brainstorm categories the characteristics belong to.
    Ask your students to write their responses to the prompt in a shared document or forum, such as Padlet or GoogleDocs. If you are teaching synchronously, ask your students to type their responses into the document or forum during your lesson. If you are teaching asynchronously, ask your students to add their responses to the shared document or forum during a defined time-period.
    After brainstorming a list of categories, ask your students to reflect on the following questions, either individually or in small groups:
    • What aspects of people’s identities might stay the same for their whole lives? What aspects might change?
    • What aspects of people’s identities might always feel very central to who they are? What aspects might be less important in different situations?
    • What aspects of people’s identities might be labels that others put on them? 

Create Personal Identity Charts
Model creating an identity chart for your students. If you are teaching synchronously, share your identity chart with your students during class, and explain why you included certain aspects of your identity. If you are teaching asynchronously, send your students your identity chart with a written or recorded explanation. Alternatively, instead of sharing your own identity chart, you can share the example identity chart below.
Ask your students to create their own identity charts on a piece of paper or on the editable student-facing handout. This step can be completed asynchronously. Do not ask students to share their identity charts with their peers. The online environment can make this activity feel especially risky for students, since they lack the non-verbal cues that can help build trust with face-to-face learning.

  • Create Identity Charts for an Individual, Group, or Nation
    First, write the name of the character, figure, group, or nation in the center of a shared document (such as a GoogleDoc, Google Jamboard, Padlet, or VoiceThread). Explain to students that they should type the aspects of that person’s identity into the document, surrounding their name.
    Then, ask students to look through text(s) for evidence that helps them answer the question:
    Who is this person/group?
    Encourage students to include quotations from the text(s) on their identity charts, as well as their own interpretations of the character or figure based on their reading.
    Students can complete identity charts individually or in small groups. If you are teaching synchronously, students can meet with small groups in virtual breakout rooms. If you are teaching asynchronously, students can write their responses (during a defined time-period) in a document shared with the other members of their group.

Identity Chart Examples

ELENA MAKER: Identity charts is infinite. There's so many things, and we're always adding things. And I like the flexible nature of the identity charts, and that it feels more organic, and it's inclusive of all parts of our identity. And so as we're talking, we can throw all these different things on the board. And then we can start to draw lines and connect them. And so I think for conceptualization and idea-generating, identity charts can be really helpful.

So we actually started in September. And it started off as an identity unit, which was inspired by "Facing History" and the identity readings that they have. Just to streamline the process was to make the "My Part of the Story" stories about the civil rights leaders. So we chose excerpts from-- each one of them had some sort of biography or autobiography. And we used those in class, and looked at these key words around labels, assumptions, voice, legacy, and identity, which are the key words in that identity unit.

Our essential question for the day-- Ernie, will you read it for us, please?

STUDENT 1: How do our personal stories influence how we choose to fight for justice?

ELENA MAKER: Excellent. So that is our essential question for the next three days. So we're beginning to put all this learning together to think about how different individuals' personal stories influence their fight for justice.

So the first thing we're going to do, and I know you all know how to do this, but we're going to make it a little more complicated today. So we're doing an identity chart. But in this identity chart, we are comparing and contrasting the experiences and beliefs of both Yuri and Angela.

So in your journal section-- so we're flipping to our journal section-- we're going to put Angela on one side of the page. And on the other, put Yuri. And leave plenty of space. So you want a whole journal page for this. So I'm going to challenge you. Before we talk about it together, I want you to think and write one thing about Angela's background.

All right. So what's one thing people wrote for Angela Davis, in terms of her experiences?

STUDENT 2: I said that when she was younger, she experienced a lot of bombings in her neighborhood.

ELENA MAKER: All right. Excellent.

STUDENT 3: Do we write that?

ELENA MAKER: Yep.

STUDENT 4: [INAUDIBLE]

ELENA MAKER: Great. So let's add to that. Where was her neighborhood?

