Working with students, in my case high school, "Who am I?" is not usually a question that you hear teenagers say aloud, but you can see them going through this on a daily basis: clothes they wear, makeup color choices, different hairstyles, questions they ask about religion or politics. I see my students working to find themselves in myriad of ways and I feel very privileged to be a part of that process. My challenge as a teacher is to take the concept of identity, as my students see it personally, and challenge them to relate it to people in history.
One of the most successful and fun ways I've been able to do this is by tailoring discussion around an old cartoon. This clip is a video adaptation of the illustrated book, The Bear That Wasn’t.
- Introduce the topic of identity by creating an identity chart. Have students write in a web around their name all the characteristics they would use to describe who they are with the question, "How do you see yourself?"
- Have students flip this paper over to make another identity chart, but this time from the perspective of the outside world. Ask them, "How would a stranger describe you?"
- I have students use the "outside world" version to discuss openly stereotypes about each other, where these stereotypes originate, and how they feel about them.
- Queue up the video The Bear That Wasn't, and tell the students to look for examples that relate to at least two of the following themes: finding identity, struggling with identity, and oppression / control. Be sure to have them justify how their examples relate to the theme in order to ensure critical thinking.
- After the cartoon is over, ask students to discuss in small groups and then share out with the larger class. After hearing their theme examples, ask them, "How do you relate to the bear?"
- End this activity by asking students to relate the bear to people in history that you've studied (answers will vary).
This is a perfect activity to discuss the perspective of the colonized during the age of exploration and imperialism, as well as any group of people who have been or are being oppressed. In addition, I'd like to think this helps them work through finding their own identities as well.
Additional strategies for using The Bear That Wasn't:
- FLIP your classroom by using a Zaption tour of The Bear That Wasn't with embedded prompts for when students view the film at home. Click here to see the brand new tour.
- LINK this story with a discussion about LGBTQI issues as shared by a teacher on our sister blog, ONnetwork in Ontario, Canada. Click here to read this story.
- BORROW a class set of the books from Facing History's Lending Library. Click here for more information.
- SEE how The Bear That Wasn't led into a unit on Medieval Europe for another LA teacher. Click here for Rebecca Berger's blog.