Appreciating Individuality and Identity through Literature

LITERATURE

by Emma Winslow, Kendal Stopher and Mohamed Elhess

Our classroom is becoming more centered on the unique needs of each student. As a result, we are embracing diversity. This means we need to practice and cultivate acceptance. However, many EFL teachers focus on creating authentic dialogues for topics like shopping, visiting doctors, completing study applications etc., and while these are important, there are other modern topics which also require attention as for example diversity.

In today’s classroom, the world is changing – from students simply being seen as “different” to bullying, cyber-bullying and peer pressure. It is vital for today’s curriculum to incorporate different topics on differences and belonging, privilege and ability, acceptance, empowerment and encouragement.

One method for doing this is to incorporate literature that encompasses topics on compassion and tolerance in order to understand the unique needs of every student and help them to avoid and deal with vulnerable situations. With reading such books, students can learn to develop empathy and can associate an aspect of the student’s life to that of those of the characters.

For this purpose, we decided to select a story that is based on uniqueness and individuality, Chrysanthemum, which is based on a character starting her first day of school. The other students make fun of her before even meeting her, just by hearing her name.

Modeling Lesson Plan

Objective: Students will understand the meaning of individuality and write adjectives reflecting the positive attributes they identify in themselves.

New words: “Individuality” and the other adjectives the students identify.

Activating Students’ Backgrounds

Instruct the students to discuss in their small groups why they think individuality is important. Share their answers with the rest of the groups.

On a whiteboard or bulletin board, demonstrate the term “uniqueness” by creating two circles, each containing a word – “feel” and “think”. Ask the students to write down how they feel and think in response to the following statement:

➢Imagine everyone was the same. How would that make you feel?

Each student should take turns writing their answers in the two circles.
Some examples of student answers could be:

✔If everyone was the same, the world would be boring.
✔ If everyone was the same, different jobs wouldn’t get done.
✔It is important to be yourself and who you are, so you can be happy.

Reading Aloud and Discussion Groups

Read the book to the class aloud, while displaying it for them using the document camera. This allows the students to focus on the content of the book and practice their listening and reading skills.

As they listen, have them draw a picture representing the book using positive words to describe the main character.

Focus on the main idea of the book and ask the students to reflect on the following questions:

➢Why did the class laugh when the teacher took attendance? Do you think it hurt her feelings?
➢Would you laugh at Chrysanthemum?
➢Do you think Chrysanthemum should feel badly about her name? Why? What would you do if you were her?

Participating in a group discussion helps students gain confidence in a presentation setting. It pushes them to think deeper. Having the students write positive adjectives describing themselves helps them with their spelling and vocabulary. It is also a good way to emphasize and reinforce the importance of individuality, the theme of today’s lesson.

Assessment

Using the lesson as inspiration, have the students write their own stories featuring and celebrating their unique identities. Ask them to draw from the positive words and attributes they find from the other students in the classroom. Instruct the students to create a circle within the classroom and to share their drawings, as well as the positive words they used to describe their peers.

The teacher should then discuss the importance of recognizing the qualities that make people different as well as the importance for students to express who they truly are.

Final Authentic Project

Students can engage in activities like a letter-writing initiative, podcast, or short film to either act on an important issue created by them or a campaign to raise awareness on why individuality is important. Such activities can spark their curiosity and empathy for the people affected by such an issue.

One example: How can we combat bullying?

By incorporating themes such as diversity into our classrooms we will not only help our students with their English but also help them to think deeper and appreciate the diversity in the world which has always been there but not openly discussed.

 

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