The Imaginary Me

 laura steinbrink,


As I scrolled through Twitter recently, I happened upon a quoted tweet by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon. The tweet he was quoting was making statements about him, and his response in the quoted tweet was simply, “The imaginary version of me has many wrong opinions. Here’s a sample.” Regardless of how you feel about Scott or his cartoon Dilbert, that phrase, imaginary version of me really struck me as something I could use with students. We all must handle critics at various times in our lives, and we also know that we can frequently be our own worst critics. I always work with students on positive thinking strategies as part of my Train Like a Navy SEAL SEL program, and when I saw this phrase, several ideas hit me all at once.

We’ve all had to deal with others who call us names, and those who make assumptions and judgements about us. How we handle those and the resulting after waves of self-doubt can determine current and future successes, well-being, and resiliency. I’ve frequently looked back on that old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me,” with amazement. Words certainly can hurt us. I remember a parent telling my mother, after our 4th grade music concert, that I couldn’t sing but was really loud. Those words haunted me for 30 years. As an adult, I battle them each time they crop up in my mind, but I know now that they aren’t true. I’ve sung in front of hundreds of people and have been paid to sing, and still those words make an appearance periodically. Now I know what to say to those words: That’s the imaginary me, the one who can’t sing. That’s not the real me.

So how do we use this with students? There are a lot of possibilities, but here are just a few that I’ve come up with so far.



Introduce the idea of “The Imaginary Me” during the first few days or weeks of school (or anytime, really). Find your own story of words that hurt, and then explain how those words must fit the imaginary version of you, because they are certainly NOT true of the real you. Then, like me, you might be tempted to have students share out things they have been called or assumptions or judgments that have been made about them. Don’t. As my friend, Elizabeth Merce, reminded me when I ran my idea by her, it is best not to have students share those negatives out loud in class. That kind of information in the hands of other students with whom a relationship hasn’t been solidly built yet can be very detrimental. I knew this, but in my excitement of the possibilities with this strategy, I forgot about Piggy. Piggy, you ask? Yes, for those of you who haven’t read The Lord of the Flies, Piggy is the only character whose real name we never learn. In the very beginning of the book, he tells the Ralph, main protagonist, that he could call him anything other than Piggy, which is what the bullies at his school called him, and so Piggy wasn’t known by any other name throughout the book. So, to avoid another Piggy situation in your own classrooms, let’s look at ways to utilize this strategy without giving undue power over others to our students before solid relationships and trust have been built.



After you introduce the idea of the imaginary version our ourselves to your students, you now have some options for using it as an activity. Students can think up the UNTRUE things people have said about them and then for each untrue statement or adjectives, they come up with statements or adjectives that are TRUE about themselves. Those are what you build the following activities on:

  • Word Cloud (individual or class)
  • Class word wall
  • Poster silhouette
  • Affirmation cards (use index cards & have students write ONE of their Truths on it for a class set or all of their truths, one per card, for individual sets)
  • Reflection/blog post writing
  • Graphics / comic strip stories
  • Our Truths bulletin board (anonymous)


I will likely start my high schoolers off with affirmation cards, and possibly a word cloud for the whole class first, but all of these activities are in play throughout the year. January is a great time to do some activities like this since the start of the second semester can be hard, and you can also tie it in with One Word (students think of one word that can shape, guide, or theme their new year instead of resolutions) activities. For a digital version of affirmation cards, students can use Google Slides, and then those could be combined for a class set, either all of their affirmations or just one per student. It may also help to give students a number of the UNTRUTHS and then corresponding TRUTHS to brainstorm and then use for the activities so that you can manage the amount of time and or responses for the activities you choose. Each class I have is different, so the activities will be tailored to suit the needs of those students. I will add to this post once I have examples from our classrooms, but I’m sharing the idea now so that you can also find ways to adapt it for your students. Happy new school year.


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