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September 25, 2013 Me, Myself, and I: An Identity-Themed Common Core ELA Unit By Lindsey Petlak
Grades 3–5

    We’re all on a voyage together embarking on and embracing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). My district, school, and fourth grade team have made the plunge this year, and while we have overarching themes, concept modules and frameworks, as well as essential questions, we are still working on actual toolboxes equipped with units, lesson plans, and activities to fit within those modules.

    Our first stab at creating an integrated unit tied to the CCSS and our conceptual modules comes through an introduction to the theme of “identity.” This is perfect for starting the year off, as it involves getting-to-know-you activities, setting goals, self-examinations, and (most importantly) recognizing that we are all unique, and that’s what makes our classroom so dynamic. Let’s take a look at how our unit is rolling out so far! 

    It’s always great to kick off a thematic study with lots of exciting pictures books, and that’s exactly what we did. I did not initially announce or introduce the concept theme of identity but waited for the students to deduce the common thread between these seemingly unrelated stories on their own. And so they did. It started with discussions about how characters were learning lessons on being themselves, it’s okay to be “different,” and that we have to be ourselves despite what others say. Below are a few of the excellent and varied texts used to stimulate these deductions and engaging discussions. Check out the Scholastic Teacher Store for some of these titles, and the Book Wizard to find texts with similar themes.

    The Sneetches and Other StoriesThe Name JarA Bad Case of StripesI Can Hear the SunImage result for spaghetti in a hot dog bunMrs. Spitzer's Garden

    At this point I introduced the concept of identity by making a KWL chart as a whole class. Then, we discussed the three essential questions (see below) that we hoped to gain knowledge in through this study and other identity-themed lessons throughout the year. We may not fully answer these questions in our initial study of identity, but will build upon that theme as the year progresses.

    Thematic Big Idea: Identity (Individual, Collective, and Cultural) is Shaped by Perspective (and Vice-Versa)

    • How do people "see" themselves?

    • What shapes identity?

    • Is identity constant? (Does it change?)

    Next, we made entries in our CCSS Aligned Interactive Reading Notebooks from another favorite teacher blogger, Nicole Shelby. It was so easy to tie in mini-lessons on the literature elements of theme, characters, connections, compare/contrast, and making inferences. Unlike send-home worksheets, these notebooks remain at school as on-going references that we add and refer to throughout the year. Each time we study a new literature theme, we’ll add notes to our theme elements page! 


    Once we built this foundation of the CCSS skills essential to understanding the concept of identity, we engaged in a wide array of awesomely unique and individualized activities. Check out how each student learned more about their identities!

    Multiple Intelligences Quiz: Each student completed an online multiple intelligences quiz for primary students (secondary also available). This quiz provided a graph of each child’s strengths, interests, and learning styles. What great conversations stemmed from seeing similarities between classmates, as well as unique results for each child. Everyone felt proud that they had a talent and special way they learned best. I HIGHLY recommend this activity! 

    Awesome Adjectives that Describe Me: After a lesson(s) on adjectives, students were given a smattering of adjective word cards that had character traits on them. They colored the words they felt described their character. These word cards were then used for two purposes: 1) To create their very own Wordle or Tagxedo; 2) To cut out and glue to the “character” flap on their identity flipbooks (see below). We displayed student Wordles and Multiple Intelligences results graphs at open house. Parents LOVED seeing these two portfolio pieces from their students.


    Super Special Suitcases: Our PTO-sponsored school supplies come packaged in sturdy cardboard boxes with plastic handles. Each year, I try to find a creative use for these excellent packages. To further connect the concept of identity to our year long classroom theme of “road tripping,” students decorated the outside of their boxes with photos, words, and magazine clippings of everywhere (near and far) they’ve traveled or have relatives in the United States. Then, they presented these boxes to classmates, sharing stories for each image on the outside of the box. Have your students pack the suitcases with objects that represent their identity — things that are essential and important to them (i.e. family photo, favorite sport item, special toy, etc.).

    My Timeline Posters: Each week we have a “cruising kid” (star student). In the past I gave the star student a poster to complete the Friday before it’s their special week. They brought it back on Monday and showed it to the class to kick off their week. This year I tried something different. I gave the entire class their star student poster, had them complete it, and then return it to school and present to partners. Now everyone’s poster is already completed (so I don’t have to worry about forgetting to send it home!), and it tied perfectly to our introductory study of the theme of identity. 

    We used the Scholastic My Timeline (Grades 3–6) Graphic Organizer Posters  for our start student posters.  I love these, because they go beyond a typical poster and tie in the concept of timelines!  Talk about integrating writing with math and social studies…woo hoo!


    I Am . . . Poems:  I found this fabulous “I Am . . . ” poem template from one of my favorite teacher bloggers, Hope King. After completing many of the aforementioned activities, students engaged in this poetry activity, which integrated both writing and poetry CCSS.





    Identity Common Thread Quilts:  These two teacher resource books from Scholastic provide amazing quilt projects for the classroom, including two quilts that fit nicely into our theme of identity. Students create their own, individual, unique quilt square, then they are all combined into a single, unified class quilt.  This symbolizes that while we are all unique individuals, we are also a unified team. 

    Quick Quilts Across the Curriculum and Quilt & Learn Activities

    Identity Flipbooks: As a culminating project, students created a five-flap identity flipbook (idea courtesy of my awesome fourth grade teammates). The student’s identity remains a secret until you lift the bottom flap. Our flap labels were: My Smarts (multiple intelligences results), My Character (awesome adjectives that describe me), My Favorites (a few of my favorite things), My Goals (reading, math, behavior, etc.), and I Am . . . (photo reveal). We used a simple draft page to plan out our thoughts, then students assembled, wrote, and illustrated their flipbooks. You could really “kick these up a notch” by including a QR code or augmented reality (Aurasma) on the final page where the student reveals his/her identity via video, voice recording, slideshow, or other tech created reveal. 



    Stay Tuned: We will be spiraling back to the concept of identity and weaving it throughout our curriculum throughout the entire year. Even just looking at this simple introductory unit, we have integrated the skills and CCSS for everything from reading literature, to parts of speech, poetry, to speaking and listening skills. Our fourth grade team has already scouted the texts of In The Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson (watch for a future post on this book!) and Julie of the Wolves for future identity-themed literature studies.


    What CCSS thematic concept modules are your district implementing? Have you created your own identity-themed unit? If so, please share! Please leave a comment about identity-themed picture or chapter books you use in your classroom.

    Common Core Anchor Standards

    While these activities were super fun, their primary purpose was to engage students in learning, practicing, and applying CCSS for ELA. Below you will see correlated CCSS for ELA Anchor Standards for these activities.

    Key Ideas and Details:

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

    Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

    Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently..

    Speaking & Listening — Comprehension and Collaboration:

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

    Speaking & Listening — Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

    Conventions of Standard English:

    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
    • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.



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