Declaring Identity: Being Jazz

Students explore the topic of "coming of age" through the memoir of Jazz Jennings, a transgender teen whose story has led to significant social change and the growing acceptance of transgender youth.

Unit Summary

Jazz Jennings is a well-known transgender activist. Born biologically male, Jazz socially transitioned to female at the age of five with the support of her family. In 2006, when Jazz was just six years old, her family shared their story in an interview with Barbara Walters on 20/20, which opened up a national conversation around the existence and experiences of transgender youth. Since then, Jazz has remained in the public eye, sharing her life and promoting transgender rights through many forms of media, including a picture book for young children, numerous interviews, a reality TV show, and a memoir.

Jazz’s memoir, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, introduces students to this charismatic young woman whom Time Magazine has named as one of “The 25 Most Influential Teens” and Huffington Post one of the “14 Most Fearless Teens.” Students will be drawn in by Jazz’s conversational tone, her matter-of-fact descriptions of personal details of her life as a young transgender person, the challenges and discrimination she has faced, and her inspirational message about accepting yourself and standing up for others. This unit introduces students to the unique and universal challenges faced by one transgender girl. Additionally, students will read several nonfiction articles about issues facing transgender and other LGBTQ people, including participation in youth sports, bullying, and violence. They will also watch a number of videos. In addition to developing students’ understanding of complex contemporary issues, these articles provide students the opportunity to think critically about author’s purpose and point of view, as well as thinking about the way that two different texts/videos present the same information, supplementing and/or challenging one another.

Being Jazz is an essential part of the curriculum because it is the only English unit in our middle school curriculum to address contemporary questions about gender identity. Students will have a window into the experience of a person who was born into the wrong body and the controversies that surround the transgender movement. According to a recent Human Rights Campaign survey, LGBTQ students “report being harassed at school—both verbally and physically—at twice the rate of non-LGBT youth.” With more frequent bullying, LGBTQ students are also more likely to have lower educational outcomes (“Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate” by Teaching Tolerance). This Being Jazz unit is an effort to create a supportive and safe school environment by representing LGBTQ students in the curriculum to affirm their identities and foster awareness for all students.

In the first writing task of this unit, students will perform independent research for the first time this year, specifically on the topic of a trailblazing athlete. They will look for sources online, determine whether these sources seem trustworthy, and learn how to complete appropriate citations. (They will include specific facts about the athlete, including domain-specific vocabulary (related to the athlete’s specific sport, etc). The second task is a short one and builds directly on the previous day’s reading lesson. Public discourse around bullying has been growing in recent years, and students will certainly have opinions on the topic, either from their own experiences or exposure in the media. Although students have written “argumentative” essays in which they make an analytical claim related to a text, his is the first opportunity for students to practice their persuasive writing skills. They will use the skills they have developed in analyzing the way that Jazz Jennings illustrates ideas in her text and incorporate facts, statistics, and anecdotes into their writing. The final task in this unit introduces students to the genre of memoir. Through analysis of specific stories and incidents in Being Jazz, students will begin to think about the way authors use structure to create logical story structures (W.6.3.A), complete with details and dialogue (W.6.3.B; W.6.3.D), and create resolution for readers (W.6.3.E). This is an opportunity for students to think about their own lives and their own capacity to make change in the world through their stories. This task has a number of opportunities built in for peer-to-peer feedback (W.6.5) and to strengthen students’ skills with confident presentation (SL.6.4).

Texts and Materials

Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale

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This assessment accompanies Unit 3 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • What are the risks and benefits of telling the truth about one’s identity?
  • How do gender identity and gender expectations shape our world and our experience of the world?
  • What role does family play in the process of a young person coming of age and declaring identity?

Reading Enduring Understandings


  • Many transgender and gender-nonconforming people today face many forms of discrimination—and even violence—based on their identity.
  • Statistics show that trans people are many times more likely than cisgender people to experience bullying, to attempt suicide, and be victims of murder.
  • It is possible to make change by being fearlessly oneself, standing up for one’s rights, and standing up for others.

