June 2012


  • Artwork by Scott Albrecht
  • Editors:
    Tishon Woolcock
    Caits Meissner
    Nora Salem
  • Editor's Note:
    How To Read The Reader

June 2012

In the Classroom: Exploring Identity

Age group: Middle/High School/University

Goal and Objectives: Using Elana Bell’s piece Searching for the Lost Jews of Alexandria as inspiration, students creatively explore identity, engage in learning about the Israel/Palestine conflict and write their own creative piece.

Guiding Question: What are my identities and how do I exist in the world alongside people with differences?

Exploring Identity Lesson Plan


– What is identity? Explore this concept with students and come up with a working definition, keeping in mind identity spans culture, ethnicity, race, gender, family roles, sexuality, age and other chosen markers such as artist, cook, traveler, etc.

– Task students with creating an identity web:

Begin with a sheet of paper, writing your name in the center. Extending outward, write words and phrases that encompass your identity. Feel free to add illustrations, symbols and use color. Get creative! This web represents you!

– Hang all maps on the wall and have students do a gallery walk. When a student sees an identity they share, they should place a dot or star next to this word.

– Share out the experience. What surprised you about a fellow student- was there an identity that you wouldn’t have guessed? What identities appeared the most? Discuss.


– Ask students to pick one or two of their identities that affect them the most in the world. Which are most important to them? What symbols represent this identity visually? Students should identify clothing, make up, instruments, food and other visual representations of their chosen identity.

– Show students Iranian American artist Sara Rabar’s controversial textile flags. Here, the artist takes the American Flag image and infuses them with different symbology. Discuss the flags with the students. What is the artist attempting to do here?

– Task students with creating a visual representation of these identities by making a personal flag made of solely images. They can use colored pencils, symbols cut from colored paper, but no words.

Flag Template: http://www.teachervision.fen.com/flag-day/printable/5925.html

– Using Sarah’s artist statement as guiding inspiration, students should write their own 4-5 sentence artist statement for their flag on an index card. They can be abstract if they wish, as Sarah’s has, or more concrete, explaining their symbols directly. (http://www.sararahbar.com/index.php?page=23_)

– Students present work in front of class, or through a gallery walk.


– Read article aloud with students:
A Synopsis of the Israel/Palestine Conflict

For a more in-depth account of the conflict, please read:

Debate the topic with students aloud. What are their initial thoughts and reactions?

*This is a great place to connect other shared histories. For example: the foundation of America as we know it being an occupation of Native American land.

– Share JR’s Face 2 Face project with students:

The Face2Face project is to make portraits of Palestinians and Israelis doing the same job and to post them face to face, in huge formats, in unavoidable places, on the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.

In a very sensitive context, we need to be clear.
We are in favor of a solution for which two countries, Israel and Palestine would live peacefully within safe and internationally recognized borders.

4) PRE-WRITING EXERCISE: Places You Cannot Go

– Ask students to return to their chosen identity. Thinking of this, ask students to create a list of places they feel uncomfortable going. Share out some examples and discuss why these discomforts may occur:

– A white, well off person may feel uncomfortable entering an inner city community (conditioned fear of poverty, being robbed, historical and institutional racism preventing communities from connecting.) This example can also work in reverse. A person of color may feel uncomfortable in a white community, fearing racism, being perceived as dangerous and “women clutching their purses.”

– A woman may feel uncomfortable walking by a group of men on the street, or asserting herself in a class of all men (women have historically been conditioned to be seen as objects of desire, or less smart than men– seen and not heard.)

– An artist might feel uncomfortable walking into a corporate board meeting (if not dressed in a suit, may be judged as having less to offer.)

– A Muslim may feel uncomfortable entering a predominately Christian community (fear of being stereotyped as a “terrorist.”)

– Share out student lists. Ask students to individually share their “place they cannot go” and ask the class to answer the “why.” Remind them that whether “real” or “perceived,” their choices are valid.

– Read Elana Bell’s piece, Searching for the Lost Jews of Alexandria and discuss:

– In what ways does this remind you of the articles we previously read? Let students know that the Israel/Palestine conflict was once more widespread throughout Arab nations. Thought Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979 with Israel, the conflict interpersonally continues.

– How did the author visit a place she “could not go?” In what ways did she defy stereotypes about her identity throughout her journey?

– What special moments did the author encounter on her trip? What words did she use to describe these moments that help us understand why they were special?

– Were you surprised to read about the people she’d encountered in her journey, after her friend’s warnings? Why or why not?

5) WRITING EXERCISE: Places You Cannot Go

In a timed setting, students should write a poem, essay or other creative writing piece that speaks to this place they “cannot go.” Here are a few choices they can pick from for perspective:

– Write a piece speaking to the inhabitants of the place you cannot go. What do you want to share with them? What do you want them to know about you, and people who share your identity?

– Write a piece in the voice of the inhabitants of the place you cannot go. What are they thinking? What are they saying? What would they say to you?

– Write a piece where two people meet– one from the place you cannot go, and one who shares your identity. What happens when these two people meet? Are they kind? Do they share something in common? Do they fight? Write the scene.


In pairs, students should critique a partner’s work. Where can the metaphor and imagery be pushed? Is the piece clear? Is there a reason this story is being told? What feeling does it give the reader. Does it push the reader’s imagination?

Giving students a rubric or a check list grading sheet based on their identified “what makes a good poem” elements will help guide the process.


Using the advice given by peers, students retool and revisit their piece, adding imagery, metaphor and simile in areas identified and clarifying problematic/unclear language. It is helpful to scaffold this process into “draft one” and “draft two,” so students can see their own growth.


Students share out in front of the class. It is always a positive experience to have students build in an element of positive feedback. Some ways to guide this process:

– Create a performance environment: Identify a student host to “lead” the “open mic.” Each student is introduced with a brief biography. Hand claps or finger snaps set the stage. Assign a student to “DJ,” intro-ing each poet coming to the “stage,” or front of classroom, with appropriate music.

– Sharing aloud: After each poem shared, ask for a few students to verbally share out parts of the poem they enjoyed.

– Index Cards: Have a list of guiding questions on the board. Ask students to give specific, positive feedback to each piece shared aloud that can be collected. At the end of class, distribute the index cards to each poet.

– Assigning “positive feedback” partners. Each student is assigned a fellow classmate to “grade” or “positively assess” a peer on their work using a rubric or pre-planned feedback sheet.


Create an experience for the student work to live beyond the four walls of the classroom. Consider compiling a photocopied “chapbook” of the poems, asking an artistic student to illustrate the cover, or a blog where the poems can live and be shared with parents, school administrators and peers. Another option may be a lunch time “poetry open mic” where the students act as the “feature,” having a few brave class members share out their class pieces to a wider audience.

Related Article: Searching for The Lost Jews of Alexandria by Elana Bell

Written and Developed by Caits Meissner for Well&Often

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