This reading activity helps students develop positive self-esteem while remaining sensitive and empathetic to the identity expression of their peers.
Helping students develop positive self-esteem and confidence includes showing them how to be sensitive and empathetic to the identity expression of their peers. The following activity is one way to foster this growth in children.
In The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, a little girl named Unhei travels to the United States from Korea. She is in search of an American name. The children in her class suggest names by placing them in a jar.
If you have a relevant personal story, you may want to share it before starting the activity. For instance, I tell my students that I used to work in a school district with many Vietnamese students. As they enrolled, the office staff gave them names like Bob, Steve, John or Mary. We discuss how this might have made these Vietnamese students feel. We talk about whether there are any advantages to changing students’ names and why doing so could have a negative impact.
Next, read and discuss the story with your students. Flip the idea a little bit so students can see how it feels to have a name forced upon them. Ask students to contribute two or three names from their respective cultures; try not to include names of students in the class. Place the names in a “Name Jar.” Then, ask volunteers to choose new names that they will use for the remainder of the day.
This may be an uncomfortable exercise. In the process, some students may refuse to forfeit their birth names. Other students may giggle and joke about the chance to rename themselves, but they will quickly feel the effect of losing the identities created by their real names.
This activity teaches empathy. Ultimately, students should understand why, in The Name Jar, Unhei decides to keep her given name. They should also understand that part of who they are as individuals is defined by how they are called.
Celebrate individual students and their names. Visit tolerance.org/your-name
This activity addresses the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
CCSS R.3, R.6, SL.1