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • Transgender
  • Non-binary
  • Gender-neutral
  • Sex
  • Gender
  • Gender expression
  • Cisgender
  • Ultrasound
  • Genitals
  • Pronoun
  • Social transition
  • Hormone therapy
  • Testes
  • Passing
  • Indigenous
  • Endocrinologist
  • Rite of passage
  • Pansexual
  • Heckle

Notes for Teachers


  • The subject matter of gender identity is complex and delicate. Teachers need to prepare the class by making sure students are feeling empowered and mature in order to use words related to gender (like genitalia and sex) that they are not accustomed to using in school. This may feel uncomfortable for students at first, so acknowledge the awkwardness aloud. (“This may feel uncomfortable for some of you to talk about in school and that’s okay. I trust that you’ll be as mature and open-minded as you have been when talking about other controversies this year, such as euthanasia in The Giver.) Significantly, this unit is taught in our schools in conjunction with a science unit about puberty and reproductive systems so that students can interact with anatomical and social terms related to gender and sex across the two disciplines of English and Science. Students should not be required to participate aloud if they need time to feel comfortable discussing questions about gender. This subject will spur a lot of healthy debate; students should feel free to respectfully express their beliefs and possible discomfort around transgender issues.
  • Additionally, middle school is a time of identity exploration. Students who are questioning their gender/sexual identity —or those with LGBTQ family members—may feel particularly vulnerable when talking about gender and sexual identity in class. Teachers should encourage students to be sensitive to one another and be prepared to offer private support to students who are struggling with personal issues.
  • Before starting the unit, consider informing parents, school leaders, and counselors so they can prepare to offer care if a student needs additional support. In the materials for this unit, we have included a Sample Parent Letter about the unit that teachers can customize based on their community’s needs.
  • Each lesson plan lists the homework for that evening; the vast majority of the time the assignment is for students to read and take notes on the pages of focus for the following day’s class.  Students should come to class prepared with a literal understanding of the reading in preparation for closely rereading shorter sections of text during that class period.  For homework accountability, it is recommended that teachers check students’ reading notes each day, to ensure that they read and understood the gist of the chapter. Additionally, teachers may wish to assign a short written response to the homework thinking task to bring to class the following day. Another option is to give a quick homework check quiz at the beginning of each class (3–6 questions assessing literal understanding). 

Lesson Map


  • “An Intro...”

  • Understanding Transgender



Use a text and video source to define terms related to gender identity and provide basic information about what it means to be transgender.


  • Being Jazz pg. 1 – 12


Identify narrator Jazz’s point of view and how it is conveyed in the first chapter of Being Jazz.


  • Being Jazz pg. 15 – 25


Explain how Jazz introduces and illustrates ideas about her life through anecdotes and examples.


  • Being Jazz pg. 27 – 39


Explain how specific sentences and passages fit into the overall structure of Being Jazz.


  • Being Jazz pg. 41 – 46

  • “20:20” — (0:00–16:25)



Explain how the 20/20 documentary about Jazz develops the reader’s understanding of her memoir.


  • Being Jazz pg. 49 – 60


Explain how Jazz uses examples and anecdotes to illustrate ideas in her memoir.


  • “Transgender Athletes Speak Out”

  • “The Case for Allowing...”


Explain the debate around transgender athletes participating in sports and explain the purpose and point of view of two different articles on this topic.


Informative Writing







Differentiate between credible and non-credible sources when beginning research.


Informative Writing




Appropriately cite sources and provide a strong conclusion for biographical profiles.


  • Being Jazz pg. 63 – 73



Explain how Jazz communicates her point of view by developing an authentic narrative voice.


  • Being Jazz pg. 73 – 84


Explain how Jazz uses examples and anecdotes to introduce, illustrate, and elaborate on ideas in her memoir.


  • Being Jazz pg. 87 – 95


Explain how specific sentences, text features, and paragraphs contribute to the structure and meaning of Being Jazz.


  • Being Jazz pg. 97 – 114

  • “Jazz message to Obama”


Explain how Jazz’s narrative style develops her point of view and the impact of this on readers.


  • Being Jazz pg. 117 – 130

  • “Camp Aranu'tiq”



Explain the purpose and impact of Camp Aranu’tiq by reading Being Jazz and watching a video, and describe the differences between those two sources.


  • Being Jazz pg. 133 – 141

  • Bullying Statistics

  • How Does Bullying...

  • What Is Bullying



Describe the impact of bullying on young people by presenting information from nonfiction articles and analyzing events in Being Jazz.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • What Is Bullying

  • How Does Bullying...

  • Bullying Statistics

  • Being Jazz





Write a letter communicating perspective on bullying and persuade the reader to agree with the position.


  • Being Jazz pg. 143 – 152




Interpret words and figures of speech Jazz uses in her memoir and analyze their impact.


  • Being Jazz pg. 155 – 167


Draw conclusions about Jazz’s character based on the way she responds to challenges in her own life and the injustice she sees around her.


  • Being Jazz pg. 169 – 176


Identify narrator Jazz’s point of view and how it is conveyed in Being Jazz.


  • Being Jazz pg. 187 – 196

  • “The Story of Jazz”



Identify author’s purpose and point of view in Barbara Walters’s 20/20 interview and in Being Jazz.


  • Being Jazz pg. 199 – 204

  • “Meet Jennicet”

  • “Exclusive”



Compare and contrast two accounts of the same event described in Being Jazz.


  • Being Jazz pg. 207 – 215


Analyze how Jazz concludes her memoir and how she continues to develop ideas in the text.


  • Being Jazz — whole text


Determine central ideas in Being Jazz and explain how specific details support these ideas.


Socratic Seminar

  • Being Jazz

  • Socratic Seminar Guide



Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on performance in the seminar and paraphrasing the ideas of peers.


Narrative Writing






Identity the features of a strong personal narrative and begin to craft own personal narrative.


Narrative Writing





Organize narratives in a logical structure and add specific details and dialogue to develop meaning.


Narrative Writing




Craft a strong concluding paragraph and share stories with classmates.


2 days


Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.6.4 — Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade 6 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.

  • L.6.4.c — Consult reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.

  • L.6.5 — Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

  • L.6.5.a — Interpret figures of speech (e.g., personification) in context.

  • L.6.6 — Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.6.1 — Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RI.6.2 — Determine a central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

  • RI.6.3 — Analyze in detail how a key individual, event, or idea is introduced, illustrated, and elaborated in a text (e.g., through examples or anecdotes).

  • RI.6.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings.

  • RI.6.5 — Analyze how a particular sentence, paragraph, chapter, or section fits into the overall structure of a text and contributes to the development of the ideas.

  • RI.6.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and explain how it is conveyed in the text.

  • RI.6.7 — Integrate information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words to develop a coherent understanding of a topic or issue.

  • RI.6.9 — Compare and contrast one author's presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.6.4 — Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.6.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 6 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.6.1.b — Follow rules for collegial discussions, set specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.

  • SL.6.1.d — Review the key ideas expressed and demonstrate understanding of multiple perspectives through reflection and paraphrasing.

  • SL.6.4 — Present claims and findings, sequencing ideas logically and using pertinent descriptions, facts, and details to accentuate main ideas or themes; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.

Writing Standards
  • W.6.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.6.1.a — Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly.

  • W.6.1.b — Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.6.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the argument presented.

  • W.6.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

  • W.6.2.a — Introduce a topic; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.6.2.b — Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

  • W.6.2.d — Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

  • W.6.2.f — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from the information or explanation presented.

  • W.6.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

  • W.6.3.a — Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

  • W.6.3.b — Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

  • W.6.3.d — Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.

  • W.6.3.e — Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.

  • W.6.5 — With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

  • W.6.7 — Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and refocusing the inquiry when appropriate.

  • W.6.8 — Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources; assess the credibility of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.