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One World Lessons: Identity

In our latest blog series, Laura D’Elia (K-3 Library Teacher) and Wendy Garland (1-5 Library Teacher) discuss their experiences with and offer lessons on diversity, equity, and inclusion that can be taught in the K-6 classroom or library. Each lesson incorporates the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and the AASL Standards Framework for Learning, and includes recommended picture books from the Diverse BookFinder collection. 

Wendy Garland (she/her/hers) has been an elementary librarian since 2002. She has a BA in Spanish and a BS in liberal studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a MLIS from Simmons College. Wendy has spoken at library conferences both locally and internationally and was a participant in the AASL Induction Program. She shares all things “library” at @dancelibrarian and

Laura Beals D’Elia (she/her/hers) has been an elementary library teacher since 2002. She has presented at various state, national, and international conferences on such topics as 1:1 iPads in an elementary school library and technology program, digital storytelling, and guided inquiry. She currently co-teaches a professional workshop for educators with her district’s ELL District Coordinator about using inclusive picture books in the classroom for all grade levels. Follow the Armstrong Elementary Library at @aeslibs.

Why Identity?

Building empathy is an essential part of diversity, equity, and inclusion instruction. Through inclusive books, students are exposed to various characters and stories which allows them to celebrate all identities and help them to better identify their own mirror and window experiences

The Lesson

To teach this lesson in a fun and accessible way, we decided to teach it in two parts. We looked at the identity of non-human characters first and then explored it more deeply with human characters so we could ultimately apply it to ourselves.

  • Essential Question: What are the different parts of people’s identities?
  • AASL Standards: Include/Grow II.D.3 Learners demonstrate empathy and equity in knowledge building within the global community by reflecting on their own place within the global learning community.
  • Social Justice Standards: Identity 1 Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Pre-Read Aloud

We used the concept of “inside” and “outside” to help students understand that there are many different parts of a person’s identity. Some of them you can see on the outside, such as hair color or height. Some of them you can’t see because they are on the inside, such as being a sister or being creative.

Read Aloud Part I

We chose to use two, non-human character books to begin our thinking about what identity is: We Will Rock Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins and It’s Okay to be a Unicorn! by Jason Tharp. (Note: These titles are not in the Diverse BookFinder collection because the characters are not human.)

We Will Rock Our Classmates:
It's Okay to Be A Unicorn:

We asked students to find examples in the story of both inside and outside parts while we read. Outside parts were significantly easier to identify. To help students stay actively listening for “inside” clues, students were encouraged to use the heart hand signal when they heard something that the character loved. These books were so successful because they beautifully communicated a positive message of “being yourself” with a great use of humor.

The symbol for “I heard something our character loves.”

Post-Read Aloud Part I

Using identity diagrams, we asked students to write, color, and draw the parts of the characters’ identities. For most classes, we did this together as a guided whole group activity demonstrating how inside characteristics were placed inside the character shape and outside characteristics were placed on the outside. Seeing that visual distinction was a game changer for many students. Librarian Amanda McCoy’s 1st grade character work inspired this activity.

Kindergarteners and 1st graders noting parts of Penelope’s identity, inside and outside
2nd graders note parts of Cornelius’s identity, inside and outside

Read Aloud Part II

Once we established how to think about identity by using the concept of “inside” and “outside”, we read a book that included human characters. As we read we paused to identify different pieces of characters’ identities. Students noticed different abilities, appearances, professions, ages, etc. Again, we asked students to show the heart hand signal when they recognized an inside identity.

What I Am


by Divya Srinivasan

"The creator of Little Owl's Night explores and celebrates the complexities of what makes us who we are in this comforting and thoughtful picture book. A young narrator describes herself: a girl, a granddaughter, Indian, and American. Soon, we see the young girl as a plethora of things: selfish and generous, mean and kind, brave and mischievous. While many of these qualities oppose each other, the context and illustrations make it abundantly clear that she speaks the truth. She is a walking contradiction, and that is precisely what makes her both a unique individual and an essential piece of the greater world around her. Divya Srinivasan shows what makes us human and proud to be who we are." -- publisher

Race/Culture Concepts

All Kinds of Awesome


by Jess Hitchman and Vivienne To

"A joyful and inspiring picture book celebration of finding your passion. Race awesome, Case awesome Flying into space awesome What kind of awesome will you be? Jess Hitchman's joyful, playful picture book is a celebration of children finding their passions and embracing their own awesomeness. Adorable illustrations by Vivienne To provide a diverse and multicultural group of kids, all coming together on the final line of: "You will always be awesome to me."" -- publisher


The Me I Choose To Be


by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, Kahran Bethencourt and Regis Bethencourt

"In this "exquisite" (Shelf Awareness) "affirming" (Kirkus), and "empowering visual essay" (Publishers Weekly) the bestselling author of I Love My Hair! joins forces with the dynamic photography duo behind Glory to create a stunning celebration of the many things you can be! The possibilities are endless in this uplifting ode to the power of potential. With lyrical text by bestselling author Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and images by Regis and Kahran Bethencourt—the team behind CreativeSoul Photography—each page of The Me I Choose To Be is an immersive call for self-love that highlights the inherent beauty of all Black and brown children. " -- publisher

Beautiful Life

Post-Read Aloud Part II

When we first read Lovely and asked students to identify different pieces of characters’ identities at the end of the book, students didn’t have much to share. It felt like they were stuck. After the read aloud, we gave small groups just one page from the book and had them examine it. This allowed them to focus in-depth on the brief text and rich images and contribute to the discussion.

3rd graders examined one illustration of Lovely to learn about the outside parts of identity. They saw shoes that expressed different styles and personalities, different abilities, jobs, hair color, styles, and skin colors.

Finally, we asked students to create an Identity Diagram of their own inside and outside identities. We explained that if there was any part of a student’s identity that they did not want to share in their diagram, they did not have to. One 2nd grader pulled me aside and quietly asked if it was okay to use “they/them” instead of “she.” Absolutely!

2nd graders created their own diagrams.
Students could check the box if they gave us permission to display/share their identity diagram.

The diagram for older students looked a little different but still gave them opportunities to write or draw these.

4th graders mapped their identities
5th graders read Looking Like Me and chose how they wanted to share their identities (a poem or an identity map).
Some got very personal and deep.

A challenge we needed to address was how does this lesson look different for older students? While we felt it was important for all students to map their identities, we needed to take this thinking to the next level.

With 4th and 5th graders we read What I Am.  Students then sorted pieces of the main character's identities (taken directly from the text) into parts she chose and parts chosen for her. We had discussions about things like how much of an identity are you born with? How much do you control? How much do you develop?

Students found certain identities harder to categorize like “scaredy cat” & “brave.”

Additional activity: We had the time to do more with some of our classes and used this opportunity to give students a choice in the book they read and in how they wanted to express their identity through hands-on activities. See examples here and here of how students shared their identities.

5th graders chose a book that interested them and then chose an activity


When we first created these DEI lessons we discussed for a long time which lesson should be taught first: Mirror and Windows or Identity? We initially thought it was necessary to dig into our own identities before exercising these in our mirror and window discussion ideas.  However, we found that examining ourselves was harder than we thought. We found that the progression of ideas and thinking was easier for students when we taught Mirrors and Windows first. Because Mirrors and Windows didn’t focus solely on identity and included other ways to connect to a story through experiences, it was a natural first step before we closely examined ourselves in the identity lessons.

In addition, we originally began this identity lesson with Part II (having already done the Mirror and Window lessons). We went right to the read aloud with human characters where we explored identities.  However, we found that conversations were limited and students were missing a vital connection to the book. We backtracked and inserted Part I where we were able to connect (and laugh) with non-human characters. This element of humor was what made the lesson so accessible.

We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each other better. We were able to honor students’ identities and respect their privacy. The lessons gave them room and the opportunity to share (or not share) in a safe and welcoming space.

Explore other One World Lessons

Many of the cover images on this site are from Google Books.
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