Lesson 1 of 15
One 50-minute class period

Understanding Identity

From the Unit:

Essential Questions

What is identity? What makes each of us who we are?

Guiding Questions

  • What factors shape your identity?
  • What parts of your identity do you choose for yourself?
  • What parts of your identity are determined for you by other people or by society?

Learning Objectives

Students will identify social and cultural factors that help shape our identities by reading and analysing a short story and then creating their own personal identity charts.


“Who am I?” is a question all of us ask at some time in our lives, and it is a particularly critical question for students’ own social, moral, and intellectual development. Our society—through its particular culture, customs, institutions, and more—provides us with language and labels we use to answer that question for ourselves and others. These labels are based on beliefs about race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, economic class, and so on. Sometimes our beliefs about these categories are so strong that they prevent us from seeing the unique identities of others. Sometimes these beliefs also make us feel suspicion, fear, or hatred toward some members of our society. Other times, especially when we are able to get to know a person, we are able to see past labels and, perhaps, find common ground even as we appreciate each person as unique.

Through the analysis of a short story and the creation of their own visual representations of their identities, this lesson invites students to consider how the answer to the question “Who am I?” arises from the relationship between the individual and society—the ways in which we define ourselves and the ways in which we are defined by others.

Notes to Teacher

  1. Facing History Journals
    • Journals are an integral means of participation in the scheme of work for each student. See the teaching strategy Journals in a Facing History Classroom for important suggestions about how to incorporate them into the scheme.
    • Typically, student journals are not considered public for the entire class to read. However, informally reviewing students’ journal entries can help you know the questions that are on students’ minds and can be a place for individual conversations between you and each student. It can also help you correct any misconceptions about what they are learning. If you choose to periodically review students’ journals, it is important to inform them in advance of writing that you plan to do so.
  2. Using Identity Charts as a Teaching Strategy
    Identity charts are a graphic tool that can help students consider the many factors that shape the identities of both individuals and communities. In this lesson, students will use identity charts to analyse the ways they define themselves and the labels that others use to describe them. 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. See this sample identity chart.
  3. Classroom-ready PowerPoint Slides
    Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lessons plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic media and prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

    Understanding Identity

    Understanding Identity

    This PowerPoint for Lesson 1 of the Standing Up for Democracy unit is ready to use in the classroom with student-facing slides and complete teaching notes.



  1. Introduce Identity with a Journal Response
    • Explain to students that today they will be thinking about what makes up their identities and reading a story in which the main character deals with the different ways he defines himself and is defined by others.
    • Ask students to write a response to the questions in a journal entry:

      Who am I? What words or labels would you use to describe yourself? They might list, or write in complete sentences, the first 5–7 ideas that come to mind when they think about these questions.

    • Next ask students to use the information from their journals to create an identity chart. You might start an identity chart for yourself on the board to help your students understand the format. Make sure that the students create their identity charts on a new page in their journals because they will be adding to them throughout the lesson and in later lessons.
    • Then ask students to respond to the following question in their journals

      What words might others use to describe you that you might or might not use to describe yourself?

      After students have written 5–7 ideas, have them return to their identity charts and add this new information. You might invite them to use a different colour pen for words and phrases that others might use to describe them that they do not consider to be part of their identities. Time allowing, a few students might volunteer to share their identity charts with the class. They could also represent this idea by drawing an arrow that points toward the centre, indicating that the idea comes from outside of themselves rather than from within.

