Using Picture Books to Explore Identity, Stereotyping, and Discrimination

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Eight 45-minute sessions
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Often simple texts can be effective vehicles for complex ideas. In this lesson, three picture books depict characters that are different from others in their communities. Each book deals with questions of identity, stereotyping, and discrimination. Sixth- through eighth-grade students are challenged to analyze these concepts through class discussions and writing. In addition to filling out a chart identifying how these three concepts are dealt with in each book, students summarize each story to analyze basic elements. After students understand some of the causes of discrimination, they discuss concrete actions they can take to stop it.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Teachers can have a significant positive impact on their students by exposing them to multicultural literature.

  • Students can change how they see themselves by reading literature by and about people like themselves. They might also be inspired to write about their own experiences.
  • Picture books can enhance content for learners of any age. They appeal to visual learners, integrate the arts, and provide background and a context to focus on a theme.

  • Picture books also support English-language learners because they have less text and the illustrations carry part of the content and because they focus on a single concept in more depth than textbooks do.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco (Philomel, 1996)

  • The Secret Footprints by Julia Alvarez (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2000)

  • The Woman Who Outshone the Sun from a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez (Children's Book Press, 1994)

  • Butcher paper and markers

  • Computers with Internet access



1. Obtain and familiarize yourself with I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco, The Woman Who Outshone the Sun from a poem by Alejandro Cruz Martinez, and The Secret Footprints by Julia Alvarez. Note any questions or comments you might make before, during, or after the reading (besides the ones in the lesson) to clarify the stories and their message for your students. Keep in mind that the focus is on issues of identity, stereotyping, and discrimination.

2. Print a copy for yourself of Introduction of Concepts: Answer Sheet, Comparative Analysis: Teacher's Guide, and the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart: Teacher's Reference.

3. On a large sheet of butcher paper, use the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart: Teacher's Reference to make a blank chart. You will want to post this chart in a prominent location where you can easily write on it during Sessions 3, 5, and 7.

4. Make one copy of the Summary of I Can Hear the Sun for each student in your class. Take each copy, cut out the sentences, mix them up, and join with a paper clip or place them in an envelope.

5. If you do not have computers with Internet access in your classroom, reserve one session in your school's computer lab for Session 3. Visit and familiarize yourself with the online Doodle Splash tool.

6. Make one copy of the Introduction of Concepts sheet and the Comparative Analysis sheet for each student in your class.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Gain knowledge by defining the concepts of identity, stereotypes, and discrimination

  • Apply this knowledge by identifying examples of these concepts in stories and real life

  • Practice analysis by identifying elements of characters' identity; by looking at stereotypes and why people hold them; and by speculating on what some of the causes of discrimination are

  • Practice working collaboratively as a class to discuss texts and fill out charts analyzing them

  • Practice summarizing using a variety of writing strategies

Session 1

1. Write the words identity, stereotype, and discrimination on the board and ask students to say what they think each means as you jot notes next to each word. Then have a volunteer look up each word in the dictionary and read the definition aloud. Discuss whether or not their definitions were similar to the dictionary definitions.

2. Continue by discussing the following questions:
  • Is identity how we define ourselves or how others define us? Is it the same?

  • Why is identity important?

  • What are some examples of stereotypes we or others might have? How can they be harmful? How can they lead to discrimination?
Your goal is to lead students to understand that identity is how we view and define ourselves and what we're like. We are also affected by how others see us, but we can learn to define our own identities and reject negative labels that others might put on us. A stereotype is an oversimplified opinion that every member of a certain group of people always acts or looks a certain way. Stereotypes can keep us from seeing what an individual is really like and make us reject people before we know them. Discrimination is when we treat someone unfairly because he or she is different; it may be a consequence of stereotypes.

3. Ask students to share examples of discrimination they have experienced, seen, or heard of. Encourage as many students as possible to participate.

4. Explain that you will be reading three books that deal with these concepts and that, although they are picture books intended for younger readers, you hope they will discover something valuable in them. Explain that sometimes a story seems simple, but when you analyze it, you find that it deals with important issues. Challenge students to think deeply about these stories and figure out what they tell us about identity, stereotypes, and discrimination.

5. Ask a student to look up the word concept and read the definition. Discuss why identity, stereotypes, and discrimination are all concepts.

6. Have students fill out the Introduction of Concepts sheet and pair up to compare their answers.

7. Go over the answers with the class, referring to the Introduction of Concepts: Answer Sheet and allowing students to make changes as needed.

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 2): Students should ask an adult family member if they have ever experienced or seen discrimination. They should write down at least one example.

Session 2

1. Invite two or three students to share their homework. Ask the other students to listen carefully and give their opinions afterwards as to whether the scenario is really an example of discrimination and if it could be based on a stereotype held by the perpetrator. Help students see when they express their own stereotypes; for example, answer statements such as, "men always discriminate against women " by saying that this is a stereotype because it is so absolute.

