The curriculum unit is designed to use literary works, film excerpts, videos, and contemporary songs thematically focused around the essential question of what is identity. Using reading and writing strategies students actively engage in reading by annotating text to converse with the text’s author, record impressions, and decipher story elements. Student annotations may also be shared with other students to raise additional questions for the reader of the text.
Students invest in the text by using their annotations as fodder to build greater understanding of the concept of identity and a launching pad for group discussions. Underlying this framework should be the development of a safe classroom environment for student conversations to take place, in order to generate more critical analysis of the concept of identity.
Students are asked to generate enduring understandings about the importance of the concept of identity. They are asked to consider it as a dynamic concept, and determine choices surrounding the concept. Students are asked to evaluate individual identity and group identity for possible conflict to determine the effect on choice, membership and value.
Lesson 1: Who Are You?
This activity is a beginning activity where students are asked to look at the how characters describe themselves to determine what they claim as part of their personal or individual identity.
Students will learn how to annotate text by highlighting key information, taking marginal notes, listing key information, writing a brief summary of the text, and listing vocabulary words in their reading/writing notebooks.
Beginning the lesson by listening to a contemporary song, such as, “
Me, Myself and I,
” where a rapper “spits lyrics” claiming all he needs is his passion—writing and rapping, the student’s attention is directed to an example of a statement of one’s identity
. The students are asked who are they by asking them to name a passion-something they love to do.
During the directed instruction, guided and independent practices, the student’s attention is further directed to text whose thematic focus is the formation of one’s identity. In the poems,
by Paul Laurence Dunbar (where the poet suggests that one must be prepared for hard work because one’s path is self-generated and not easy),
I Am What I Am
by Rosario Morales (where the poet shares that she is all of her parts—her ethnicity, her connections to her current physical space, and her experiences), and
by Luis Torres (where he suggests that life’s journey is fleeting, and by the time we realize what makes us “eternal” life is over), students are introduced to language about the concept of identity (Dunbar 2001) (Morales 2011) (Torres 2011).
At this point, they are asked to define identity. Students are then paired, asked to review partner’s annotations, identity definition, and leave partner with a question or response to what the partner has written. Upon retrieving their notebooks, students discuss with partners their initial definition of identity in response to their partner’s writings. After this pair-share discussion, students are asked to revise their definitions to address the responses made/question(s) raised by their partner concerning their definition of identity. The lesson concludes by asking the student for a definition of themselves within the school setting.
An assessment of text annotation provides feedback to both teacher and student into student text analysis. Students are expected to modify, elaborate, and revise their definition of identity after each thematically grouped text reading. Both students and teachers are able to track the incorporation or rejection of ideas that deviate from their previous conceptualization of identity. Teachers may use student reflections to guide their class focus. It may also signal to teachers what areas may need greater clarification in an effort to aid student understanding of the text. Annotations allow a visual mapping of the text, especially when students have an opportunity to view the annotations of others.
An extended activity for this lesson may include having the students read the picture book, I Want To Be by Thylias Moss and read/listen to the audiobook Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat by Nikki Giovanni (Moss 1993) (Giovanni 2008). After reading, students would create a rhythmic poem or a picture book that emulates the style of Nikki Giovanni or Thylias Moss celebrating some aspect of the student’s history, present and where they see themselves in the next 5-6 years. (This time was selected based on their next phase—entrance into high school.)
Lesson 2: What is Home?
This activity designed as a beginning activity directing students to the short story structure. Students will be introduced to or review six literary elements within a short story: plot (what happens in the story), setting (where or when the story takes place), character (the people or animals taking part in the story), conflict (the struggle within the story), point of view (angle from which the story is told), and theme (the central idea of the story) within a short story. The objective of the lesson is to ensure that students are able to determine a short story’s elements. It also serves as a gauge for text understanding and starting point for class discussions.
Watching the Flocabulary@ rap video on literary elements of a story,
These Are the Five Things
provides students with a succinct working definition of a short story’s elements (Flocabulary n.d.). The video provides working definitions for all the listed elements of this lesson plan except point of view. However, a working definition for this missing element, as well as any other literary devices may easily be augmented by the teacher.
The thematically grouped texts ask students to discuss how place influences the concept of identity. During the directed instruction, guided and independent practices, students are first asked to focus on the story element of setting. They are then asked to determine whether home is a geographic location or a place of experience of the past or present.
