Power, Agency, and Voice | Facing History & Ourselves
Four students at their desks, working in a group.
Text Set

Power, Agency, and Voice

Designed for students in grades 11-12, this text set includes lesson plans and multi-genre texts for a 1–2 week unit exploring the essential question, "How do I empower myself to speak up and take action on behalf of myself and others?”


At a Glance

text-set copy
Text Set


English — US


  • English & Language Arts




Multiple weeks
  • Culture & Identity


About This Text Set

Adolescence is a time of growth and opportunity—a time when young adults transition from childhood dependence to adult independence. From around age ten until their early twenties, they are building the skills to make their own decisions, developing new interests, and setting goals for their future. This is an important time for students to learn about the concept of agency and the role it can play in their decision-making process. 

The resources and activities in this text set help students to recognize the power they do have and the many factors that can influence their agency in moments of decision-making. Recognizing their own individual and collective agency can help them to feel more in control of their lives and develop confidence and conviction in their ideas, decisions, and voices.

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

This text set supports a 1–2 week exploration of power, agency, and voice. It includes:

  • 1 Power, Agency, and Voice Text Set overview
  • 6 lessons
  • 4 personal narrative essays, available in English and Spanish
  • 1 informational text, available in English, Spanish, and a version adapted for English learners
  • 1 short story, available in English and Spanish
  • 6 handouts, available in English and Spanish
  • 1 video and accompanying transcript
  • 1 summative assessment

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

Use this text set to introduce or supplement a coming-of-age literature or book club unit or as a standalone mini-unit. The lessons are intended to be taught in the order they are presented over the course of one to two weeks, depending on the length of your class periods and whether or not students complete some of the reading for homework. Each lesson is aligned to guiding questions and Facing History learning outcomes, with activities to help students engage with the texts critically, emotionally, and ethically. While the activities are deliberately sequenced to bring students into and out of conversations about power, agency, and voice with care, you may need to adapt them, as well as the summative assessment, for your unique classroom context.

The three Facing History learning objectives at the heart of any ELA unit address students’ cognitive, emotional, and moral growth. ​​Aligned to each learning objective are specific learning outcomes, which describe the observable and measurable knowledge, skills, attitudes, and dispositions students develop over the course of the unit. 

Learning Objective 1: Explore the Complexity of Identity
Learning Outcomes:

  • 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.
  • Engage with real and imagined stories that help them understand their own coming-of-age experiences and how others experience the world.

Learning Objective 2: Process Texts through a Critical and Ethical Lens
Learning Outcomes:

  • Practice perspective-taking in order to develop empathy and recognize the limits of any one person’s point of view.
  • Identify examples of injustice and unfairness in the literature they read and in the world today. Examine how an individual’s identity, group membership, and relationship to systems of inequity can impact their sense of who they are and their agency when faced with a moral dilemma or choice.

Learning Objective 3: Develop a Sense of Civic Agency
Learning Outcomes:

  • 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.
  • Recognize that their decisions matter, impact others, and shape their communities and the world.

Read more about and download Facing History’s ELA learning objectives and outcomes in Section 3: Begin with the End in Mind of our Coming-of-Age Unit Planning Toolkit.

At Facing History, we understand that before students can engage with challenging topics, they need to feel confident that they are part of a brave and reflective community where they are known, valued, and supported by their teachers and peers. This ongoing process starts with personal reflection on the part of the teacher and invites students to help establish and uphold norms for how everyone will treat one another. The following resources and activities can support you and your students in cultivating a brave and reflective community.

  • Build the Foundation: Learn about the importance of engaging in your own personal reflection before teaching this text set by exploring the resources and teacher-facing activities in Section 1: Start with Yourself of Facing History’s Unit Planning Guide. You can also read “How to Help Students Believe in Themselves” from Greater Good magazine to learn about new research that identifies specific steps adults can take to foster student agency and self-efficacy. 
  • Create a Classroom Contract: Prepare students to engage, take risks, and support one another by creating a classroom contract with agreed-upon norms and behaviors that allow every student to feel seen, heard, and valued. If you have already created a contract, set aside time to revisit it at the outset of this unit to recommit to your group’s agreed-upon norms and behaviors.
  • Incorporate Daily Journaling: In addition to creating and upholding the classroom contract, journaling is an instrumental tool for helping students develop their ability to process what they are learning, practice perspective-taking, and make informed judgments about what they see and hear. Providing students with time and space to reflect on complex issues and questions allows them to formulate their ideas before sharing them with their peers. 
  • Write Alongside Your Students: When teachers write with their students and share their writing, no matter how messy or scattered, it sends a powerful message that writing matters, writing is hard, and even teachers don’t get it right the first time. You will create a stronger community of thinkers and writers if you participate in the learning process. If you don’t do so already, consider starting your own journal and joining your students in this exploration of power, agency, and voice. 

Differentiation is an approach to teaching and learning that involves purposeful planning and instruction that is responsive to students’ identities and needs as individual learners and members of a larger classroom community. It starts with creating a welcoming environment and includes a high-quality curriculum that everyone can access in order to engage with the targeted concepts and skills. Here are just a few differentiation strategies you might use to help make the content and concepts of this text set accessible to all of your students.

  • Reading Protocols: Use teaching strategies like Think Aloud, Say Something, and Read Aloud to make visible the often invisible moves you make when engaging with different genres of texts. Then have students practice these moves in pairs before asking them to work alone. 
  • Modeling: Provide students with models to help them understand your expectations for annotating texts, responding to discussion questions, and completing assessments. Ensuring that all students know what quality work looks like increases student agency. 
  • Vocabulary Development: Create a Word Wall to help students keep track of key terms. Encourage students to sketch the terms, using a strategy like Sketch to Stretch, and to incorporate them into their conversations and writing. 
  • Adapted Texts: Consider using the adapted version of the informational text  Introducing Agency and/or Spanish-language versions of readings and handouts for students who benefit from additional scaffolding. For jigsaw activities, we have provided readings with different levels of text complexity and length. 
  • Group Work: Create purposeful groupings of students when asking students to work together. For example, you might pair English Learners with students who share their home language to work through new material before creating heterogeneous language groups for discussions. For activities that include different options for what students read, consider the text complexity, length, and relevance of each reading when creating groups. Some students may have the schema to tackle a more challenging written text if it connects to an interest of theirs or an aspect of their identity.

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Lesson Plans

Materials and Downloads

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The Power, Agency, and Voice lesson plans and texts are available as a zip file of PDFs or a folder of Google Docs. Use the links below to get everything in one place.

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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.

The resources I’m getting from my colleagues through Facing History have been just invaluable.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif