Stories of Identity and Belonging | Facing History & Ourselves
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Stories of Identity and Belonging

Students read and discuss personal narrative essays and consider what factors can make it challenging for young people to be who they really want to be in the world.


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At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts




Two 50-min class periods
  • Culture & Identity


About This Lesson

In this lesson, students deepen their exploration of the interplay between personal and social identity. They read and discuss a collection of narrative essays, written by four young people, who reflect on the ways in which their identities have been shaped by their beliefs about themselves, others’ perceptions of them, and messages they receive from society at large.

Taken together, these personal stories, along with the other texts in this text set, help students recognize that identity development is a complex, ongoing process, and while it can be difficult and requires courage, there is power and agency in knowing and sharing their stories with others.

  • What makes me, me? 
  • What story do I want to tell about who I am and what matters to me?
  • Which aspects of my identity, if any, are fixed, and which ones are more fluid? 
  • What factors can make it challenging for me to be who I want to be in the world? How can I navigate or rise above these challenges?
  • Engage with real and imagined stories that help them understand their own coming-of-age experiences and how others experience the world.
  • Practice perspective-taking in order to develop empathy and recognize the limits of any one person’s point of view.
  • Evaluate a text for the ways in which it upholds and/or challenges stereotypes of individuals and groups.
  • 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.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 4 personal narratives, available in English and Spanish
  • 4 handouts, available in English and in Spanish

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

Unless students read for homework, plan to spend two class periods working with these personal narrative essays. On the first day, do the Sketch to Stretch warm up and the first part of the Jigsaw activity. Then discuss the stories in teaching groups and as a whole class on the second day.

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Lesson Plans


Distribute the Storytelling Sketch to Stretch handout. Read the quotations together and invite students to choose one that resonates with them for a Sketch to Stretch reflection. Model the activity with your own sketch, emphasizing that a sketch is a quick visual representation and not a work of art. Alternatively, students can discuss the quotations using the Pick a Number teaching strategy or reflect on one in writing in a journal response that they debrief with a partner or in small groups.

Familiarize yourself with the Jigsaw teaching strategy and then decide if you will assign students specific readings, create random groupings, or preview each reading with the class and let students choose the one that interests them. The four readings vary in length and text complexity, which may impact your decision for creating groups. Then explain the activity and move students into their “expert” groups of four. Pass out the readings and Personal Narrative Connection Questions handout for this activity:

Prompt students take out their copies of the readings Authoring Identity and Exploring the Concept of Identity from previous lessons to refer to during their “expert group” and “teaching group” discussions. Encourage students to support their ideas with evidence from the personal narratives, text set readings, journals, handouts, and their own experiences.

After students have finished both parts of the Jigsaw activity, have each group share highlights or key takeaways with the class. Then discuss the final question together: 

  • Who or what can make it challenging for young people to be who they really want to be in the world? 
  • How can you navigate or rise above these challenges?

Record students’ ideas on a T-chart that captures the challenges in one column and their ideas for navigating or rising above them in the other column. Then invite students to come up with creative ways to navigate or rise above the challenges they face as they author their identities in private and public spaces.

Materials and Downloads

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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.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY