Honoring Students’ Stories: Identity Texts to Write and Diverse Texts to Read

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by Sarah Ottow, Confianza Director, with contributions from Confianza Contributor, Emily Francis

For many of our English learners, their stories may not be reflected in the dominant curriculum, especially in terms of their experiences from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds being reflected in projects and also in the texts they read.  One way to connect students to the classrooms is to provide opportunities for them to tell, write or visually show us their stories.  Another way is to feature texts that represent their backgrounds. When we are not just ‘covering’ curriculum but finding ways for students to ‘connect’ to it, everyone wins!  Students may feel more safe, more cared for and respected by teachers who take the time to get to know them.  As we say at Confianza, ‘Kids don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’ Plus, when we become more culturally-responsive and anti-bias, our curriculum, instruction and assessment overall improves for ELs and for ALL students!

Identity Texts

At Confianza, we love the Social Justice Standards from Teaching Tolerance as part of our vision towards equity.  The standards are comprised of four sets of standards--Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action.  Within each set of standards, we have anchor standards, then grade-level clusters of each.  Below are the anchor standards for Identity:

Identity Anchor Standards

  1. Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.
  2. Students will develop language and historical and cultural knowledge that affirm and accurately describe their membership in multiple identity groups.
  3. Students will recognize that people’s multiple identities interact and create unique and complex individuals.
  4. Students will express pride, confidence and healthy self-esteem without denying the value and dignity of other people.
  5. Students will recognize traits of the dominant culture, their home culture and other cultures and understand how they negotiate their own identity in multiple spaces.

Let’s take the first standard above, Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society. How do we enact this standard?  One way to take little steps to be sure we include the perspectives of our students in terms of what linguistic and cultural groups they are a part of.  We can encourage our EL students and all of our students to write or tell identity texts where students share their group identity or identities by telling stories and/or sharing pieces of traditions and other important features of their life.  

Sarah works full-time as a professional learning coach with educators of English learners. But when she was a classroom teacher and an EL teacher, Sarah taught a lot of identity text projects. For newcomers of all ages, Sarah used an approach similar to the language experience approach, where students would dictate their stories while Sarah typed them. Then, together they would use the text over time as text to work with and learn English vocabulary and syntax skills while also honoring and learning about their backgrounds. For more intermediate level English learners, students can work through the writing workshop model to tell stories related to content standards and/or create projects about their lives to share with the community. They can also interview their families and bring more of their quotes funds of knowledge into school.

Here are some example pages from student identity books to inspire you!


Diverse Texts

We can also honor our students by integrating mirrors and windows into the texts we have them read. Teaching Tolerance has some great tools for analyzing your texts w hich is essential for culturally responsive teaching.  As Emily Francis explains:

Books as mirrors is not a new concept. The idea that a book reflects readers' identity and experiences was presented to us a few years ago. The problem I see is the lack of access to diverse books for students to actually see themselves reflected in books. This is worrisome because "when children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about who they are devalued in the society of which they are a part of." (Read more)  This is how the danger of a single story begins!

Considering Our Classroom Library

So now that we know how detrimental it is for our students to not see themselves reflected in text, our job is to make it tangible. Stand in front of your classroom bookshelf and ask:

  • Mirror, mirror, on the shelf, would these books make my students be seen and understood?
  • Mirror, mirror, on the shelf, would these books honor and validate my students' culture?
  • Mirror, mirror, on the shelf, would these books reflect my students' story?
  • Mirror, mirror, on the shelf, would these books inspire them to be the authors of their own story?
  • Mirror, mirror, on the shelf, would these books reflect my students' experiences?
  • Mirror, mirror, on the shelf, would these books redefine who and what my students can be?

You see, I wholeheartedly believe that in order to make our students be passionate readers, it is imperative for them to make connections with the text. Our classrooms are more diverse today than they have ever been. Our classrooms and the books available for students need to be as diverse as they are.


The books you choose as a mentor text for your lessons are very important as well. I understand that we have a standard we need to cover. However, there are books out there available for us to not only teach the necessary content but also validate and represent students sitting in our classrooms who long to be seen and understand for who they are.

Here you have a few resources to help you find diverse books to use as mentor texts:

Read Emily’s full blog on diverse texts in Mirror, Mirror, on the Shelf.  Thank you for allowing us to feature your work here, Emily, on ways that we can honor students through stories they write and stories they read!

To Further Your Learning:


See our set of professional learning offering options.



    • Posted by Bethany | Biracial Bookworms on
      Thank you so much for including my multicultural library resource. I am very grateful for your support.
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