Lesson Plans Days 1-4: identity overview and thinking about gender

**These are the first of several lesson plans I created for the identity unit at Miller’s Hill Elementary. The plans typically appear as they were initially written, with the body listed in bullet points in the order I intended the lesson to follow. However, nearly all of the lessons were forced to change and adapt to student needs during implementation.**

Day One: Identity Overview

Lesson Development: I wanted to use the first day to get the kids thinking about their own identities and all the different pieces that make them who they are. As this day was the introduction to a longer unit on socially constructed identity, I felt it was essential that they first understood the distinction between socially constructed identities and aspects of their personality such as likes and dislikes. I struggled for a while on how to translate “socially constructed identities” into language accessible for sixth graders, but ultimately realized that they would supply the language themselves. In talking about different aspects of a person’s identity and asking students to group different traits together, students were clearly able to see the difference and offered words like “choice” to separate them. The terminology for “socially constructed” easily became “identities you can’t choose” or “identities you’re born into.”

  • What do I mean when I say ‘identity’? “What are some ways you would identify yourself?”
  • Take a moment and write a response to the question ‘who are you?’ “It could be a narrative paragraph, or even just a list of attributes – we’re just trying to generate ideas.”
  • After about five minutes, ask students to share their lists with a neighbor and look at similarities and differences. What did people focus on? Take some volunteers (yourself included) to share and write down some of the words people used on the board. Talk about similarities and differences as a class.
  • Differentiate socially constructed identity from personality traits. Start by asking students to group the identity attributes, and then ask them why they grouped the way they did. “What if we were going to categorize different identities? What would go together?” “What do X and X have in common?”
  • Things to consider in grouping identities: choice (being born into certain identities), societal expectations (rules), societal organization (explicit examples: racialized slavery, women’s suffrage, segregation). Socially constructed identities are often the labels other people apply to you by looking. If students are really stuck, stand in front of the class and ask them to describe you, see what comes out of it.
  • What are some of those types of identity? (Get explicit – race, class, gender, sexuality etc.). “Let’s return to our lists now – is there anything people would add to the lists about themselves now that we’re thinking along those lines?”
  • If there is time at the end, begin brainstorming for tomorrow’s writing exercise. Tell the class we will be writing stories that have to do with these types of identities. First take volunteers to share ideas for stories they have and then try to work with students who are stuck.

Day Two: Writing About Identity

Lesson Development: In this lesson, I wanted to get students to start writing narratives about their identities, specifically those aspects of their identity in which they don’t have a choice. I had planned to spend most of the day on writing, though we ended up spending considerable time finishing yesterday’s lesson before moving on to the writing piece. During the lesson, it became apparent that spending only one day discussing socially constructed identity was not nearly enough for most of the students to understand the concept well enough to write a story relating to it, so the pace was adjusted accordingly.

  • Review yesterday’s lesson:

–>Actually finish yesterdays lesson: open by reviewing the two major points of contention between the class (that white isn’t a race and that being gay is a choice). Talk about how white is a race which refers to people of European descent and is typically marked by light skin.

–>Sexuality is not a choice (being out is a choice), though this is a common myth which perpetuates homophobia and allows discrimination against gays by claiming “it’s not a real thing.” Would it be illustrative to show how myths are perpetuated about other groups to justify discrimination?

–>Return to Alexis’ point about acting straight/staying in the closet because it’s considered normal and people want to avoid being ostracized. What does “normal” mean?  How can the idea of “normal” be harmful?

–>Talk more about discrimination and societal organization based on these identity traits, which is what makes them so important. (EX: slavery, segregation, women’s suffrage, etc.).

  • Ask students to write a story about an aspect of their identity which they don’t have a choice in (they should all have their lists of identity traits still). First, share something Naomi or I wrote in response to the prompt.
  • It could be a moment where they felt that identity strongly (were treated better/worse because of it?)
  • A moment when they first realized they were X, or that there were unspoken rules associated with being X.
  • It could also be a general narrative about how they felt about being X throughout their life. Though the focus should be more on content then style, ideally I would like to get them to start thinking about these moments as stories and how to present them in a coherent way.
  • What does it feel like to be X? It doesn’t need to be in narrative (beginning-middle-end) form. (This prompt was offered later in the lesson, as it became clear students were having trouble.)
  • Take a few minutes to brainstorm ideas as a group, and then have students begin their writing.
  • Towards the end of the lesson, have volunteers share their work and discuss the content as a class.
  • Homework: find three advertisements of people from newspapers or magazines and bring them in.

Day Three: Thinking About Gender

Lesson Development: I wanted to use this lesson to get students to define gender, understand the difference between sex and gender, begin discussing gender roles and stereotypes and the way the media perpetuates them, and to understand that nothing about gender is innate. In an effort to get students to critically think about media messages surrounding gender, one day prior I asked them to bring in newspaper or magazine ads featuring people which we would analyze and discuss. I felt that having examples of media messages that they not only selected themselves, but could also decode themselves, would make the lesson far more powerful than an adult simply presenting already analyzed images for their consumption.

  • Begin by asking students what they think “gender” means. Put “sex” and “gender” on the board. Ask them what they think the difference is. Guide them to the fact that sex refers to anatomy, and gender refers to gender identity (the gender one sees oneself as) and social roles – to someone being a boy, girl, or whatever.  (Try using the term social roles and see if any of them get it. If not, don’t worry about it – it may become clearer as we discuss stereotypes.)
  •  Read an excerpt from my piece about playing with a Barbie when I was younger and my father being uncomfortable. Follow-up questions: What happened here? Can someone summarize it? Why did that happen?
  • What makes you a boy? What makes you a girl? List answers on board.
  • What is a stereotype? A widely held – though false – belief/generalization about a particular type of person or thing. What are stereotypes for girls? For boys? (Add to list we’ve already been making.)
  • None of the qualities on our lists are innate – all are learned/things society tells us to do
  • Apply the terms masculinity and femininity to the lists (only if there is time and students seem to be getting it –this doesn’t need to be a focus.)
  • Have everyone get out their images split up into two groups. Naomi and I will each take one. Ask students to discuss how they see those stereotypes in the images. They don’t need to write it down, but an adult should so when we return to the big class group we can share what we found and discuss the media’s role in perpetuating stereotypes.
  • Closing: how are stereotypes – and media perpetuation of them – harmful? “What happens when people don’t conform to gender expectations?” (Are harassed, made fun of, often accused of homosexuality, etc.)


Day Four: Writing About Gender

Lesson Development: Expanding on an understanding of social roles and gender stereotypes we have been building all week, I wanted to use this lesson to get students thinking and writing about those concepts in relation to themselves. I wanted them to not only tell stories about how they have experienced their gender, but also express their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about those experiences and societal gender norms.

  • Review Yesterday’s lesson on gender, specifically:
  • Gender expectations/stereotypes and ridicule based on not conforming to gender expectations
  • Ask students to write about their own experience with gender. “Think about those qualities that we applied to ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ and the ‘rules’ society has for gender.”
  • Were you ever told you could/couldn’t do something cause you were a boy or a girl?
  • What are times when you broke from those roles?
  • Have you ever been made fun of for doing that?
  • Have you ever made fun of someone for doing that?
  • What are the times when you conformed to gender roles in your life?
  • Were you aware of it at the time?
  • Share what Naomi wrote in response to the prompt.
  • Share at the end – take a few volunteers to read their entire pieces and discuss the content as a class.

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