Identity and Social Construction

The following is a high-level overview of a unit plan that would be appropriate for advanced high school composition students or an undergraduate course. It asks students to explore the theory of social constructionism and how it has impacted their own identity.


Over the course of this unit, students will:

  • Use inquiry to self-reflect, clarify issues, ask questions, and identify the validity of assertions and assumptions made by varied sources.
  • Leverage rhetorical strategies using evidence and research gained through inquiry and evaluation to compose an insightful and compelling essay.
  • Engage in scholarly conversation and peer review.

Learning Objectives

  • Demonstrate an understanding of writing as a series of tasks that include evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing sources, composing, editing, and revising.
  • Demonstrate critical reading and analytical skills, including understanding an argument’s assertions and assumptions and evaluating its supporting evidence.
  • Demonstrate facility with the fundamentals of persuasion as they are adapted to a variety of audiences and situations.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the connection between writing and thinking and use writing for learning, thinking, and communicating.
  • Demonstrate facility with Standard Written English and revise and edit your writing to ensure appropriate format, syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

Texts and Materials

Pedagogical Practices

The primary educational approach used in this inquiry-focused unit is a social-epistemic pedagogy.  Students are encouraged to explore how sociocultural influences and hegemonic power structures influence the formation of identity.  Further, students will explore how our identity impacts our expression through literature and other media, and how some authors choose to question, challenge, or subvert established power structures.  A social-epistemic pedagogy allows students of different demographics to speak authoritatively about their experiences and the formation of their identity.  It encourages students of all backgrounds to engage in self-reflection and consider diverse perspectives which they may not have experienced before.

An engaged pedagogy will be applied to create a safe and supportive environment in which students can explore new ideas and topics that are sometimes sensitive or provocative.  This involves getting to know students individually, encouraging open dialogue and communication, and setting clear guidelines for interactions, constructive criticism, and productive disagreement.  An essential element of this pedagogy—a safe and supportive environment—will be established by setting the ground rules.  As Shannon Baldino states in her article, “The Classroom Blog: Enhancing Critical Thinking, Substantive Discussion, and Appropriate Online Interaction,” the instructor needs to “teach how to post in a respectful manner that would promote critical thinking and peer interactions.”  Therefore time must be spent reviewing the rules for a successful experience as peer editors and for class discussions (Baldino).  An engaged pedagogy also requires differentiation, affording students the support they need to succeed.  This is accomplished by ensuring that assignments offer students the opportunity to challenge themselves at varying levels depending on their ability and providing a wide range of resources in a wide range of formats.

Finally, to encourage students to explore the craft of writing, a process pedagogy will be applied.  This theory approaches composition as a process rather than a product.  Students will use their interests, voice, and techniques as they write and provide feedback to one another to discover what audiences respond to and what they do not.  Students will find the value of different rhetorical strategies, practice reading like a writer, and then apply pre-writing, drafting, revision, assessment, and reflection techniques to their writing process.


Composition is more than just the kind of writing expected of you throughout college.  Composition is writing and thinking in a way that enables you to become a reflective and critical thinker prepared to enter intellectual conversations both inside and outside of academia.  The focus of this unit will be inquiry.  Inquiry and exploration form the foundation for the arguments expressed through composition.

“Social constructionism” is the theory that people develop knowledge of the world and of themselves in a social context.  It suggests that much of what we perceive of the world and ourselves depends on shared assumptions. Social constructionism argues that many things we believe about ourselves, our society, and about the world at large are constructed through our literature, religion, cultures, media, and power structures.  For example, fashion norms are a social construction.  Traditions, art, and stereotypes are all examples of social construction.

In this unit, you will choose and critically analyze a term of identity that you or others use to define yourself.  Examples of terms of identity include girl, boy, Indian American, gay, conservative, athletic, white, etc.  You will begin by researching how your chosen term has been socially constructed through literature, media, and social interactions, citing evidence of historical and current examples of its use.  You will then identify how your term’s social construction has influenced the way you define yourself.  Your final task is to compile your research in an expository essay about the construction of your identity based on your exploration of your chosen term.

Unit Project

A term of identity is a word connected to the appearance, qualities, personality, beliefs or expressions of an individual or group that are used to define who they are.  Examples of terms of identity might include gender (boy, girl, male, female, non-binary), sexuality (gay, straight, lesbian, queer), race (Black, Latinx, Caucasian), appearance (fat, skinny, brown, pale), belief system (Christian, Muslim, atheist, humanist), political ideology (Democrat, Republic, Socialist, Anarchist), or personality (popular, athletic, bookish, nerdy, fan girl).  Terms of identity may include slurs or derogatory terms.  The meaning of each term of identity and how it is used today has been constructed socially.

