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What is Identity and how is it Formed?

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In this unit, students explore the concept of personal identity as a backdrop for reading the play Pygmalion in Unit 2. Unit 1 begins with a mystery text about an individual’s struggle with her own identity and introduces students to key concepts in identity formation. Students consider the question, “In what ways can individuals define themselves?” as they distinguish between internal and external identifiers. Students read informational texts such as first-person narratives and conduct close reading using text-dependent questions and Reader’s Notes to conduct close reading using text-dependent questions and Reader’s Notes to support the development of their skills such as citing evidence from text, making inferences, summarizing central ideas, and analyzing interactions within a text. This prepares them for both the mid-unit assessment and end of unit assessment. Both assessments require students to read a previously unseen informational text and then make inferences and claims based on the evidence provided in the text.


Each unit is made up of a sequence of between 5-20 lessons. The “unit at a glance” chart in the curriculum map breaks down each unit into its lessons, to show how the curriculum is organized in terms of standards address, supporting targets, ongoing assessment, and protocols. It also indicates which lessons include the mid-unit and end-of-unit assessments.

Big Ideas & Guiding Questions

  • Individuals define themselves in myriad of ways, including both internal and external characteristics.
  • Identity can develop and change over time.
  • How do individuals define themselves?
  • How can struggling with your identity help you to strengthen your sense of self?
  • How can reading different texts about the same topic build our understanding of a complex idea?

Content Connections

This module is designed to address English Language Arts standards as students read literature and informational text about identity formation and transformation. However, the module intentionally incorporates Social Studies Practices and Themes to support potential interdisciplinary connections to this compelling content.

These intentional connections are described below.

Big ideas and guiding questions are informed by the New York State Common Core K-8 Social Studies Framework:

Unifying Themes (pages 6–7)

  • Theme 1: Individual Development and Cultural Identity: The role of social, political, and cultural interactions supports the development of identity; personal identity is a function of an individual’s culture, time, place, geography, interaction with groups, influences from institutions, and lived experiences.
  • Theme 5: Development and Transformation of Social Structures: Role of social class, systems of stratification, social groups, and institutions; role of gender, race, ethnicity, education, class, age, and religion in defining social structures within a culture; social and political inequalities.


Texts to buy

Texts that need to be procured. Please refer to Trade Book List for procurement guidance.

Cover Text Quantity ISBNs
by George Bernard Shaw
One per student
ISBN: 978-1580493994, 1580493998
Nadia's Hands
by Karen English and Jonathan Weiner.
Teacher copy only
ISBN: 978-1563976674

Texts included in the unit

Texts that are included in the lesson materials.

Cover Text Quantity Publisher
Victorian Women: Not What You Might Think
by Gina Zorzi Cline
My Own True Name
by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
“Women and Urban Life in Victorian Britain,”
by Lynda Nead
“Study: Employment Ads Perpetuate Traditional Roles,”
by Duke Today
"Geena Davis, Media Equalizer,”
by New Moon Girls Magazine
“Images of Men in Advertising,”
by Tom Yakanama
“Guys and Dolls No More?”
by Elizabeth Sweet
“Men Are Becoming the Ad Target of the Gender Sneer,”
by Courtney Kane
“‘Cover Girl Culture’ Exposes Media’s Impact on Young Girls,”
by Melanie Deziel
"Truth in Advertising?”
by Stephanie Clifford
“Key Questions to Ask When Analyzing Media Messages,”
by National Association for Media Literacy Education
“Is Money Affecting Your Social Status?”
by Reniqua Allen
Teen Vogue,
“Generation Z Teens Stereotyped As 'Lazy And Unaware”
by Julianne Micoleta
Huffington Post, 2012
“Teen Slang: What's, like, so wrong with like?” BBC News Magazine, September, 2010
by Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine, 2010
“Why Couldn’t Snow White Be Chinese?”
by Grace Lin,
“The Border," Red: Teenage Girls of America Write on What Fires Up Their Lives Today
by Cindy Morand
Penguin/Plume, 2007
ISBN: 9781101213810 |
Team Players, Monitor, September 2006, Vol 37, No. 8.
by Erika Packard,
Monitor, 2006
Not Much, Just Chillin: The Hidden Lives of Middle Schoolers
by Linda Perlstein
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003
ISBN: 978-0345475763

Optional Activities


  • Invite a guest speaker from an organization that works with class or social justice issues.
  • Invite a guest speaker with a psychology background to speak about identity formation and transformation.
  • Invite an author of a memoir or personal narrative about identity to come and speak to the class or be interviewed by the class.

Field work



  • Watch the musical My Fair Lady and compare the filmed version to the play, particularly paying attention to the different endings.
  • Conduct a more in-depth study of class in England and in America. Use the PBS documentary People Like Us to support your study.

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