Identity and Storytelling | Facing History & Ourselves
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Text Set

Identity and Storytelling

Designed for students in grades 9-10, this text set includes lesson plans and multi-genre texts for a 1–2 week unit exploring the essential question, "What makes me, me?"




1-2 weeks


  • English & Language Arts




English — US



About This Text Set

Adolescence is a time when young people are crafting stories about who they are, how they understand the world, and how they fit into society. Making time and space for your students to read and reflect on someone else’s story can help them feel validated when they recognize aspects of their own identities and experiences reflected in the text, and it can invite opportunities to develop empathy for others who may seem quite different from them.

The resources and activities in this text set support students to reflect on their own personal and social identities and to engage with each other’s stories in order to deepen their understanding of their own social, moral, and cognitive growth, foster empathy, and strengthen classroom community.

  • What makes me, me? 
  • What story do I want to tell about who I am and what matters to me?

This text set supports a 1–2 week exploration of identity and storytelling. It includes:

  • 1 Identity and Storytelling Text Set overview
  • 4 lessons
  • 4 personal narrative essays, available in English and Spanish
  • 2 informational texts, available in English, Spanish, and a version adapted for English learners
  • 1 spoken word poem, available in English and Spanish
  • 1 set of etchings
  • 1 video
  • Assessment ideas

Adolescence is a pivotal moment in the process of becoming. As part of this process, your students are deeply invested in exploring their own identities. They do so by engaging with peer groups, forming friendships, trying out new activities and interests, testing boundaries, and taking risks. Adolescence is also a time when young people start to consider how certain facets of their identities—such as race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and others—might influence their present and future lives.

Adolescents need opportunities to reflect on who they are, their relationships with others, and who they want to become. The literature they read and the stories they write and tell in school can help them make sense of what they are feeling and experiencing. When students see their identities, beliefs, and values reflected in the literature they read, they can feel validated and develop a stronger sense of self. 

When they come across adolescent characters that defy stereotypes, it can open a range of possibilities for other ways of being and thinking in the world. Understanding that they can have agency over the story they tell about themselves is empowering and an important part of developing who they will be in the world.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

The three Facing History learning objectives at the heart of any ELA unit address students’ cognitive, emotional, and moral growth. ​​Aligned to each learning objective are specific learning outcomes, which describe the observable and measurable knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions students develop over the course of the unit. 

Learning Objective 1: Explore the Complexity of Identity
Learning Outcomes:

  1. Examine how their identity is a combination of who they say they are, who others say they are, and who they hope to be in the future.
  2. Engage with real and imagined stories that help them understand their own coming-of-age experiences and how others experience the world.
  3. Recognize the power that comes with telling their own story and engaging with the stories of others. 

Learning Objective 2: Process Texts through a Critical and Ethical Lens
Learning Outcomes:

  1. Practice perspective-taking in order to develop empathy and recognize the limits of any one person’s point of view.
  2. Analyze the internal and external conflicts that characters face and the impact these conflicts can have on an individual’s choices and actions, both in the text and in the real world. 
  3. Evaluate a text for the ways in which it upholds and/or challenges stereotypes of individuals and groups.

Learning Objective 3: Develop a Sense of Civic Agency
Learning Outcomes:

  1. Recognize that their decisions matter, impact others, and shape their communities and the world.
  2. Demonstrate an increased sense of confidence in their ability to communicate their ideas orally and in writing.

Read more about and download Facing History’s ELA learning objectives and outcomes in Section 3: Begin with the End in Mind of our Coming-of-Age Unit Planning Toolkit.

Use this text set to introduce or supplement a coming-of-age unit centered on a work of literature, literature circles, or self-directed student book clubs. The texts are intended to be taught in the order they are presented over the course of one to two weeks, depending on how often the class meets and what, if anything, students complete outside of class.

The texts are organized around guiding questions and include activities that help students engage with the texts critically, emotionally, and ethically. While the activities are deliberately sequenced to bring students safely into and out of conversations about identity and belonging, you should adapt them as needed for your unique classroom context.

Students begin their exploration by reflecting on their identities and the choices they make about what parts they reveal and what they keep hidden from others. They also examine how their membership in different social groups can influence both their beliefs about who they are and how others perceive them. Students then read a collection of personal narratives that invite them to consider the very real challenges that adolescents face when defining who they want to be in the world. Crucially, they consider both how they might overcome these barriers and how they can create the conditions to help others overcome them, too. 

Along the way, students come to understand identity development as an ongoing process over which they can have agency, and they consider the role that storytelling plays in helping us all better understand ourselves and one another. 

Suggestions for summative assessments help students synthesize key ideas and make connections between what they are learning, what their peers may be experiencing, and their own lives as they move through adolescence.

At Facing History, we understand that before students can engage with challenging topics, they need to feel confident that they are part of a brave and reflective community where they are known, valued, and supported by their teachers and peers. This ongoing process starts with personal reflection on the part of the teacher and invites students to help establish and uphold norms for how everyone will treat one another. The following resources and activities can support you and your students in cultivating a brave and reflective community.

  • Build the Foundation: Learn about the importance of engaging in your own personal reflection before teaching this text set by exploring the resources and teacher-facing activities in Section 1: Start with Yourself of Facing History’s Unit Planning Guide. You can also read “How to Help Students Believe in Themselves” from Greater Good magazine to learn about new research that identifies specific steps adults can take to foster student agency and self-efficacy. 
  • Create a Classroom Contract: Prepare students to engage, take risks, and support one another by creating a classroom contract with agreed-upon norms and behaviors that allow every student to feel seen, heard, and valued. If you have already created a contract, set aside time to revisit it at the outset of this unit to recommit to your group’s agreed-upon norms and behaviors.
  • Incorporate Daily Journaling: In addition to creating and upholding the classroom contract, journaling is an instrumental tool for helping students develop their ability to process what they are learning, practice perspective-taking, and make informed judgments about what they see and hear. Providing students with time and space to reflect on complex issues and questions allows them to formulate their ideas before sharing them with their peers. 
  • Write Alongside Your Students: When teachers write with their students and share their writing, no matter how messy or scattered, it sends a powerful message that writing matters, writing is hard, and even teachers don’t get it right the first time. You will create a stronger community of thinkers and writers if you participate in the learning process. If you don’t do so already, consider starting your own journal and joining your students in this exploration of power, agency, and voice.

Differentiation is an approach to teaching and learning that involves purposeful planning and instruction responsive to students’ identities and needs as individual learners and members of a larger classroom-community. It starts with creating a welcoming environment and includes a high-quality curriculum that all students can access in order to engage with the targeted concepts and skills.

After reviewing the materials in this text set, we recommend that you incorporate some or all of the following differentiation strategies to help ensure that the content and concepts are accessible to all of your students:

  • Use a strategy like Think Aloud to make visible your process when reading and annotating texts. Start by modeling the process for your class, naming the invisible literacy moves that you are making, and your reasoning behind each annotation. Then have students practice these moves in pairs before asking them to work alone.
  • Provide students with models to help them understand your expectations for annotating texts, responding to discussion questions, and completing assessments.
  • Create a Word Wall to help students keep track of key terms. Encourage students to sketch the terms, perhaps using a teaching strategy like Sketch to Stretch, and to incorporate them into their conversations and writing. 
  • Use adapted versions of readings when available. In this text set, we provide adapted versions of two informational texts with reduced text complexity, definitions of key terms, sentence stems, and embedded graphic organizers. 
  • Create purposeful groupings of students, perhaps pairing English Learners with students who share their home language, to work through new material before creating heterogeneous language groups for discussions. For activities like jigsaws, consider the text complexity, length, and relevance of each reading when creating groups. Some students may have the schema to tackle a more challenging reading if it connects to an interest or aspect of their identities.

We recommend reviewing the short reading Understanding Adolescents to deepen your understanding of adolescence and prepare you to engage your students in this text set’s conversations about becoming and belonging in the world.

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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.

The resources I’m getting from my colleagues through Facing History have been just invaluable.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif