Topics and Competencies
Awareness of Social Identities
Middle Grades, High School, College/Adult
Subject Area Integration
Christy M. Byrd
Adapted from Social Identity Wheel, LSA Inclusive Teaching Initiative, University of Michigan.
Date Created/Most Recently Revised
- Define social identities
- Distinguish between personal and social identities
- Appreciate the influences of social identity membership on one’s personal identity and interactions with others
This activity helps participants to reflect on their multiple social identities and what impact they have had on their lives.
- Give definitions of social identities and how they are different from personal identity: While personal identities are the things that make us unique from other people, the term social identity refers to the social groups we belong to, like race, gender, and religion. In this activity we are going to explore our social identities.
- (5-10 mins) Have participants fill out the wheel, giving definitions as needed/desired. For students new to the topic, it can be overwhelming to try to grasp new terms and complete the wheel. I prefer to let participants use whatever definitions they know now to complete the activity.
- (10 mins) Debrief
- What did it feel like to complete this activity?
- Was there anything surprising or uncomfortable?
- What identities do you think about the most? The least?
- How do your social identities play a role in who you are as an individual?
- What identities are most salient to other people?
- How do your identities influence how you interact with others?
- Share in pairs/triads
- Participants can share their responses with peers before the debrief. This step can help build community in a group because participants learn more about each other and can find commonalities with peers.
- Personal Identity Wheel
- Have participants complete the Personal Identity Wheel alongside the Social Identity Wheel. The debrief can then focus more explicitly on comparing and contrasting the role of different identities in one’s life.
- Another version of the Personal Identity Wheel
- Social Identity Chart
- In this version participants also give checkmarks for the identities they think about most and least, which groups have social power, and which groups they’ve experienced discrimination in.
- Kaplowitz, D. R., & Griffin, S. S. S. R. (Eds.). (2019). Race Dialogues: A Facilitator’s Guide to Tackling the Elephant in the Classroom. Teachers College Press.
- Spectrum of Identity Activity
- Similar to the Social Identity Chart, this activity has students reflect on a number of questions related to their social identities.
- Proportional wheel
- This version of the wheel has participants proportion the wheel according to how much they think about the identity or how important the identity is to them
- Adapted from Adams, M., & Bell, L. A. (Eds.). (2016). Teaching for diversity and social justice. Routledge. 2nd ed.
- Circles of My Multicultural Self
- In this version participants identify aspects of their identities that are important to themselves, and they do not have to be social identities. To explore stereotypes, the activity also asks participants to fill in the blanks: “I am (a/an) ____________ but I am NOT (a/an) _____________.”
- Although this activity is designed for early awareness, it is helpful to repeat this activity throughout development. More advanced students can reflect on how their charts have changed over time and on how their multiple social identities intersect.
Evidence of Effectiveness
This activity is commonly used in intergroup dialogue programs and has been studied as part of the Multi-University Intergroup Dialogue Research Project. Especially when coupled with group discussions and readings about identity, this activity effectively prompts students to understand the meaning of social identity in their lives and to distinguish between personal and social identity (Gurin et al., 2013).
- Gurin, P., Nagda, B. R. A., & Zuniga, X. (2013). Dialogue Across Difference: Practice, Theory, and Research on Intergroup Dialogue. Russell Sage Foundation.