Investigating Identities

Introduction and Background

The following lesson plan was used by a group of Conflict Analysis and Resolution Master’s and PhD Candidates for a two hour event on the George Mason University Fairfax Campus with approximately 15-20 undergraduate students. The students all came voluntarily, but most were studying Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Global Affairs, and Communications.

Enduring Understanding:The role of identity and how it works for or against us in the world

Essential Questions: How do our multiple identities impact our experiences in life?

Learning Objectives


  • Students will discover the myriad identities that they possess
  • Students will discover how they connect with different people through different identities, and not all identities are those propagated in media and popular culture.
  • Students will discover how identities fit in Marie Dugan’s Nested Model, and how it’s complicated to hold multiple identities within multiple levels of systems.



Time Needed

Total: 2-3 hours


Intro and Identity Maps (1+ hour)
Nested Model Mapping Activity (1+hour)

Materials Needed

Index Cards
Dry erase markers/board
Computer Paper
Masking tape


1). Welcome everyone into the space

2). Explain the activity:

  • The goal is to create a visual map of all the identities you hold. You may put your name on it, or not if you choose to remain anonymous–either is fine, the point is to see what identities you hold.
  • Using the notecard you received, write down the most important identity you hold and place it in the box/container
  • Once you’re finished, grab a piece of tape and stick your map up on the wall somewhere in the room.
  • Grab a sheet of stickers from the front table. When you’re ready, go around to each map and put a sticker next to different identities that you hold on other people’s maps.
  • Once you’re finished, grab a seat somewhere in the circle for our discussion.

3). Break into discussion

  • What does it feel like to see other people’s identity maps?
  • General impressions?
  • What was difficult about this?
  • Were there identities presented that you were surprised to see?
  • What can we say about identities that are traditionally marginalized?
  • What is conducive to creating safe spaces to talk about identity?
  • What about conflicting identities? How do we hold multiple at once? What is saliency?

4). Transition to box identities and nested model mapping

5). Have facilitator hold box, and have 3-4 participants choose an notecard without looking

6). One by one, have the participants with notecards go up to the board and have the audience help them place where the identity goes within the nested model. Discuss as the participant is placing the identity why it should go there.

7). Debrief Questions

  • Was your identity picked to be placed within the model? If so, how did it feel? If not, how did it feel?
  • How is this model representative of society?
  • What do you feel is missing? Under-represented? Why might this be?
  • How could this model be useful when thinking about how we interact with one another?
  • Overall, what did you think of this activity?

8). Closing: Metta Meditation–send love/positive energy to appreciate everyone’s willingness to participate at whatever level of depth they decided today. Discussing identities can be difficult because it is such a vulnerable, and sometime painful, topic. To continue processing and moving forward in this work, we need to be willing to open up and discuss what certain identity experiences hold. Facilitators thank everyone for coming.

A Place for Supporting Community and Sharing Resources: The National Peace Academy

When searching for group that offers something for the peace education world, I came across the National Peace Academy. The National Peace Academy (NPA) was founded in order to allow and encourage peace professionals and community organizers to continue practicing and share their knowledge with others. To sustain peace movements, leaders, organizers, and educators need a place to share resources and what they have learned as a way to give back. While the content isn’t tailored solely to the public education realm, there are resources for teachers surrounding the 5 spheres of peace. NPA’s 5 Spheres of Peace include social, ecological, personal, institutional, and political; these themes are the foundations for the different programs, events, and curriculums offered. This model would be easy to incorporate in formal and informal education for kids from grades K-8, especially in Civics course.

