Identity charts are a graphic tool that helps students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. They can be used 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 breakdown stereotypes. In this way, identity charts can be utilized as an effective classroom community-building tool.
Step one: Preparation
Before creating identity charts, you might have the class brainstorm categories we consider when thinking about the question, “Who am I?” such as our role in a family (e.g., daughter, sister, mother, etc), our hobbies and interests (e.g., guitar player, football fan, etc), our background (e.g., religion, race, nationality, hometown, or place of birth), and our physical characteristics. 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. After sharing their charts, students can create a list of the categories they have used to describe themselves and then use this same list of categories as a guide when creating identity charts for other people or groups.
Step two: Create identity charts for a historical or literary figure, group or nation
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 for evidence that helps them answer the question, “Who is this person?” or, “Who is this group?” Encourage students to include quotations from the text 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.
Step three: Use identity charts to track new learning
Reviewing and revising identity charts throughout a unit is one way to help students keep track of their learning.
1) Identity boxes: People have two identities: what the outside world thinks of us (prescribed identity) and an internal identity (the traits we ascribe to ourselves). To illuminate this concept, students can create identity boxes, for themselves or for a historical or literacy figure. The inside of the box contains words and images that represent how we describe ourselves. The outside of the box contains words and images that represent how we think others view us.
2) Concept charts: You can also use identity charts to help students explore the meaning of concepts such as justice, responsibility or “universe of responsibility.”
3) Prioritizing factors on identity charts: 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 students’ understanding of the person being studied.
4) Identity and context: 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 identities in one context, such as school, and then in another context, such as home or when hanging out with friends.
5) Hand Identity Charts: This variation of an identity chart helps illustrate the similarities and differences between how we define ourselves and how others define us. First, have students draw the outline of their hand on a large piece of paper. Inside the hand, have students write labels and descriptions they use to describe themselves. Outside of their outline, have students write labels and descriptions that reflect how they think others view them. In some cases, how the outside world sees us is the same as how we see ourselves, and in some cases, it is not. Therefore, words inside the outline and outside of the outline may or may not overlap. You can also use hand identity charts to represent historical or literary characters (such as The Bear in the story “The Bear that Wasn’t” on pages 7-9 of Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior). Students can write a journal entry reflecting on the ideas representing on their hand identity charts. Prompts you might use to structure students’ writing include: