A student in conversation with a peer outside of the photograph is in the center of the photo. Another student looks at a laptop.
Activity

Our Names and Our Place in the World

Students consider what parts of our identities we choose for ourselves and what parts are chosen for us, as well as the impact our names can have on our identities.

Published:

At a Glance

Activity

Language

English — US

Subject

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

Grade

6–12
  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion

Overview

About This Activity

Learning one another’s names and their correct pronunciation is an important task in the first days of the school year. The experience of introducing oneself to a new group can cause anxiety for many students, and the way in which their name is received by their peers and teacher can be a first step in creating a sense of belonging. This activity asks students to read and discuss a high school student’s essay about introducing herself to a class at a new school and provides an opportunity for collaboration and community building.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

If you have more time to devote to this activity, you can use the full version of Jennifer Wang’s essay.

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Procedure

Steps for Implementation

  • Start by having students think about the following question in their journal or with a partner in a “pair-share” format: My name is / is not a good fit for my personality because . . .
  • Model risk-taking by explaining to students how your name is or isn’t a good fit for your personality. Then invite volunteers to share their thoughts with the group.
  • Distribute the reading Names and Identity so students have their own copies. Then read Jennifer Wang’s essay out loud and ask students to listen for details or moments in the story that they can relate to or that raise a question for them. Pause at the end of each paragraph and ask them to underline places where they can relate to Jennifer’s experience or write a question mark in places where her experience raises questions for them.
  • Then distribute the handout Names and Identity Graphic Organizer and read the instructions out loud. Break students into groups to discuss the questions on the handout after assigning themselves the following roles: facilitator, note-taker, and summarizer. 
  • Debrief as a class by asking the summarizers to share one key idea from their discussion.  Then discuss the following questions:
    • What could Jennifer Wang’s teacher have done to make her feel more welcome in class?
    • What could other students have done to help Jennifer feel like she belonged?
    • What is important to know about each other in order to work together as a classroom community this year?

Explain to the class that you want to start getting to know them better so you don’t make some of the mistakes that Jennifer’s teacher made. Distribute the handout Teach the Teacher Exit Card. You can model by sharing your own responses, helping your students get to know you a bit better.

Extension Activities

Students read and listen to three poems about names. Consider using the following poems: “Lost in Translation” by Ruby Ibbara, “Learning My Name” by Marjan Naderi, and “Stop Looking at My Last Name Like That” by Michael Torres. Next, students choose one poem for a more substantive journal reflection that addresses the following prompt:

Choose one or two lines from the poem that resonate with you for one of the following reasons and write about them in a journal reflection that you share with your teacher: 

  • Because of something about who I am (What in particular?)
  • Because it reflects human nature or how people are in the world (What human characteristics or ways of being?)
  • Because of how the poet expressed the idea (What did she do that makes you feel this way?)

Provide students with a range of choices for how they demonstrate their learning. They can respond in their journals or create a video journal entry using Flipgrid. They can “Sketch to Stretch” by copying their selected lines onto a piece of paper, creating a sketch that captures the meaning, and then explaining the sketch in a short written reflection. 

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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