Civic Self-Portrait | Facing History & Ourselves
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Civic Self-Portrait

Students reflect on the meaning of civic participation and create a self-portrait that helps them visualize the elements of being a civic agent.


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At a Glance



English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship


  • Culture & Identity


How do we help young people develop a sense of civic agency—the capacity to act purposefully and collaboratively to make a difference? This Civic Self-Portrait activity and the accompanying handout help students explore what it means to “choose to participate” and to visualize the different elements of being a civic agent.

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Lesson Plans


Ask your students to reflect on one or more of the following prompts in their journals:

  • Think about an upstander or civic actor you have learned about in class. What lessons can you learn by looking at their choices and actions? How can you apply these lessons to your own choices?
  • How do you want to participate in your community and beyond?
  • What strengths, talents, and passions do you have that help you think about how you might engage with the world?

When students have finished journaling, invite some of them to share their ideas with the class.

Remote Learning Note: Students can complete their journal entries asynchronously. Then, ask students to share some of their key ideas in a class discussion forum or during your next synchronous session.

Either project the Civic Self-Portrait handout or distribute a copy of the handout to each student. Students can record their ideas directly on the handout in the spaces provided, or they can construct their portrait on a separate piece of paper, using symbols, images, and color in addition to their written responses.

In order to help students begin the project, and to build class community around the idea of embracing our roles as civic participants, you might consider modeling the activity by beginning your own civic self-portrait on the board or a flip chart.

Remote Learning Note: Students can type their responses directly in the Civic Self-Portrait handout (available as a Google Doc or PDF), or they can create their portrait on a piece of paper or in a separate document on their computer. If students create a physical Civic Self-Portrait, ask them to take a picture to share with you and their classmates.

Students can share their Civic Self-Portraits in pairs, small groups, or in a Gallery Walk. If you are completing this activity at the beginning of a Choosing to Participate activity or civic action project, you may want to have students revisit their self-portraits at the end of the project or activity to see if they want to change anything as a result of their experiences.

Remote Learning Note: Students can share their civic self-portraits either with the full class or with small groups in an online discussion forum. Students can leave written or recorded responses on their classmates’ civic self-portraits.

Learn about how one teacher modified this Civic Self-Portrait activity, and find links to examples of student work, by reading Molly Joseph's blog post, Facing Reality and Themselves.

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY