Introducing Agency | Facing History & Ourselves
Two Volta Elementary School students work at their desks.

Introducing Agency

Students explore the concept of agency, both in literature and in life, and examine the societal forces that play a role in an individual’s agency.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts




One 50-min class period
  • Culture & Identity


About This Lesson

Part of being human is facing choices and making decisions, both independently and in concert with others. Sometimes these choices and decisions are of little consequence; other times they have a large impact on our lives and quite possibly the lives of others, such as family, friends, or members of our communities. 

The resources and activities in this lesson support students to examine the societal forces that can play a role in increasing or limiting an individual’s agency, as well as reflect on what’s at stake and what they risk when they make a choice to take action because we always want them to be mindful of their safety as they explore their agency and decision-making process. This exploration can help students to understand that they are not only acted upon: they themselves, in a variety of ways, are actors in their own lives and in the spaces they inhabit.

How do I empower myself to take action on behalf of myself and others?

  • What is agency? What is the relationship between power and agency? 
  • What factors might impact an individual or group’s agency in a given moment?
  • Examine how their identity is a combination of who they say they are, who others say they are, and who they hope to be in the future.
  • Analyze the author’s representation of individual and collective agency in the text and compare and contrast it to their own beliefs and experiences in the world.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 1 informational text, available in English and Spanish
  • 1 handout, available in English and Spanish

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

If students are playing songs from their playlists in the first activity, review your classroom norms regarding profanity and language that targets aspects of identity or dehumanizes people. Facing History’s Strategies for Addressing Racist and Dehumanizing Language offers additional support.

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Lesson Plans


Start the class by inviting students to share their Power Playlists, which they created for homework, in pairs or small groups. If your classroom has a document camera, you might invite one or more volunteers to project their playlists and read their descriptions. Encourage students to create Power Playlists in a music app to remind them of their sources of power when they are feeling vulnerable or powerless. If your class didn’t do this homework assignment, skip to the next activity.

Explain to students that in this lesson, they will be learning about the concept of individual and collective agency. Pass out the reading Introducing Agency or Introducing Agency (Adapted Version). Depending on your students’ familiarity with the concept and their reading skills, you might read aloud as a class or have students work in pairs. Then have students work in pairs or small groups to come up with one question and one comment about the reading to share with the class. 1  Have students share their comments in a Wraparound and then discuss their questions as a whole group.

  • 1From Kelly Gallagher, Deeper Reading: Comprehending Challenging Texts, 4–12 (Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004), 48–49.

Ask students to reflect on the following questions one at a time in their journals, and then see if any volunteers would like to share any of their insights with the class. You can model risk-taking by sharing your own answer to one of the questions as a way to start the discussion.

  • Where or when do you feel like you have agency? What factors impact your agency in a given moment? 
  • Where and when do you feel like you lack agency? What factors contribute to your lack of agency in a given moment? 
  • What is one step you could take to increase your agency? 
  • What is one step someone else could take to increase your agency? 

This text set builds on a foundational understanding of agency. To assess students’ understanding and determine what, if any, concepts you need to revisit in the next lesson, have them complete and then submit a “How Many Bars?” Exit Ticket 1 handout. 

  • 1Adapted from Kristina J. Doubet and Jessica A. Hockett, Differentiation in Middle and High School (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2015), 168.

Materials and Downloads

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