Taking off the mask-Deconstructing Identity – Week 1- Short Film Identity

¿Cuál es la máscara que nosotros llevamos? What masks are we wearing?

This week I kicked off my unit on identity with some thought provoking images, activities and prompts to help students connect with the theme and most importantly to share about themselves. This is one of my favorite beginning of the year units and I will be sharing the most engaging,  purposeful, and provocative activities that ignited the class over the next few weeks.  This five post series will focus on the theme of Identity. If you want to see some preliminary priming I did for this unit, check out my previous post “I want to get to know you activities.”

Teaching with the End Game in mind

To give you a little bit of context, the crown point activity for this week was the viewing, subsequent analysis and connection to this award winning film on Identity. Students’ response and reaction to the implication of the film by making masks and narrating their “mask” stories, is toward the end of this blog post.  The preliminary front-loading activities are outlined below.

My pedagogical shift as a teacher 

This year I have taken a new reflective stance in my approach to teaching. I have shifted from a productive-oriented class only to a more think-oriented class. Last year, I felt like I was rushing the students, running through content at lightening speed without affording students time to really “sit” with, digest and ruminate on concepts. This year, I am taking a few steps back to provide what I am calling “thinking space.” This space  in order to developing thinking routines as outlined in the book Making Thinking Visible. In the book as well as referenced on this affiliated website, thinking routines help students to:

  • Garner a deeper understanding of concepts 
  • Engage more enthusiastically with the class 
  • Sharpen thinking abilities

To increase more reflection time and quality output, time, I am dressing up each engagement with a thinking protocol or routine.  I started to sow the seeds of my shifting practice this previous post about our first writing engagement of the year. Below is a tentative sketch of this present endeavor:

  • Provide time to reflect, jot down thoughts before production oriented tasks (speaking and writing)
  • Offer intense scaffolding before each activity (spelled out instructions, examples and modeling)

Writing prior to speaking- that goes against everything I know!

    My first strategy to allow students think space time and using the writing modality prior to speaking, may fly in the face of the organic spontaneous speaking approach. I wholeheartedly embrace this approach, however now with several caveats.  Last year whenever we’d watch a video, or listen to input, I would immediately get students to react.  I adopted this quick fire method from one of my college professors. After input rich activities, she’d elicit a response by her “reacciones” rally call.  Well, this did not work for me with my high school students.  I was met with a sea of confused nervously anxious self-conscious teenagers, who’d rather lose “points” than embarrass  themselves- totally understandable. This is why I had to seek out a new approach.

As we start our deep dive into the unit, I have started providing them with time and space to think about how they feel about a particular prompt, questions or visual stimuli. One of my colleagues reminded me that speaking a language is on-going synthesis. Well, providing this time lowers the affective filter, frees up cognitive space and allow those neurons to fire hence creating a response.  Hopefully, as the year progresses students will become more automatic in their production.

Now on to the activities!

Activity 1

Warm-up activity to the warm up activity

Click here to access vocabulary and question sheet

Prior to the start of the unit students were given this vocabulary sheet. I am a fan displaying the theme and collectively generating lists together. However, this unit I created has very specific vocabulary and expressions they’ll encounter in the input planned for next upcoming weeks through:

 You will notice that students have a “Mi pequeño diccionario” section where they’ll write down their own new words or incidental vocabulary that resonated with them throughout the unit.

Activity 1.1 

The purpose of the vocabulary list was to prepare student for this short writing activity about themselves.  Click here to access 8 writing prompts that accompany the Spanish Teen Identity Unit. Even if you do not use the unit, could be used as Bell work, small group conversation and/or exit slips.

Using vocabulary for real world purposes

This was a short activity to get students confortable with use the vocabulary. Most words are cognates, so this activity was more of a kinesthetic movement brain break.

Activity 2

Pictures of celebrities were planted around the class. Students used their vocabulary list words to describe the celebrities.

Getting Down to Business: The Main Dish

Activity 3

Engaging students visually to pique their interest.