  • How to use this resource: NPA offers many opportunities for those interested in peace education. Under their Programs and Projects page, readers can learn about offerings such as School Teacher and Administrator Trainings, the International Institute on Peace Education, Peacebuilder Teleconference Dialogues, and the Global Campaign for Peace Education. The more valuable link for those interested in learning or facilitating the learning of others would be the Ed Resources section. Resources include access to past dialogues and a “study guide” section. From the study guide, learners can access curriculum developed for children, youth, and adults around the 5 spheres of peace. The resource makes it very clear that these lessons are just a starting point for peace education and teachers should feel free to continue developing their own lessons and activities. Each lesson contains a list of activities, resources, and preparation guides for the teacher in order to have the lesson run smoothly; these predesigned lessons and activities can be adapted as educators see fit.
  • Goal– This resource supports peace education by offering resources around 5 branches of peace. By extending these resources to the large community, NPA looks to be a guiding organization that offers a framework and foundation for integrating peace education activities into classrooms across the nation. By having youth focus on topics such as self-reflection, mindfulness, thinking about conflict, and active listening, educators could help develop the skills that youth would have to grow and develop in the modern world. This gets at some of the defining goals of peace education mentioned by Betty Reardon such as global agency, cultural proficiency, conflict competency, and gender sensitivity by giving youth and children the tools to discuss these topics. By offering other access points like dialogues and events, teachers can get the support and education they need to introduce the work authentically to students. Sharing knowledge and resources makes changing the culture to one that supports peace education much easier for teachers knowing that they aren’t alone in their efforts.
  • Audience- Two stakeholders who could benefit from this program teachers, mainly grades K-8, interested in incorporating peace education in their classrooms or learners of any age who are willing to dive into the self-study of the 5 spheres of peace; this network is not exclusive to educators, but broadly open to anyone interested in learning more on their own volition.

Teaching History Differently: The Zinn Education Project

History is often told from the winner’s point of view, neglecting many different populations of people who have histories of their own. In the context of US History, the story told has been dominated by White men leaving other stories untold in a public school setting. Paulo Friere in his work Pedagogy of the Oppressed states the importance of teaching history as “a means of understanding more clearly what and who [a people] are so that they can more wisely build the future” (Friere 84). How can today’s students wisely build the future if only one narrative is being told?

The Zinn Education Project, Teaching A People’s History, attempts to break the White male dominated narrative by offering curriculum that emphasizes the roles of minorities like the working class, people of color, and women along with organized social movements. The Project was initiated by a Boston University journalism student, William Holtzman who wanted to further Howard Zinn’s work. Zinn is famous for his civil disobedience and non-violent activism specifically during the 1960s. He has authored many books, but perhaps his most famous work is A People’s History, which portrays US History from a minority perspective. Holtzman worked with Zinn and in conjunction with two non-profits advocating for social justice related curriculum: Teaching for Change and Rethinking Schools.

  • How to use this resource: The Project offers different teaching materials by time period, theme, or resource type for free. Teachers of any age group could go on the website, register, and pick an activity or article to download for a specific time period. In addition to planning the activities corresponding to what students are currently learning, a class set of A People’s History of The United States and Voices of A People’s History of The United States would help round out the activities with readings and references from the textbooks. Activities do not indicate how long to plan for, but some of them are very extensive. For example, the role play activity on the origins of modern high schools could take three class periods. Time for the lesson would depend on preparation, an activity, and a debriefing. A pedagogy that would strengthen this curriculum would be one where the teacher guides students with questions–problem-posing. This would allow the students to maximize the activities and articles by letting them do the questioning and discovery with the help of the teacher to guide them.
  • Goal– This resource supports peace education by offering a change in perspective from the status quo helping learners become more culturally proficient in diversity. Teaching students about different peoples’ histories and narratives could open their minds and change their world views. The knowledge of minorities and mass protests could inspire questioning and critical analysis of the current system, making them well-informed global citizens who challenge popular opinion and decisions by looking deeper.
  • Audience- Two stakeholders who could benefit from this program are Social Studies and History teachers for any age group and students of any age interested in different historical perspectives. This information is by no means limited to these two large groups of people; anyone can benefit from re-examining history from a different perspective. Any person who has taken US History should take a look at atleast Zinn’s two works listed above for a more accurate portrayal of how the US has developed. The only difficulty in implementing this change in a curriculum would be standardized testing as the things they are looking for students to know do not necessarily align with this particular version of the US History narrative.