STUDENTS: (IN UNISON) Alabama.

ELENA MAKER: Yes. Birmingham, Alabama.

All right. Arisela?

ARISELA: I said she grew into political activism when she was 12 or 11 years old.

ELENA MAKER: Yes. She was a young activist.

Carmen?

CARMEN: Wasn't her mom, like, an activist too?

ELENA MAKER: Yes, perfect. So we can add off of there.

So she said she doesn't even really remember when she started to become an activist, because she just grew up in this household where activism was part of their belief system. Yeah.

OK. Should we start with Yuri? Angie, and then Alex?

ANGIE: She grew up in a concentration camp.

STUDENT 5: Or internment.

ELENA MAKER: Internment camp. Did she grow up there?

STUDENTS: No.

(INTERPOSING VOICES)

She was 15.

ELENA MAKER: She went as a teenager, right? So intern--

All right. Olivia, you had your hand up?

STUDENT 6: She didn't start active-- like, she didn't become an activist until, like, she was 40.

STUDENT 7: Yeah.

ELENA MAKER: Anyone know-- remember why that was?

STUDENT 8: That's when she moved to Harlem?

ELENA MAKER: Yes. And why do you think Harlem made that change-- helped her make that change into an activist? What was going on in Harlem?

STUDENT 9: Was it because of the rules and stuff like that?

ELENA MAKER: She saw some inequality, right? She saw some segregation.

We do identity charts in their freshman year, and at the beginning of the year. They're very used to talking about issues around identity at Blackstone our social studies curriculum in general really focuses on that.

They have some vocabulary and some structure by the time they get to me sophomore year. And I also hope that in the Socratic seminar, as they're discussing, X person had this experience as a young person, and it led them to take this action, maybe they'll say something similar. And so I'm hoping that they're starting to make those connections in their own lives. And that's something we can discuss after this once I have the content down.

This classroom video shows how social studies teacher Elena Maker uses identity charts with her students to prepare them for their upcoming Socratic Seminar.

Access the viewing guide for this video and save it for later. 

I really like identity charts. They're very useful for literature, but also to start the year, like we are thinking about ourselves and kind of the labels that other people give us and the labels we give ourselves.

In an identity chart, a student would put their name in the middle and then they would identify themselves in all different ways. They would think about their family relations, their relations to their community, their interests, their groups of people they hang out with.

This is a class of seniors. And it's just the first two weeks of school. They're going to be writing their narrative about their lives for their college essay. They've already had a little bit of experience with identity charts. We had them do an identity chart for an author about a story they read.

So now they're going to take all of those skills they learned in the last class and apply them to themselves and really start thinking about who they are and the labels that they are given and the categories they would put themselves in, and also think about the categories and the labels that other people would give them and that they would get from somebody else.

So today we will be creating identity charts for ourselves. So last class, you created an identity chart for your author of your story that you were assigned to. So today you're going to be making an identity chart for yourself. For some people, it'll be a little bit more difficult to create an identity chart for yourself. And for other people, it'll be easy. But we'll see.

So the very first thing I want you to do is-- I'm going to give you paper, I'm going to give you markers, and just like we did-- and you can see the examples around the room-- just like we did for your character, or your author in the story, you're going to put your name in the middle and make an identity chart for yourself.

This identity chart is not going to be hung up around the room. It's not something that I'll share with other people. But you are going to share with your neighbors or someone near you. So just keep that in mind when you're making your chart.

So for about 15 minutes, I'm going to let you just sit by yourself make your identity chart. And then you'll be ready to share out next. OK?

[SIDE CONVERSATIONS]

All right. About one more minute to finish up.

Did you have any inspirations for what you want to do that you wanted to write down?

I mean, I love math. That's pretty much like why I want to pursue the future.

Is there anybody who comes to mind when you think about who you want to be like?

My brother.

Yeah, write down your brother.

Yeah, write your brother.

Is your brother an engineer?

I mean, no. But he's like my motivation, I guess.

