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Exploring the Concept of Identity / ELA

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Language Arts And English +2 Age Levels Middle School (13 to 15 years old), High School (16 to 18 years old)

This collection is comprised of resources for introducing middle school ELA students to the concept of identity in art and literature. This was planned for use as an introduction to The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, so a special focus is given to Latinx culture and experience, but the resources could be used for any literature that addresses the topic of identity.

The resources in this collection can be used in whatever order you wish, but I have included my general plan and sequence for a three-day mini-unit. Each lesson is intended for a 45-minute class period for middle school English students, but could be extended or combined for longer periods or older students.

Day 1: Exploring the Concept of Identity

We begin with the painting Braceros by Domingo Ulloa, using the See/Think/Wonder visual thinking routine as a jumping-off point to lead the class to the topic of identity. The ideas recorded could remain as an anchor chart in the classroom as the class reads and discusses the novel. It would be interesting for students to revisit their initial ideas to assess how their concept of identity expands and changes through the reading. As an alternative or addition to the lesson, depending on the needs of your students, you could also use the Identity Worksheet handout provided as a metacognitive tool to assist your students in tracking the ways their thinking evolves and expands. This worksheet also encourages them to make connections with other works of art, literature and music from their past experiences; this can be done independently or in small groups.

Day 2: What Comprises Our Identity?

The goal today is for students to begin considering what factors determine or influence our identities. To begin class, students will be introduced to "Tenement Flats" using the "What Makes You Say That?" thinking routine. This will provide practice for students to make claims about the painting and provide evidence to support their claims. This will be the warm up for the day, but to extend time with the visual art, students could create a T-Chart or Venn Diagram for comparison and contrast with "Braceros."

Students will next listen to the poem, "Latino-Americanos: The Children of an Oscuro Pasado" by Xochitl (SOH-chee) Morales. After reading the poem, students will be invited to consider the stories they hear in the poem. Xochitl's voice tells one story, but what other stories do we hear? What stories are missing? IF the discussion does not naturally move toward identity, students should be invited to consider what comprises the poet's identity  (for example, sense of self, sense of family, societal expectations, gender roles, home, community). Again, ideas could remain on an anchor chart for reference.

Day 3: What is the Author's Message about Identity?

On the final day, we will explore an excerpt from Cisneros' book ("My Name"). I have provided a handout with this excerpt. This could be an opportunity to guide students through close-reading techniques like intentional text marking, or students could do this work independently. After reading and annotating the text, students will be coached through the "Claim/Support/Question" reasoning routine to (1) provide an interpretation of the author's message or theme as it relates to identity; (2) provide support for the claim; and (3) extend their thinking by generating a question about what isn't explained or what information is missing, or what alternative points of view might exist.

Further Resources

I have provided some additional resources that could be added in to extend the time spent on this topic or used as journal or warm-up activities as the class continues Mango Street. These include an additional poem ("We" by Nathan M. Richardson) as a handout as well as a Youtube link to Richardson reading his poem, and a visual (typographic) prompt to use for the topic of identity. I have also included a video interview of Xochil Morales that might be useful for adding context, particularly because she is a very young poet and relatable.