2. Introduce The Woman Who Outshone the Sun, explaining that the story is a legend from a Zapotec village in Oaxaca, Mexico. Point out where this location is on a map. Explain that the Zapotecs are one of the most important indigenous groups from the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Monte Alban was their ceremonial center and many people still go there to visit its impressive pyramids. Many Zapotecs still speak their indigenous language today as well as Spanish. Read the title as you show students the cover and ask if anyone has predictions as to what the story will be about.

3. While you read, make sure all students can see the pictures and elicit comments about the artwork. Throughout the book, ask students what magical or fantasy elements they notice in both the pictures and the story. Elicit their opinions about the content of the illustrations; for example, why is the woman encompassing the sky?

4. After the read-aloud, ask students the following questions:
  • Why is the woman feared?

  • Do people discriminate against her? How?

  • Do people sometimes discriminate because of fear of the unknown? Why do you think they do this?

  • What is the environmental message in the story?

  • What is the message about gender (male/female issues) in this story?
The goal of your discussion is to help students understand that sometimes discrimination is a product of fear, especially fear of difference. You also want students to explore the idea that people and nature are connected and that if we do not respect each other, we may not respect the environment, which has consequences for all of us. Another issue to consider is gender discrimination. In this case, it is possible that the villagers discriminated against the main character because she was a strong woman who lived by herself.

Session 3

Note: If you do not have classroom computers, this session should take place in the computer lab. You will want to bring along the chart you created (see Preparation, Step 3).

1. Show students the blank version of the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart you have posted and explain that you will be filling it out together for each book. Ask students to remember the main character from The Woman Who Outshone the Sun and give ideas about her identity - how she sees herself and how others see her. Refer to the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart: Teacher's Reference for ideas on points to be included. Do the same for stereotypes and discrimination, asking students to say how they thought these concepts were dealt with in the book. You might pose the following questions if students are having difficulty coming up with answers:
  • What is the woman like?

  • What is her relationship with the river?

  • What do the villagers think of her at first? At the end?

  • What stereotypes do the villagers have about the woman? Do the villagers discriminate against her? How?
2. Write appropriate student responses on the chart. For responses that do not quite fit, explain why this is the case and help the student think of something that does fit the category.

Note: You may want to tell the class that you would like to see everyone participate in these discussions, and that those who say something once should wait until everyone has said something before they speak again. Call on students who are reticent to speak when you think they can be successful in giving an answer.

3. Tell students they will make a summary of The Woman Who Outshone the Sun. Write The summary should include: on a piece of butcher paper posted on the wall to be saved. Ask students to tell you what story elements they think should go into a summary. Write their responses on the butcher paper, which should look something like this:
  • A description of the main character and setting

  • How the plot begins

  • The main problem or conflict in the plot

  • How the problem is resolved (i.e., how the story ends)
4. Show students how to use the online Doodle Splash tool. Instruct them to write their summary covering the story elements listed on the butcher paper, make a doodle that illustrates their perception of the story's problem or resolution, and then write an explanation of what their doodle means. They should print and hand in their work when it is complete.

Session 4

1. Show students the cover of I Can Hear the Sun by Patricia Polacco. Ask them to make predictions about the story. Tell them the story is set by Lake Merritt, in Oakland, California, and point it out on a map.

2. While you read, ask students why they think the different characters (i.e., the Vietnam War veteran, the homeless woman, and the caretaker) are in the park. Talk about what is different about these characters and what they have in common with each other and with the boy.

3. After the reading, pose the following questions to your students for class discussion:
  • Was this a realistic story or was it fantasy?

  • Which part was real and which part was fantasy?

  • Why do you think the boy went to the park every day?

  • How can the part of the story when the boy flies away with the geese be compared to something that happens in real life?
Your goal with this discussion is to help students understand that the story was quite realistic until the very end, when an element of fantasy is juxtaposed with harsh reality (the boy flying away with the geese). The ending can be interpreted in various ways: maybe the boy finds a way to use his special interests and talents to do something incredible in his life that nobody else has been able to do, perhaps he believes in himself even though others do not, or maybe he understands nature and animals more than others and this special talent helps him "fly" in life.

Session 5

1. As a class, fill out the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart for I Can Hear the Sun, using the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart: Teacher's Reference as a guide for the discussion if necessary. You might pose the following questions if students are having difficulty coming up with answers:
  • What is Fondo like? How is he different?

  • Why do the adults in the park seem to accept him?

  • How might other people stereotype Fondo?

  • Has Fondo suffered discrimination? In what ways?
2. Pass out the sentence strips you made (see Preparation, Step 4) and have students work in pairs or individually to put them in order. They should make a coherent summary of the book, referring to the story elements discussed during Session 3.

3. Check students' work as they finish; have them try again if their summary is not completely correct, and then have them copy the paragraph by hand onto a blank page to turn in.