Oh, he's like the person you look up to.

Yeah.

My brother is too.

OK. So now that you've completed your beautiful, colorful identity charts, some of you really went all out and I really appreciate that. I'm going to have you work together. Make sure when you work together on these questions, you work with somebody that you feel comfortable with. You're going to be sharing some personal information. You're going to be sharing your identity charts. So make sure you just feel comfortable. And if you have to get up and move to someone else, you can do that.

So three questions you're going to look at, discuss, talk to each other. And then, I'll give you probably about 12 minutes to do this. It's a good number. Twelve minutes to talk about all three of these questions. And then we'll come back together and I'll ask some people to share out their thoughts. Sound good? OK.

I put involved and political. Because you know-- you guys know I care a lot about politics.

All politics, all my knowledge comes from you.

She doesn't watch the news. It's all from me.

[INAUDIBLE] all the news.

Yeah, for school, I'm considering being a lawyer. I'm debating on it. I'm really not sure if I want to--

What type of lawyer, though?

I don't know. That's what it is. I don't know. There are so many things I want to do. But I know my baseline for a career, like my career path is to help people.

Wrap up your conversations please. Sorry to do that.

All right. So let's just go through the questions together. Like I said, you had the opportunity to share with people that you feel comfortable with or the most comfortable with in the room. And I'd just like to hear from some people if they feel comfortable sharing with everybody.

First question, are there elements of yourself that you consciously chose not to put on your identity chart and why? Yeah?

So the reason why is because, admittedly, I do have a lot of issues. I do have a lot of self-confidence issues. So I feel like some of the stuff that I put on there, I would get-- I'm not sure how people would view me if I put it on there.

OK. And I think that-- raise your hand if you feel-- have ever felt that way about something. I have, too. So we all feel that way. So from time to time, we all feel like something about our identity is not acceptable in an environment. Or we feel uncomfortable. So you're definitely not alone in feeling that way. Thank you.

I think the lesson went really well. I think that they were very self-aware. And I think that more people spoke up than I expected and different students than have spoken up this year so far. So I think it went really well.

I think students are walking away with a stronger sense of how they define themselves. And I think they're also, which I didn't expect, coming away with an idea of what makes them who they are as known by their friends and people they were sitting with.

There were quite a few students that we're talking about how their partner told them, oh, you like this or you're funny or you're smart, and they said, oh, I didn't even think of that.

So it was nice for them to take a look at how they define themselves using the labels that they either create or learn from society, and then also to figure out what their peers thought of them and then discover that, oh yeah, I didn't even remember that about myself. So that was a nice moment.

In this video, English language arts teacher Jackie Rubino uses identity charts to help her high school students prepare to write personal narrative essays for their college applications.

Access the viewing guide for this video and save it for later. 

Today, I'm going to introduce the concept of identity. And we're going to discuss how identity is shaped, not only by our perceptions of ourselves, but also about experiences that we have no control over. And the way that others perceive us.

And I really want them to understand that identity is fluid. It's not set in stone. And that's really important for this study, because we create identity charts for our main characters, and we update them throughout the course of the unit.

So let's start there, right? What is identity? Chase.

Who you are.

It's who you are. Good. Mattie?

It could be both legally, or personality-wise.

Did you say legally? It could be your legal identity, as well as personality. What do you mean by legal identity?

Like your date of birth and your driver's license, or something.

OK, gotcha. Yes ma'am, Jada.

Who you are on the inside.

Who you are on the inside. Such as what?

Your personality?

Your personality.

Like you.

OK. So most of what you all just said are things that we consider about ourselves, right? But what about the outside looking in? Right?

How everybody else sees us.

How everybody else sees us. How does that shape our identity? Jada?

Well, it takes a person's point of view for someone to look at you, and how you act, and how you behave. That's why we have a certain type of morals and manners in ourselves. To show others what we are. Because we might be taken for something different than what we see ourselves. So it's very important to act a certain way when you're around a certain person. So they won't go around and say certain things to ruin your reputation as a person.

