What’s in my Backpack?

A critical thinking activity that gets learners to think about themselves and explore their own make-up through the metaphor of a backpack.

KS2 | 30 Mins | Individual


KEY QUESTION: What has made me who I am?


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Truly understanding the question ‘Who Am I?’ can involve some very deep questioning. This activity uses the metaphor of a backpack to help learners unpack the factors that make up who they are.

The idea is relatively simple. It is that we all carry a backpack with us in our lives. The content of this backpack is unique to us (though we may share things in common with others). We have collected this content through people, places, events, and experiences.

Dealing with personal issues around who we are, can raise sensitive issues for some learners. It is important we are aware of these and able to deal with them as teachers.

This is an activity about recognising why we are who we are, rather than an activity about changing who we are. It was inspired by a methodological approach called OSDE (Open Spaces for Dialogue and Enquiry).


1. Familiarise learners with the idea of a backpack and that this is one way to think about what makes us who we are. Explain that

We can (and do) add to our backpack.

We can unpack it to remind ourselves of what’s in it.

We can reorder the contents according to our current priorities

You could give some examples to help them embrace the idea. For example:

I really enjoy the outdoor life because I grew up in the countryside

I became a teacher because my parents both worked in schools

I love Indian food because my best friend is Indian and I often eat at their house

I am nervous of dogs because my grandad had one that used to growl at me when I was younger

It is important that learners can understand the cause and effect. It is the cause that we are interested in for this activity, but it might be useful to think of the effects too. For example, thinking about why you don’t like dogs would help to trace back to the life event (the thing that is in your backpack) that caused this. This is a gentle example, but applying the same principle to understanding why someone might have racist or sexist opinions for example could be very powerful.

TIP: You might use a real back pack and objects as a stimulus to bring your explanation of cause and effect to life.

2. Using a large sheet of paper ask learners to individually draw a person with a large backpack on their back. Using post-it notes or markers begin to think about the things that make up who you are and add them to your backpack. Here are some prompts or categories that you could use to help learners engage with the task.

Gender — Age — Siblings — Family structure — Where do you live?

Holidays — Friends — Relatives — Languages — Ability

Hobbies — Skills — Clothes — Ethnicity — Faith — Culture — Character

3. When they are happy with their backpack, learners could begin to share their own packpack with others in the class. This sharing should include discussion and not simply be about lists. You may want to do this is small groups rather than as a whole class activity. Learners should be encouraged to add to their own backpack as they share ideas with others – reflecting on themselves by understanding others is a useful skill.

4. With older learners you could extend this to discuss questions such as ‘Can we get rid of contents in our back pack?’ ‘How can we deal with contents we are no longer happy about?’

Linking Idea

With careful introduction this activity could form the basis of a linking activity.

Learners from partner schools could use the idea of a backpack to explore individual identity and to compare who they are as individuals. They could look for the commonalities and differences that they find. Why might these be?

Deeper questions such as ‘what makes me who I am?’ could be shared if the teacher and learners are confident enough, but they are just as valid as a reflective or sense making activity on return to your own school.


Based on original material created by The Linking Network and Lifeworlds Learning

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