At a Glance
LanguageEnglish — US
- English & Language Arts
- Social Studies
About This Teaching Strategy
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. 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.
Steps for Implementation
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- What digital tool(s) do I want to use to facilitate this activity?
- How am I going to deliver instructions to students about completing the activity?
- If teaching asynchronously, what is the defined time-period I want to set for completing the activity?
- 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.
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: 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?
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.
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