Students had to observe the images and:

  • Describe two images
  • Determine the theme of the new unit and make connections among the pictures

We practiced circumlocution, so students were not allowed to use any aids for this exercise. After a few minutes, each student shared.

 Deconstructing the short film 

We watch this awarding-winning short film on Identity. It gives a spell-bounding depiction of the complexities of identity in high school. Although the film is in English, it has very limited spoken text, most of it centers on  the read- between- the- lines storyline.   After watching the video students had to process the film objectively first and then subjectively.

This website was a great help in terms of how to look critically at visual content.

Since the film is in English, I combined the first and second viewing but distinguished between an objective telling of what happened versus interpretation.  I told students to only mention verificable facts from the movie. We started more like a TPRS story:

T: ¿Quién es la persona en el corto? 

S1: Es una chica

T: ¿Dónde está la chica? 

S2: La chica está en el baño

T1: ¿Está en un baño dónde?

S3: La chica está en el baño en la escuela

This went one for about a minute. Different students chimed in with  La chica tiene una máscara, la máscara es diferente…

One detail I did not notice last year in the film was that one of the students had two masks. As she went from one group to another she took off her mask, which revealed another one underneath. My student locked on to this detail. Then we discuss symbolism: ¿Qué significa la máscara?

*Although I did not this awesome Movie Talk protocol, next time I will include it as it would be powerful for this type of film.

The Mask as a Proxy for Identity 

For my first two classes teaching this lesson, I placed the word  La Máscara in the center of the circle. By the last class, I had forgotten so I kinda gave it away.  I gave students think space and talk time to process their thoughts silently, then with a partner when with the class. Below some of their comments are captured:

  • La máscara representa la ignorancia
  • La identidad
  • El miedo de mostrar quién eres
  • Varias Identidades
  • Falsedades (they said falso, but I wrote this)

I was so pleased, because one of the articles we are going to read from the Spanish Teen Identity Unit, discusses the fluidity of Identity nowadays as opposed to 50 years ago. The article also hits on the role that technology plays in constructing and disseminating different versions of ourselves, so they were right on!

Activity 4: ¿Cuál es tu máscara? 

After viewing the compelling video on Identity, I wanted to engage students hearts, now that there minds were grappling with the psychological construct of Identity.

I had students think about the masks they wear as students.   I shared about how being a teacher you can never make a mistake and it is easy to slip into the mask of perfection. They had two options for this anonymous activity:

  • Describe some of the masks you they wear as a student at our school
  • Describe masks that adolescents wear

The two pictures here feature some responses. Next time, I will have them color them. One surprising element was how the boys in the class engaged. As I walked around I saw:

  • La apariencia
  • Estudiante perfecto y atleta perfecto
  • Cinta pequeña y pecho grande (they did not right pecho… but another colorful expression)

Next week: We will be reading a few articles about Identity (some articles I have researched and written, while others I used from the book MYP Spanish teaching concepts) and watching a short documentary video on Teens in Argentina.


If you are interested in the Spanish Teen Identity Unit it is on TPT for $2.75. It has a magazine/ blog layout and includes:

1. Three articles 2-3 articles related to Teen Identity (see the blurb below are the articles)

2. Each article has hyperlinked definitions to facilitate online reading

3. Pre-reading vocabulary lists

4. Paired writing activity

5. Graphic organizers for reading

6. Pre-reading questions all geared toward frontloading the themes and activating prior knowledge, attitudes and beliefs.

7.  Text-dependent comprehension questions are included for the first two articles (La identidad de los adolescentes y la Identidad Indígena)

8.  Debate prompts for the third article ( Los niños trasgeneros de Argentina- this is an actual case)

9. writing prompts connected to the theme (linked in the document)

10. Additional vocabulary list and Chat station questions integrating vocabulary (linked in the document)

Content of article:
1. The first article discusses how adolescents form their identity and touches on identity in the digital age.

2. The second article speaks about the challenges of identity for indigenous teens in Latin America and how they are redefining their integration into mainstream society.

3. The third article centers on the transgender debate in Argentina (actual case referenced). There is a video link and questions that connect to the article.

Stay tuned for next week!

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