Session 6

1. Start this session by writing the word analogy on the board and asking a few students to guess what it means while a volunteer looks it up in the dictionary. Have the student read the definition and discuss how we can make analogies between stories and real life. For example, the boy flying away in I Can Hear the Sun can be compared to someone who discovers a talent they never knew they had and uses it with great success. Ask students to make other analogies based on The Woman Who Outshone the Sun or other stories they have read.

2. Point out that the next story you will read is based on a folk tale from the Dominican Republic and show where this country is on a map. Explain that folk tales are stories that are passed orally among a group of people for many generations. Ask students which of the first two stories might be a folk tale and why. Lead them to see that The Woman Who Outshone the Sun could be a folk tale because the setting is based on a traditional society of long ago. I Can Hear the Sun is set in modern times, so it probably wasn't orally passed down (although it could be a modern adaptation of a folk tale).

3. Read The Secret Footprints aloud to the class. As you read, show students the illustrations and ask them to describe the Ciguapas, the humans, and the setting. Discuss how the boy reacts to seeing a girl who has her feet on backwards. Ask students to predict how the boy's family will react when they find the Ciguapa girl.

4. After the reading, pose the following questions to your students for class discussion:
  • Describe the special relationship that develops between the boy and the girl.

  • Why can't they openly see each other?

  • What did they learn from each other about differences?

  • What analogy can we make between this story and another story or a real-life experience?
The goal of this discussion is to help students see that the boy and the girl can become friends even though they do not completely understand each other because they learn not to be afraid of their differences. In terms of analogies, students might think of experiences and stories about people of different races who are not allowed to be friends or marry each other or of segregation of black and white children in the United States.

Session 7

1. As a class, fill out the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart for The Secret Footprints, using the Identity, Stereotypes, and Discrimination Chart: Teacher's Reference as a guide for the discussion if necessary. You might pose the following questions if students are having difficulty coming up with answers:
  • What are the Ciguapas like?

  • What stereotypes do they have about others? Are they correct?

  • Do others have stereotypes about the Ciguapas?

  • Do you see examples of discrimination, or fear of discrimination, in the story?
2. Students should write a one-paragraph summary of the book and include a drawing. The criteria for these summaries are listed on the chart you created during Session 3; the paragraphs should follow the form of the paragraph they rearranged in Session 5. They should have at least five well-written sentences and cover the main points of the story, with a drawing that illustrates some aspect of the summary.

Session 8

1. Pass back all work done so far and tell students to keep the papers on their desk to use as reference for the next assignment.

2. Pass out the Comparative Analysis sheet. Ask if someone can explain what the title means and lead them to understand that it means analyzing or looking deeply at what the three books have in common and how they are different.

3. Give students time to answer the questions. Allow them to refer to their summaries and the chart on the wall if needed.

4. When students are finished, ask them how they answered the last question, which asks students how they can stop discrimination. Encourage students to share their ideas and write them on a piece of butcher paper. When ideas are exhausted, review the list together and ask them which actions the class could take together (perhaps make posters, give talks, or perform a play). Put an arrow next to them. Next, ask which actions could be done by individual students; put a star next to them. Finally, ask students to underline actions on their Comparative Analysis that they will try to do this month.


  • Help students implement some of the actions to fight discrimination that they thought of during Session 8.

  • Invite students to tell you when they find the concepts of identity, stereotypes, and discrimination dealt with in a book they are reading. They can write about them for extra credit.

  • Have your students make posters reflecting the themes you have discussed during this lesson to put in the school hallways.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Pay attention to which students participate in class discussions and which do not. Praise those who do and encourage those who do not by giving them eye contact during class, asking them questions they can easily answer during class discussions, and talking to them individually about how you would like to see them participate more often. Emphasize that this kind of speaking is an important skill that will help them in school and in life. You can also offer a grade for participation in class discussions.

  • Collect the Introduction of Concepts sheet and give points for completing the assignment. Pay special attention to the last two questions, noting how students understand the three concepts through their examples. Consider reviewing these concepts more in class if some students do not seem to understand them.

  • Collect the work students complete during Session 3 and make sure they correctly and succinctly cover the story elements as discussed to summarize the book.

  • Check to make sure that in Session 5 students are able to correctly organize the sentence strips into a coherent summary.

  • Collect the summaries students write during Session 7 and check that main points are covered, noting suggestions as to what is missing, what details could be removed, and whether the drawing clearly depicts an aspect of the summary.

  • Look carefully at the responses to the Comparative Analysis sheet to reflect on whether students learned to make analogies between the stories and real life and understand the three concepts emphasized in this lesson. Use this information to guide you as you plan future lessons to reinforce skills learned in this lesson.

  • Reflect on the multicultural nature of the books and how students reacted to them. Were they able to empathize with the diverse characters? Think of how you can continue challenging your students with a variety of literature.