Lesson Plans

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Mapping Your Identity: A Back-to-School Ice Breaker

Lesson Question:

How can students create identity maps to introduce themselves to their peers?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this "ice breaker" lesson, students use Visual Thesaurus maps as a source of inspiration for creating their own "identity maps" to identify their own multiple roles, qualities and attributes. Then, students share their identity maps as a means of introducing themselves to their peers.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to look up a historical figure
  • create identity maps incorporating words and elements from Visual Thesaurus maps
  • share their identity maps in a small or large group setting


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers with Internet access
  • large drawing paper (one sheet per student)
  • markers (one per student)


Looking up historical figures on the Visual Thesaurus:

  • Start this lesson by looking up a historical figure's name in the Visual Thesaurus, and displaying the map associated with that name on the classroom whiteboard. (For example, you could look up Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Beecher Stowe, or even Charlie Chaplin.)

  • Once you display the historical figure's description by scrolling the cursor over the red bubble associated with the person's name, click on that red bubble to reconfigure the map to show different nouns that are used to describe that person's roles. For example, by clicking on Benjamin Franklin's description, students will see that Franklin was known as an "American Revolutionary leader," a "writer," a "printer," and a "scientist."


Introducing the concept of an identity map:

  • Explain to students that today they will be mapping their own identities, in a similar fashion to the people and word maps they have seen on the Visual Thesaurus. Although they may not be well known or famous for their different roles, they will use this mapping opportunity to introduce themselves to their peers through their identity maps.
  • Distribute a sheet of large drawing paper and a marker to each student.
  • Instruct each student to use a marker to write his or her name in the center of the drawing paper with large bold letters.

Brainstorming roles and nouns:

  • Encourage students to consider all the roles they may identify with in the different facets of their lives. They can think of their familial roles (Big brother? Big sister? Baby of the family?); their roles in school (Writer? Reader? Scientist? Historian? Artist? Class clown?); their roles outside of school--on the playground, on the Internet, or among friends (Hoopster? Gamer? Confidant?); or any other roles that may come to mind
  • Direct students to draw a different line or ray on their identity maps for each role they wish to include. At the end of each line, they should write the word that identifies that particular role. Students should include at least three or four of these lines.

Incorporating adjectives:

  • Explain to students that they may also wish to borrow other elements of Visual Thesaurus word maps for their identity maps. For example, they may wish to include adjectives on their maps to describe themselves.

  • Adjectives could be written at the end of lines that originate at their names and branch out (if they are adjectives that generally apply to their identities), or they could be rays surrounding a particular role (e.g., the adjective "responsible" might be used to describe "big sister," or "prolific" may be used to describe "writer").

  • Encourage students to use the Visual Thesaurus if they are gravitating to vague, trite or commonplace adjectives. For example, if a student has decided to include "kind" on his map, display the Visual Thesaurus word map for "kind" and inquire if he could be more descriptive in his use of adjectives (sympathetic? tolerant? charitable?).

  • Students should include at least five or six adjectives in their identity maps.

Here is a sample identity map:


Sharing Identity Maps:

  • Once students have completed their identity maps, have them use the maps as a way to introduce themselves to their classmates.

  • In order to save class time, you could have students share the maps in small groups or in a "gallery walk" format (where students post the identity maps on the classroom's walls and students circulate around the room reading the maps and leaving feedback on sticky notes).

  • After sharing their identity maps, students could discuss their observations. What did they learn about their peers through this mapping exercise? What roles do many students share? What adjectives were the most descriptive or unique?

Extending the Lesson:

  • One way to extend this lesson would be to have students incorporate other Visual Thesaurus "relationships" in their identity maps. (To see the list of relationships displayed in VT word maps, open the Settings panel and click on the word "Relationships.") For example, a student could reveal what he or she "is not" by including an antonym relationship, or a student could draw a "is a member of" line to designate a club or team affiliation.

  • If you want to further emphasize parts of speech in the lesson, you could have students color-code the words they add to their identity maps according to parts of speech. On the Visual Thesaurus, nouns are indicated by red bubbles, and adjectives are indicated by golden bubbles. Students could use this system on their maps as well, or come up with an alternative.


  • Assess students' identity maps based on the variety of the roles and adjectives they included. Did they consult the Visual Thesaurus to avoid use of vague or trite adjectives? Did they include multiple roles to show different facets of their lives? Did they share their identity maps with their peers in an engaging manner?

