The theme of identity is explored in these two lessons by examining how one’s identity can be forged and how it can be remade after a devastating loss. Students look closely a serigraph print, photographs, and a sculpture to analyze how elements of one’s identity can be expressed. They analyze related informational texts and poems to make connections between identity, loss, and the idea of sanctuary. Students create works of art and write texts that explain how their artworks reflect and strengthen their sense of identity.


Jennifer Barron, Kennedy High School
Melissa Covington Tanner, Art Institute of Chicago
National Museum of Mexican Art Staff

With contributions from:
Mary Hawley, Literacy Consultant
Laura Lang, PhD, University of Wisconsin‒Madison, Literacy Consultant

Grade Levels: 78 (one lesson), 912 (one lesson)

Related Art Studies

Related Lessons

The two theme-related lessons are listed below. The first is appropriate for Grades 78, and the second is appropriate for Grades 9-12.

My Symbols, My Identity

Grade Levels: 78

Time Needed: 2 class periods, 4050 minutes each

Summary: This lesson explores how the symbols in a work of art can help express the identity of an individual or a cultural group. Students discuss popular cultural symbols and identify symbols that have personal importance for them. They look closely at Ester Hernández’s serigraph print The Offering/La Ofrenda and deepen their analysis by reading and discussing informational texts about the artwork. As a culminating activity, students create self-portrait collages, incorporating artistic elements that help express their own identities.

Works of Art

Essential Questions

  • How can artists use the elements of art to communicate emotion and meaning?
  • How do artists use traditional cultural symbols to convey meaning?
  • How do artists explore issues of identity within their work?

Enduring Understandings

  • Symbols help shape and communicate the beliefs, values, and knowledge of a culture or an individual.
  • Understanding how identities are formed helps promote understanding and respect for different perspectives.

The Art of Losing

Grade Levels: 912

Time Needed: 23 class periods, 4050 minutes each

Summary: In this lesson, students will explore how works of art and literature can help us understand how certain belongings can strengthen our sense of identity and peace of mind. Unfortunately, when these objects are lost to us we have to figure out how to cope with that loss. As a culminating activity, students will create an artwork that depicts the items they would use to create a personal “sanctuary.”

Works of Art

Essential Questions

  • How do objects reflect someone’s sense of identity?
  • How do individuals respond when they suffer the loss of something that is important to them?
  • How can art and literature help us understand the ways that people deal with loss?

Enduring Understandings

  • Works of art and literature can express the complex feelings that people have when they lose something that is connected to their sense of identity.
  • By closely reading these works of art and literature, we can better understand the impact of these losses.
  • Sometimes people deal with loss by creating an inner refuge for themselves, or a sanctuary.

Common Core State Standards Over Two Lessons

Anchor Standards in Reading: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/R/

  • CCSS-ELA Reading Anchor Standard 1: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1
  • CCSS-ELA Reading Anchor Standard 2: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2
  • CCSS-ELA Reading Anchor Standard 9: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9

Anchor Standards in Writing: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/W/

  • CCSS-ELA Writing Anchor Standard 2: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2

Anchor Standards in Speaking and Listening: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/SL/

  • CCSS-ELA Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard 1: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1
  • CCSS-ELA Speaking and Listening Anchor Standard 2: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2