In the short stories,
God Bless America,
by John O. Killens (where the Negro husband is preparing to leave his pregnant wife who questions why he is in such a hurry to fight for a country that treats him as less than a full citizen),
The Night We Became People Again
by Jose Luis Gonzalez (where a father leaves work early upon hearing that his pregnant wife is to deliver her baby and experiences a city blackout), and
by Mario Suarez (where a former barbershop patron reminisces about his barbershop experience and the barbershop owner), home is presented as not only a physical place but as a place of experience both present and past (Killens 1966) (M. T. Suarez 2011)
. While students are not expected to define home in a particular way, their definitions of home should be reflective of their experiences with the literary texts.
Working in pairs for this activity, students are expected to record the elements of the short stories and their respective definitions of home. Students will then be divided into small groups of no more than three pairs to share and discuss their definitions of home. If students are not familiar with small group discussions, this would be an optimal time to demonstrate the Socratic method of discussion starting with a fishbowl demonstration.
As a closure exercise, students would watch Lecrae’s music video,
Welcome to America
In their reading/writing notebooks, students are to revise and expand their definition of identity to include the concept of home.
An extended activity for this lesson would include reading Franz Kafka’s short, short story,
and write a short short story depicting what happened when one of the five “friends” tells the 6
fellow why he should not be included as one of them (Kafka, Fellowship 1983). The student should incorporate one of the definitions of home within the story.
Lesson 3: Who’s Your Daddy?
The thematically grouped texts of this lesson ask students to discuss what role family plays in shaping identity. Students will examine what influence family has on the concept of identity. During the directed instruction, guided and independent practices, students are asked to look at the role of father and respond to the parental images as depicted by the characters in the respective texts.
Students are given the two following memoir excerpts depicting an image of a father and asked to compare and contrast the two images in at least three to five complete sentences.
The truth of us was always that you were our ring. We’d summoned you out of ourselves, and you were not given a vote. If only for that reason, you deserved all the protection we could muster. Everything else was subordinate to this fact. If that sounds like a weight, it shouldn’t. The truth is that I owe you everything I have. Before you, I had my questions but nothing beyond my own skin in the game, and that was really nothing at all because I was a young man, and not clear of my own human vulnerabilities. But I was grounded and domesticated by the plain fact that should I now go down, I would not go down alone
(Coates 2015, 66)
“Two days later Dad returns from his cigarette hunt. It’s the middle of the night but he gets Malachy and me out of the bed. He has the smell of the drink on him. He has us stand at attention in the kitchen. We are soldiers. He tells us we must promise to die for Ireland. We will, Dad, we will. Altogether we sing Kevin Barry
(McCourt 1996, 39)
Students are then asked to complete a character analysis of the father figures found in the short stories,
by Erskine Caldwell (where a mule dies while in the care of a Negro sharecropper, whose money and crops were confiscated as payment for the dead mule and is subsequently unable to feed his daughter),
by Emile Raboteau (where a son steals money from his father and the wrong son is disciplined and subsequently killed, and
Letter to My Daughter
by Sharon Flake (where an absentee father writes a letter to his teenage daughter offering the only thing he has—knowledge) (Caldwell 1961) (Raboteau 2006) (Flake, The Ugly One 2004).
As an exit slip, students are asked to define the role of a father. An extended activity would have students use their definition of a father and create the criterion for a character award for Best Dad to be given to one of the imperfect dads from depicted in the short stories:
Letter to My Daughter.
Students would be required to justify the dad of their choice and design a Best Dad Award Certificate to commemorate the occasion for the winning dad.
Lesson 4: What Is Your Relationship?
This lesson looks at how partners are chosen in relationships. Students are asked to look at how value is ascribed to potential partners and how characters assessed themselves in relationships. Students are asked to search for the main idea or themes of the text concerning of how to pick potential mates or how the characters assessed themselves in response to choosing potential mates.
Have students listen to an audio clip of Beyoncé’s
Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)
and then state the message of this song in at least two to three complete sentences
. Students would then proceed to analyze two short stories,
by Frances E.W. Harper (where a woman and her female cousin discuss the woman’s two marriage proposals, and the cousin’s reflection of the choices each made),
So I Ain’t No Good Girl
(where a female teen in an abusive relationship thinks she is not worthy of anything better), and two poems,
To Be Continued
by Kate Rushin (where a woman reflects on a conversation had with a girlfriend about starting her life over after a failed relationship) and
People Love Their Freaks,
by Terry Galloway (where a young man goes back to look for a girl he loved at a summer camp for the disabled only to realize he never knew her name) (Harper 1997) (Flake, So I Ain't No Good Girl 2004) (Rushin 2015) (Galloway 1997). The exit slip for his activity is to have the students describe an ideal girlfriend citing why the selected characteristics are more important than those not chosen.
