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Who are you? A question of identity

To challenge the students to consider how they would define themselves, and encourage them to be true to who they really are (SEAL theme 4: Learning about me).

by Helen Redfern

Suitable for Key Stage 4/5


To challenge the students to consider how they would define themselves, and encourage them to be true to who they really are (SEAL theme 4: Learning about me).

Preparation and materials

  • A4 sheet of paper with Eliza’s ‘essay’ on it.


(This assembly touches on some very sensitive issues. Be aware that it may raise issues that some students may need to deal with.)

  1. When you meet someone new for the first time, what questions do you ask? What do you want to know?

    You may ask: What’s your name? Where do you live? How old are you? What school do you go to? What are you in to? What kind of music do you like? What football team do you support?

    Are the answers to these questions what makes us who we are? Is our identity found in these responses?

    Let us consider the question of identity as we listen to this story.
  2. Eliza sat in her English lesson, no longer listening to the teacher. She was miles away, wondering how she could get out of doing this latest assignment. In front of her at the top of a piece of blank paper were three words: ‘Who are you?’

    And it was these three words that had sent this ordinary 16-year-old into a blind panic. She knew who other people thought she was. She knew how her friends would describe her – popular, funny, always cheerful, would do anything for anybody – that kind of thing.

    She also knew this description was far from the truth.

    She absentmindedly scratched at the fresh scabs on her arm under her shirt as her mind drifted back to when she was younger. She had been happy then and everyone loved her for it. There was always a smile on her face and people in the street would comment on what a sunny disposition she had. Her mum and dad told her how pleased they were that she was happy all the time. So on the occasions when she didn’t feel happy, she wouldn’t tell anyone because she was afraid they would be disappointed in her and not love her any more. She would pretend to be happy and no one ever seemed to notice the sadness behind the smile.

    In fact, she was so good at making people smile that her mum would send her into her older sister’s room to try to cheer her up and make her eat something. Her dad would get her to make her older brother laugh and forget his angry temper. She would try to stop her mum worrying about her health and her dad worrying about his stressful job.

    That was who she was. That was what she did. That was what she was good at.

    ‘Eliza, you must get started now. This is a controlled assessment and you haven’t written anything yet.’ Her teacher was looking over her shoulder at the empty piece of A4 on the desk.

    Slowly Eliza picked up her pen and began to write. And this is what she wrote:

    You do not know who I am and you do not want to know.
    If you knew who I really was, you would not want to know me.

    I cannot tell you who I am because I have never told anyone.
    I have never told anyone who I am because no one has ever asked.

    I am not sure I even know who I am any more.
    You should not have asked me this question.
  3. We do not know what happened after this. Maybe Eliza failed this assessment. Maybe life continued as normal for her. Maybe she went home and continued to self-harm. Maybe she found some other way to cry out for help. Maybe her teacher recognized her unhappiness and got Eliza the help she needed.

    Maybe Eliza is like some of us here today. How would you answer that question?

Time for reflection

Who are you?
A son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, a grandchild, a cousin, a friend.
A nerd, a geek, a rebel, a trend-setter.
The class clown, the class bully, a misfit, a legend.
When all the labels have been stripped away, who are you really?

Who are you?
Kind, generous, popular, cool.
Plain, boring, serious, mature.
Mean, spiteful, cheeky, rude.
Supportive, caring, funny, independent.
When all the adjectives have been stripped away, who are you really?

Who are you?
An amazing artist, a great dancer, a remarkable pianist.
A wonderful cook, a wicked rugby player, a computer genius.
When all the skills have been stripped away, who are you really?

We all hide behind our roles.
We all hide behind what other people think we are like.
We all hide behind our talents.

Let us have the courage to discover who we really are.
Let us have the confidence to demonstrate who we really are.
Let us have an open mind to accept others as they really are.
Let us have an opportunity to celebrate who we really are.

(Light a candle, and let the students spend a few moments in silence.)



‘Who am I?’ a Will Young video
Gives an amusing take on the song. (Better quality available if you search the Internet, but beware of copyright issues.)

Publication date: July 2011   (Vol.13 No.7)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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