Me, Myself, and I: Examining Personal Identity in Short Texts

Lesson 8


Unit 1

9th Grade

Lesson 8 of 20


Analyze how the author uses literary devices to convey the boy's complex experience as a child of immigrant parents.

Readings and Materials

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Target Task

Discussion & Writing Prompt

In "(citizen) (illegal)" by José Olivarez, the poet explores the complex experience of being a child whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Analyze how the poet uses structure, word choice, and/or imagery to illustrate the boy's feelings about his complex identity.

Criteria for Success

  • Identifies the central conflict of the poem as the boy's confusion over his identity and whether or not he is a citizen or illegal based on his parents.
  • Analyzes at least two elements of the poem's structure, word choice, and/or imagery.
    • Could explain how the repetition of questions reflects his uncertainty about how to identify himself.
    • Could explain that the use of parentheses conveys his desire to categorize parts of himself as either citizen or illegal.
    • Could explain how specific word choice and imagery reveals his anger and frustration with his complex identity.

Sample Response

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Key Questions

Close Read Questions

  • What experiences or characteristics make the baby/boy a citizen or illegal, and what meaning is conveyed through that categorization?

  • How does the speaker's attitude towards his identity shift from when he's a boy to when he's grown up?

  • How do the poem's structure, diction, and imagery contribute to the meaning of the poem?


Literary Terms


the language used to convey a visual picture or to represent any sensory experience (smell, sight, touch, taste, sound)


  • Excerpt: How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity 

While reading, answer the following questions.

  • What does the "pink girl" say and do to Trev in Kindergarten?

  • What do Trev and his mother get into a fight about? 

  • What happens in Trev's dreams?

  • Who is Dr. K, and what is her role in Trev's life?

  • What does Trev bring to first grade with him? What does this indicate about his feelings in school?

  • How does Trev's father feel about his gender identity?

  • How does Trev's brother feel about his gender identity?

  • Who is Dane, and what do her picture and Trev's mother's story reveal about her?

  • What happens on the second day of school in first grade?

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  • L.9-10.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
  • RL.9-10.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RL.9-10.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
  • RL.9-10.5 — Analyze how an author's choices concerning how to structure a text, order events within it (e.g., parallel plots), and manipulate time (e.g., pacing, flashbacks) create such effects as mystery, tension, or surprise.

Supporting Standards

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