For an extended activity, the students are to read, analyze the selected stories:
Wanted a Thug
and then write a short story that includes at least one character from either of the using the following RAFT (Flake, Jacob's Rules 2004) (Flake, Wanted A Thug 2004). Ensure that the student’s depiction is consistent with the short stories’ presentation of the respective character.
Writer as a “good guy” who wants to be chosen by a “desired” girl
Short story with a message related to that found in Sherley Anne Williams’s poem,
Some One Sweet Angel Chile (S. I. Williams 1988)
You are not good for her
“Desired” girl who does not want to be like her mother
Desired girl’s mother
Short story that includes a message related to that found in Kate Rushin’s poem,
To Be Continued
Should the desired girl make her mother’s choice when she chose desired girl’s father
Lesson 5: What Do They Say About You?
This lesson asks students to look at patterns of behavior that identify characters as individuals or as members in a group. Students are asked to examine how point of view impacts the way a story is told.
Students begin by reading the following modified (by this writer) excerpt from Kevin Henkes’, picture book, Chrysanthemum and then account for the changes experienced by Chrysanthemum (Henkes 1991).
The day she was born was the happiest day in her parent’s lives.
“She’s perfect,’ said her mother.
“Absolutely,” said her father.
And she was…Chrysanthemum thought her name was absolutely perfect...And then she started school…
But when Mrs. Chud took roll call, everyone giggled upon hearing Chrysanthemum’s name.
“It’s so long,” said Jo.
“It’s scarcely fits on her name tag,” said Rita pointing.
“I’m named after my grandmother,” said Victoria.
“You’re named after a flower!”
Chrysanthemum wilted…She did not think her name was absolutely perfect…She thought it was dreadful…That morning the students were introduced to Mrs. Twinkle, the music teacher… Her voice was like something out of a dream, as was everything else about her…The students were speechless…They thought Mrs. Twinkle was an indescribable wonder…They went out of their way to make a nice impression…
“What’s so humorous?” asked Mrs. Twinkle.
Chrysanthemum! was the answer.
“Her name is so long,” said Jo.
“It scarcely fits on her name tag,” said Rita, pointing.
“I’m named after my grandmother,” said Victoria.
“She’s named after a flower!”
“My name is long." Mrs. Twinkle.
“It is?” said Jo.
“My name would scarcely fit on a name tag,” said Mrs. Twinkle.
“It would?” said Rita, pointing.
“And—“said Mrs. Twinkle, “I’m named after a flower, too!”
“You are?” said Victoria.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Twinkle. “My name is Delphinium. Delphinium Twinkle. And if my baby is a girl, I’m considering Chrysanthemum as a name. I think it’s absolutely perfect.”
Chrysanthemum could scarcely believe her ears…Chrysanthemum did not think her name was absolutely perfect…She knew it!”
Students then read and discuss the point of view found in the short stories:
by W.E.B. DuBois (where a Negro man encounters racism as he attempts to exercise his right to public accommodations),
The Lottery Ticket
by Ventura Garcia Calderon (where patrons at a theater event await the discovery of the winner of a lottery where the prize is a date with an exotic dancer, only to discover that the Negro winner denounces the prize), and
(where a woman who had stifled her Puerto Rican heritage welcomes its reawakening) (DuBois 1966) (Garcia-Calderon 1961) (Levins Morales 2011). Students close the lesson by answering the following question, “Other than in a mirror, can you see yourself without others?”
An extended activity for this lesson would be to attend a cultural art exhibit and have students critique the exhibit focusing on the sensory details of their impressions, i.e., Do the colors arouse any emotions within you? Do the objects trigger a smell or tactile sensation? If a visit to an art gallery is not possible, the students could attend an online art gallery, i.e., Modern Museum of Art (MoMA). MoMA has an exhibit featuring the following pieces which could serve as an inspiration:
by Lorna Simpson (1994),
by Moriko Mori (1998),
by Glenn Ligon (1993),
by Ana Mendieta (1984),
by Deborah Kass (1992),
by Robert Gober (1996), and
by Laurie Simmons (1978) (MoMALearning n.d.).
Another extended activity could have the students create a short story or poem that describes a family member or an adult they admire that adopts the style of Franz Kafka’s short story,
The Wish To Be A Red Indian
or Jacqueline Woodson’s poem,
(Kafka 1983) (Woodson 2003).
