Lesson Plan: The ID Project
Exploring Identity Through the Lens of Culture and Religion

Activities and Procedures

1. Warm-up/Conversation Starters

Write the word “identity” on the board and ask students to brainstorm its meanings. Keep track of students’ responses with a concept or mind map. Students will most likely begin to call out answers that fall into the following categories, among others:

  • possessions or material objects
  • interests
  • people/family
  • community
  • character traits
  • personality
  • goals
  • ethnicity
  • religion
  • geography

A question you might ask is whether identity is just another word for asking, "Who am I on the inside? Who am I on the outside?" Using this question as a springboard, have students explore what identity means for someone like President Barack Obama (of course, there are many prominent and well-known figures you might use for this activity).

Ask students to call out attributes of President Obama’s identity by thinking about the question: What makes Barack Obama who he is on the inside and the outside? Make a list on the board. Some answers that might come up may include: bi-racial, Hawaii, Kenya, Indonesia, his love of basketball, his hometown of Chicago, politician, lawyer, father, husband, Harvard graduate and now President. Through your questions, you’re making clear to students that all these are parts of Obama’s identity.

Wrap-up the activity by sharing the following definition of identity with students:

Identity is our sense of who we are. It is formed by a combination of many factors, including social ties such as our connections to a family, an ethnic group, a religion, a community, a school, or a nation. Our personal experiences also affect our identity. So do our values and beliefs.[callout]

Share with students that they are going to be reading and discussing oral histories where identity plays an important part in people’s views of and interactions with the world.

A concept or mind map is an organizing and brainstorming device where single words are enclosed in a rectangle and are connected to other concept boxes by arrows. Major concept boxes will have lines to and from several other concept boxes generating a network.

2. Questions for Class Discussion

As a class, read and discuss the related chapters of This Is Where I Need To Be, focusing on the following:

  1. Pick two oral histories from the book and compare the factors or characteristics the writers most associate with their identities. What do they have in common? How are they different? (Note to teachers: You may wish to use a Venn diagram for this question.)
  2. How do religion, culture, and world events shape the identities of the authors featured in the book? Why do you think this is so? What about you? How do these factors impact or shape your identity?
  3. What do these stories tell you about the impact of the world on people’s identities? Does society or community change the way people perceive themselves? Find a passage from one of the oral histories to support your answer.
  4. On page 73, Nurah Ahmad recounts her experiences at both a public school and a Muslim private school. How do you think her time spent at both institutions strengthen her identity?
  5. Do these stories lead you to conclude that identity is static or ever-evolving? Multifaceted or one-sided? Explain your answer by using examples from the oral histories for support.
  6. Did you see aspects of yourself reflected in these stories? Do you better understand someone or yourself after reading these stories? Why or why not?

Related resources for this lesson plan.

“The Koran, punk rock and lots of questions,” by Erika Hayasaki
A compelling feature article and photo essay (November 19, 2008) from The Los Angeles Times about Muslim American teenagers search for identity.

Islamic Learning
This photo essay from Time magazine takes us inside an Illinois school where “two worlds” meet.

Five reasons to teach, This is Where I Need to Be.

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