OK. So what Jada said, she puts a lot of importance into the way that others perceive us, and I would agree. I think that most of us do that. Most of us are going to act a certain way to hopefully be perceived a certain way. Good, thank you.

I'm going to wrap around this way, go to Erica next.

Sometimes it can shape your confidence. If someone were to say something nice about you, it would make you more confident about yourself. But if someone were to insult you all the time it would bring you down.

OK. Thank you. Zoe?

Off what Erica said, it goes back to-- there's a study on it, and it was on hockey players. If people tell hockey players that, hey, you're a really good hockey player, from a young age, then they're going to be like, wow, I should practice more. I'm going to be a lot better of a hockey player. And most professional hockey players have gotten that sort of-- what's it called?

Motivation?

Yeah, motivation or--

Encouragement?

There we go! Thank you! You're very helpful today. But they've gotten that sort of encouragement, whereas if people are like, well, you're good, you know. Or said, you're not that great at hockey. You might be like, why bother. So I think that kind of shapes you as well. What people think of you will actually move you to do what you do.

Good. So that's called self-efficacy, right? That's a psychology term you guys will learn more about as you progress in school. But the way that others interact with us, and the confidence that we either gain or lose based on that, absolutely has a lot to do with how we build our identities. Did you want to-- Spencer.

Going along with what Jada said, if this is for me, and I was Francis, I thought I acted one way, but everybody kept saying you're actually acting this way. And it did affect me and I did realize I actually am kind of acting this way. So I need to change myself. So yeah, other people's point of view can actually help you become a better person because then you realize what you actually act like, not what you think you act like.

OK. So the view of others can be negative, but it could also be positive in shaping our identity. Thank you. Mattie?

Kind of going off what Spencer said, but going on the negative connotation with identity, lots of people, especially in this time period that the book's in, lots of people looked at your race or your culture. And then they judged you based on whatever that was. If you're white, then they're like, oh, you're OK. But if you're black, they put you down and stuff. And so negative connotations can sometimes make people stronger. Because they're like, no, you're wrong. So they try to get themselves to be even better, and stronger, and stronger. So negative could help, but it could also bring someone down.

OK. Good, thank you. Thank you for bringing up that point. Yes, Kelsey.

Sometimes when someone looks at you, they might start to stereotype. And then they'll get this idea in their head, and then they won't realize what you're really like, because they're stereotyping. So that's another negative connotation to how people sometimes act. That's why sometimes people don't always want to communicate with you or talk to you. Because they have those stereotypes in their head about what type of person you may be.

Great. And we'll definitely be getting into stereotypes with our unit on To Kill a Mockingbird, and also with our pre-reading as this week progresses. Jada?

Just to wrap this whole thing up, it also depends on-- you have a higher class of people that tell the middle class or the lower class to-- since this class is different from us, we should probably treat them different because they're not like us. Where they're not the same as we are. So I want you guys to degrade them because they're not the same as us.

Even though we're all humans, we don't necessarily act the same, but we are the same as one being. So that higher class is like, oh, I'm offended by this class, because they're not us. So that image, it comes from one generation to the next and it spreads like a wildfire. Because that class has much power over any other class. So once that gets around, then that's how something starts. And it just corrupts the system.

Excellent. Great comment, Jada. We are going to be looking at 'us' and 'them' with this unit as well. So you guys are right on track with that.

I think that it's important to start with identity right off the bat, because part of the goal for me teaching this unit is to motivate students to really want to take charge of their lives, and their decisions, and the things that they say, the things that they wish to do. And I think grounding the unit in your own identity is a great place to start. And then again, building on that, and looking at how characters' identities are built and change will be helpful for the students.

In this example, a middle school teacher guides students in a group discussion around the question “What is identity?” as a pre-reading activity in a To Kill a Mockingbird unit.

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Credit:
Facing History & Ourselves

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