Your assignment is to select a term of identity and explore how that term was socially constructed.  Social construction is the idea that many things we believe about ourselves, our society, and about the world at large are created through our literature, religion, cultures, media, and power structures.  For example, fashion norms are a social construction. So are ideas about gender roles and racial stereotypes.  Some terms of identity you may use to describe yourself, while other terms may be applied to you by other people.  We will be sharing your exploration of your term of identity with your classmates.  Exploring terms of identity can be difficult.  As you select your term of identity, consider your comfort level.  While I encourage you to challenge yourself, please make sure that you will be able to share and discuss your findings with the class. 

    You will research your selected term, citing evidence of its use historically as well as in current literature, social media, movies, music, and other forms of communication.  Finally, you will reflect on the impact on the term on your own identity.  Your essay should consider how your chosen term of identity influenced how you define yourself.  Has it had a positive or negative effect on your identity?  How did it affect your self-esteem?  Your view of others?  You may wish to answer the following questions in your essay:

  • Why have I chosen to apply this term of identity to myself, or why have others assigned it to me?
  • In what ways has this term been used historically?  Has the meaning of this term changed or evolved?
  • How is the chosen term used/represented in current literature, media, or culture?
  • How has the social construction of my selected term impacted the development of my identity? 
  • Is this a term that I embrace or a term I choose to subvert?  Why?

Because each student has their own unique background and sociocultural experiences, the assignment presents all students the opportunity to both express their point of view in their own unique and explore assumptions made by themselves, their peers, and society in general.  This exploration of identity and social construction is relevant to all students because it encourages the development of essential skills such as critical analysis of literature, media, power structures, and culture, self-reflection, and acknowledgment of different perspectives and points of view.  Additionally, this assignment encourages students to follow the writing process and evaluate responses to their rhetorical approaches.  Supporting activities will include:

  • brainstorming ideas and sharing them with their peers;
  • reading examples of similar writing and assessing the writer’s technique;
  • engaging in discourse about the topic;
  • identifying differing opinions and perspectives among their peers;
  • drafting;
  • soliciting feedback; and
  • revising their work.


Guideline for Submission: Your essay must be submitted as a 3- to 5 page Microsoft Word document with double spacing, 12-point Times New Roman font, one-inch margins, and at least three sources cited in MLA format.

Critical Elements Proficient (100%) Needs Improvement (75%) Not Evident (0%) Value
Argument The writer has selected a term relevant to their identity.  Their argument is clear and provocative.  The body of the essay supports a thesis with thoroughly and carefully evaluated evidence and self-reflection. The writer has selected a term of identity.  The argument is clear and sufficiently supports a thesis.  There is some evidence of self-reflection. Thesis is missing, or the argument does not support the stated thesis.  There is no evidence of self-reflection. 20
Flow The structure arranges ideas in a way that is clear to the reader.  Transitions guide the reader through the argument.  The writer explores historical and current uses of the selected term of identity in the body of the essay and includes reflection on the impact of the term on the formation of their identity.  The conclusion summarizes examines the importance of the argument. The arrangement of ideas is logical. Topic sentences guide the reader.  The writer includes examples of historical and current uses of the selected term of identity in the body of the essay. The conclusion restates the main idea. Movement among ideas is abrupt or illogical.  Paragraphs are not coherent.  Evidence of historical or current uses of the term of identity are missing. 20
Depth The writer provides new information, clarity, or a unique perspective to the discussion of their selected term of identity.  The writer reflects on the social construction of the term and its impact on the formation of their own identity. The writer provides some focused coverage of the term of identity.  There is evidence of self-reflection in the essay. The paper is not well-researched, or the term of identity has not been analyzed.  Evidence of self-reflection is missing. 20
Voice Word choice is precise, effective, and/or sophisticated.  Sentences are stylistically interesting.  The writer uses a voice that engages the reader and conveys the writer’s unique experience through their writing. Word choice is formal and/or effective.  The writer’s experience is reflected in their writing. Word choice and/or sentence structure is confusing.  The writing is simplistic. 20
Use of Sources Evidence supports the writer’s interpretation of the term of identity.  Material from other sources is smoothly integrated.  Evidence includes both historical and current uses of the term. Material from other authors is cited in MLA format and connected to the focus of the paper.  Evidence is related to the term of identity’s usage. Material from other authors is not cited or improperly cited and/or is not significant to the writer’s selected term of identity. 10
Grammar The writer follows the grammatical and spelling conventions of Standard English. The writer has few grammatical and spelling errors. Writing is difficult to follow because of grammatical and/or spelling errors. 10

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