    • Finally, have students think, pair, share their identity charts with a partner and invite them to add any new ideas to their charts that arise during their discussions. Let students know that if they don’t feel comfortable showing their charts to their partners or talking about some aspects of their identities, they can talk about some of the things they listed that they feel comfortable sharing.
      • What parts of your identity do you choose for yourself?
      • What parts of your identity are determined for you by other people or by society?
  2. Read The Bear That Wasn’t
    • Next play the video The Bear That Wasn’t (05:32) for your students and then pass out copies of the text so they can refer to them for the discussion. Alternatively, you might choose a read aloud strategy and read The Bear That Wasn’t.
    • Then lead a class discussion, analysing the story using the connections questions at the bottom of the reading. To address the first connections question, ask students to work with a partner to create an identity chart for the Bear. Give students a few minutes to share their identity charts for the Bear with another pair and encourage them to add words and phrases from others’ charts to their own.
    • Finally, divide the class into small groups so they can discuss the remaining connection questions.
    • Close the activity by revisiting this lesson’s guiding questions to explore how the Bear has challenged or confirmed your students’ understanding of the factors that can influence identity:
      • What parts of your identity do you choose for yourself?
      • What parts of your identity are determined for you by other people or by society?
      • How does the Bear help you answer these two questions?
      • How do your own experiences help you answer these two questions?
  3. Identity Chart Journal Reflection
    Ask students to reflect on their own identity charts by responding to two or more of the following questions in their journals:

    • What parts of your identity do you choose for yourself? What parts of your identity do you feel 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 how 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.



Get Prepared to Teach This Scheme of Work in Your Classroom

Prepare yourself to teach this unit by reading about our pedagogy, teaching strategies, and the unit's structure.

Lesson 1 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Identity

Students consider the question "Who am I?" and identify social and cultural factors that shape identity by reading a short story and creating personal identity charts.

Lesson 2 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Transcending Single Stories

Students reflect on how stereotypes and "single stories" influence our identities, how we view others, and the choices we make.

Lesson 3 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Why Little Things Are Big

Students reflect on the power of being labelled and use Jesús Colón’s essay to reflect on their own experiences of being misjudged.

Lesson 4 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Challenge of Confirmation Bias

Students define confirmation bias and examine why people sometimes maintain their beliefs in the face of information that contradicts their understanding.



Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 1:

The Individual and Society

Students explore their identities through a mask-making project.

Lesson 5 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Costs and Benefits of Belonging

Students learn about group membership and explore the range of responses available to us when we encounter exclusion, discrimination, and injustice.

Lesson 6 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Responding to Difference

Students explore a poem by James Berry about the ways we respond to difference and complete a creative assignment about their school or community.

Lesson 7 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

When Differences Matter

Students consider what happens when one aspect of our identity is privileged above others by society.

Lesson 8 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Blending In and Standing Out

Students use an excerpt from Sarfraz Manzoor memoir to reflect on identity, belonging, and wanting to feel invisible.

Lesson 9 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Defining Our Obligations to Others

Students are introduced to the concept of universe of obligation to better understand how societies create "in" groups and "out" groups.



Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 2:

We and They

Students work collaboratively to create illustrated children’s stories that explore issues of conformity and belonging.

Lesson 10 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Defining Human Rights

Students create a definition for a "right" in order to explore the challenges faced by the UN Commission on Human Rights to create an international framework of rights for all human beings.

Lesson 11 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Making Rights Universal

Students analyse four rights in the UDHR and decide whether they are universal and enjoyed by all in the world today.



Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 3:

Understanding Human Rights

Students work collaboratively to create a School Declaration of Human Rights Infographic.

Lesson 12 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Standing Up to Hatred on Cable Street

Students study the Battle of Cable Street in London by examining testimonies of individuals who demonstrated against fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

Lesson 13 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Public Art as a Form of Participation

Students analyse the Battle of Cable Street Mural and reflect on the role of public art to commemorate, educate, and build community.

Lesson 14 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Protesting Discrimination in Bristol

Students use the historical case study of the Bristol Bus Boycott to examine strategies for bringing about change in our communities.

Lesson 15 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Students analyse a spoken word poem about bullying and consider how they might use their voices to call attention to injustice in their schools or communities.

Final Assessment


Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 4:

Choosing to Participate

Students have an opportunity to explore one issue in-depth and to create an action plan that inspires change in their schools or communities.

Search Our Global Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.