An accommodation activity for this lesson may include reading Franz Kafka’s short story,
The Wish To Be A Red Indian
and Jacqueline Woodson’s poem,
and then have the students 1) circle all verbs, 2) box all adjectives, 3) triangulate all nouns and 4) underline all adverbs. After discussing the role of verbs, adjectives, nouns and adverbs, students would re-read the short story and poem and analyze how the selected words affect the meaning of the poem and short story. Students could proceed on to create a faux Facebook® page for a friend who is going to a new school that 1) has a visual with a nickname and shows them doing what they love, 2) using family, friends, acquaintances, interests, and visitors to his/her Facebook®, describe your friend, 3) post comments people visiting his page would make because they know him/her or share interests or likes/dislikes (include at least two negative characteristics about your friend with a positive spin)
Lesson 6: Who Said You Were Beautiful?
This lesson examines the concept of identity as it relates to a female’s standard of beauty. The female characters the students encounter in the literary texts are described by themselves or others as different. Students are asked to consider whether the various texts present their differences as a source of character conflict and if so, to what extent is the impact.
Students are first asked to compare and contrast the main character featured in excerpts from two novels:
The House on Mango Street
The Bluest Eye
(Cisneros 1984) (Morrison 1978).
“Everybody in our family has different hair. My Papa’s hair is like a broom, all up in the air. And me, my hair is lazy. It never obeys barrettes or bands. Carlos’ hair is thick and straight. He doesn’t need to comb it. Nenny’s hair is slipper—
slides out of your hand. And Kiki, who is the youngest, has hair like fur. But my mother’s hair, my mother’s hair, like little rosettes, like little candy circles all curly and pretty because she pinned it in pincurls all day, sweet to put your nose into when she is holding you, holding you and you feel safe, is the warm smell of bread before you bake it, is the smell when she makes room for you on her side of the bed still warm with her skin, and you sleep near her, the rain outside falling and Papa snoring. The snoring, the rain, and Mama’s hair that smells like bread
“As long as she looked the way she did, as long she was ugly, she would have to
stay with these people. Somehow she belonged to them. Long hours she sat looking in the mirror, trying to discover the secret of the ugliness, the ugliness that made her ignored or despised at school, by teachers, and classmates alike. She was the only member of her class who sat alone at a double desk. The first letter of her last name forced her to sit in the front of the room always. But what about Marie Appolonaire? Marie was in front of her, but she shared a desk with Luke Angelino. Her teachers had always treated her this way. They tried never to glance at her and called on her only when everyone was required to respond. She also knew that when one of the girls wanted to be particularly insulting to a boy or wanted to get an immediate response from h she could say “Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove! Bobby loves Pecola Breedlove! And never fail to get peals of laughter from those in earshot and mock anger from the accused. It occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if her eyes… those eyes were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different. Her teeth were good, and at least her nose was not big and flat like some of those who were thought so cute. If she looked different, beautiful…Maybe they’d say, “Why, look at pretty-eyed Pecola...”
“What can I do for you, my child?”
She stood there, her hands folded across her stomach, a little protruding pot of
tummy. “Maybe. Maybe you can do it for me.”
“Do what for you?”
“I can’t go to school no more. And I thought maybe you could help me.”
“Help you how?” Tell me. Don’t be frightened.”
“What about your eyes?”
“I want them blue.”
Soaphead pursed his lips, and let his tongue stroke a gold inlay. He thought it was
at one the most fantastic and the most logical petition he had ever received. Here was an ugly little girl asking for beauty. A surge of love and understanding swept through him, but was quickly replaced by anger. Anger that he was powerless to help her. Of all the wishes people had brought him—money, love, revenge—this seemed to him the post poignant and the one most deserving of fulfillment. A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes… His outrage grew and felt like power—only the power to make others believe he had it. It seemed so sad so frivolous, ha mere mortality, not judgment, kept him from it. Or did it?” (Morrison 1978)
The House On Mango Street
, Cisneros describes her family members by their individual hair textures, whereas, in
The Bluest Eye
, Morrison introduces students to the female character, Pecola, who believes that is she obtains blue eyes she will be deemed beautiful by others and her life will change. In a poem,
, the poet asks the reader whether or not one has received a compliment if the compliment denies who or what they are (Tafolla 2011). Finally, in the short story, The Ugly One, author Sharon Flake’s character, teenage girl, Asia is described as having been beautiful by her grandmother until age seven at which point she developed a skin disorder and is told to look inward for her beauty (Flake, The Ugly One 2004).
For an extended activity the students would compare and contrast three works,
by Carolivia Herron
by Charisse Carney-Nunes
I Am Not My Hair
by Indie Arie for their respective themes in a 500-word essay.
Explain how the rhythm of the respective pieces add or detract from the message of the respective pieces. Cite text evidence to support the claims made in your analysis. Your essay should have a clear thesis, and include an analysis of the point of view.