Educational Standards:

Language Arts

Standard 8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Level II (Grades 3-5)

1. Contributes to group discussions
5. Uses strategies to convey a clear main point when speaking (e.g., expresses ideas in a logical manner, uses specific vocabulary to establish tone and present information)
7. Makes basic oral presentations to class (e.g., uses subject-related information and vocabulary; includes content appropriate to the audience; relates ideas and observations; incorporates visual aids or props; incorporates several sources of information)

Level III (Grades 6-8)

1. Plays a variety of roles in group discussions (e.g., active listener, discussion leader, facilitator)
6. Makes oral presentations to the class (e.g., uses notes and outlines; uses organizational pattern that includes preview, introduction, body, transitions, conclusion; uses a clear point of view; uses evidence and arguments to support opinions; uses visual media)
7. Uses appropriate verbal and nonverbal techniques for oral presentations (e.g., inflection/modulation of voice, tempo, word choice, grammar, feeling, expression, tone, volume, enunciation, physical gestures, body movement, eye contact, posture)

Level IV (Grades 9-12)

1. Uses criteria to evaluate own and others' effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations (e.g., accuracy, relevance, and organization of information; clarity of delivery; relationships among purpose, audience, and content; types of arguments used; effectiveness of own contributions)
5. Makes formal presentations to the class (e.g., includes definitions for clarity; supports main ideas using anecdotes, examples, statistics, analogies, and other evidence; uses visual aids or technology, such as transparencies, slides, electronic media; cites information sources)

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Comments from our users:

Friday August 28th 2009, 6:42 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
Avoiding trite descriptors would be an excellent way to improve your use of language in writing and conversation (and thinking?).
For my own use it might help to correct the paucity of terms when trying to share my enjoyment of this world.
There has got to be a better way to manage communication than always using the clich├ęs and overused words like "neat", "cool", "interesting", etc. to describe thoughts and observations.
The VT could help!
Friday August 28th 2009, 10:43 AM
Comment by: Meggin M.
Fabulous! I'll post a link to this resource right now on Facebook. I'm 'friends' with lots of educators!!
Friday August 28th 2009, 11:47 AM
Comment by: Sara A. (Berkeley, CA)
I absolutely love this idea, and plan to use it with teachers as well. And I appreciate the using this exercise to use more descriptive language as well. In the gallery walk, we could use post-its to suggest other terms, perhaps....
Tuesday September 1st 2009, 1:32 AM
Comment by: sarah M. (wendouree Australia)
this was a terrific idea! I used it today in class - students will complete their own personal map for homework tonight. I have started students in groups creating maps for the characters from the novel we have jsut shared - this task has forced them to create meaningful comments about the characters, drawing on the evidence from the text. it avoid the comments such as: 'she's funny, nice, mean..." etc. thank you for sharing this idea!!
Tuesday September 1st 2009, 3:22 PM
Comment by: Bev S.
What a terrific idea. I will definitely be using it to begin the year and later on. Using it for a character in a story or novel is an excellent idea. This is a fun way to build vocabulary! Thanks so much!
Friday September 11th 2009, 5:18 PM
Comment by: Jeannie K. (Scottsdale, AZ)
This is a more interesting way to have students introduce themselves. The Visual Thesaurus is a wonderful tool for educators and students to use!
Saturday September 12th 2009, 11:09 AM
Comment by: Donald L. (Palatine, IL)
This is an excellent way to introduce students to mind mapping.You may wish to have students draw a picture of how they see themselves in their various roles.
Monday September 14th 2009, 9:18 PM
Comment by: Kat Bourgeois
Love this, sending it to my daughter who owns Catalyst Learning Curricula.com, really innovative teaching materials for advanced placement teachers. It's a great way to map an element for science, a planet, etc. as well.
Tuesday September 15th 2009, 10:43 AM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
I'm cheered by all those smart people writing in about the wonder of VT! I've been a fan for about a year and never cease to marvel at this tool.
The regular thesaurus is fine, but to see it in 3-D, moving, and full color, is like going from those good old days of radio programming directly into the technologically advanced HDTV in one "swell foop"!
The mystery of language and communication alone excites me, but to see the nuances and voluminous nature of the English Language spread out on the screen before my eyes is truly "so today"!
Thursday October 15th 2009, 9:19 AM
Comment by: Anne H. (San Jose, CA)
I think I will use this to begin our autobiography unit. Administrators, teachers and students find the autobiography useful during the high school application process, which is pretty stressful around these parts. This will be a fun way to kick off the project and lighten up the atmosphere.
Monday November 30th 2009, 1:02 PM
Comment by: JoElle R.
Beyond the classroom, identity mapping can be added to the tools used to chronicle family history. A recent National Day of Listening, Friday after Thanksgiving, was promoted on public radio and captured my attention. The site has links and ideas provided by Story Corps. www.nationaldayoflistening.org
Some students might do well with a list of frequently asked questions for interviews, yet I believe kids (and adults)would engage in capturing stories sooner and enjoy the process more with this stellar tool.
I will use it over break,the holidays are a perfect time to create a simple album of family characters, as an assignment or not.
Tuesday July 20th 2010, 11:24 AM
Comment by: Colleen J.
I love this lesson and will definitely use it. Students could transfer their thinking maps into a computer format by using INSPIRATION or KIDSPIRATION software.

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