Strategies for Making a Difference | Facing History & Ourselves
Image of an arpillera, a tapestry that documents abuses that took place during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, 1973-1990.

Strategies for Making a Difference

Students use a "levers of power" framework to analyze examples of civic participation and identify ways they can bring about a positive change in their communities.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • Civics & Citizenship
  • Social Studies




One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust


About This Lesson

This lesson complements the resources in Chapter 12 of Holocaust and Human Behavior by helping students think about the concrete ways in which they can “choose to participate.” Chapter 12 includes examples of a wide variety of ways that individuals have made a difference in their communities, their countries, and beyond. Students will find in the chapter stories of people making positive change by examining and overcoming personal biases, using technology in creative ways, finding their voices in art, and leading campaigns to influence the policies of governments and institutions and the attitudes of entire societies. The hope is that reading a variety of these stories will help to open students’ eyes to the different ways of participating that are being enacted around them and to the tools that others have used to make positive changes in their communities.  

This lesson also offers a means of helping students transition from examining the ways that others are making a difference to envisioning the ways that they themselves might contribute to the process of creating more humane, just, and compassionate world. Legal scholar Martha Minow has observed that one of the biggest barriers that individuals face in getting involved is that it is hard to know what actual steps to take: “Often times we see something that's unjust and we wonder, ‘Where do I go? What do I do?’” 1 In an effort to help individuals identify concrete actions to take when they “choose to participate,” Minow developed a “levers of power” framework to map out the organizations, institutions, and technologies that can enable us to strengthen the impact of our voices and our actions. In this lesson, students will learn about these “levers” of power and analyze how some of the individuals featured in Chapter 12’s readings have used them. Students will then have the opportunity to think about which levers are most accessible to them personally and how they might use these to bring about changes they would like to see in their own communities.

  • 1Facing History and Ourselves, "Martha Minow: Levers of Power" (video), accessed August 26, 2016.
  • What must individuals do and value in order to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world and a more democratic society?
  • How can we determine the most effective way to make a difference in our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world? Which strategies are best for bringing about the changes we want to see?
  • Students will understand that “choosing to participate” often starts with small steps and that simple actions can lead one to become more committed and involved in the future.
  • Students will be able to identify some specific ways they might participate in bringing about a positive change in a community to which they belong.

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

  • 3 activities
  • 2 readings
  • 1 handout
  • 1 extension activity

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Lesson Plans


  • Share the following quotation from President Barack Obama with students: “You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy." 1  This quotation is Obama’s theme in a commencement speech he gave in 2016. Time permitting, share and discuss the speech with the class (see reading, Not Just Awareness, But Action). Tell students that the focus of this lesson is to think about strategies for making change.
  • Distribute the handout Analyzing Levers of Power. You might spend a moment exploring the metaphor of the lever in the title. In a literal sense, a lever is a tool that allows one to pick up or move something much heavier than could be lifted without it. In other words, a lever allows someone to use a small amount of force to have a big impact. The second side of this handout outlines the individuals, organizations, and technology platforms that can have this sort of amplifying effect on a societal level. By influencing or making use of these “levers,” individuals might have a larger impact on their community or society.
  • Briefly walk students through each category on the second side of the handout. Ask them to come up with examples of individuals or groups that belong to each category in order to make sure that everyone understands them.

Students will use the “levers of power” framework to analyze one or more examples from Chapter 12 of individuals who “chose to participate.”

  • Individually or in teams of two, have students choose a reading from Chapter 12. You might let them choose from the entire chapter or put together a smaller selection of readings for them to choose from.
  • After they choose their reading, students should read it and consider the following questions on the first side of the handout Analyzing Levers of Power:
    • What change did the individual(s) in this reading want to make?
    • What strategies did the individual(s) use in order to make the change happen?
    • Which powerful people or organizations (“levers of power”) did the individual(s) attempt to influence? How?
    • Which strategies led to the most success? Which failed?
  • In each row on the second side of the handout, students should write a sentence or two explaining how the individual(s) used the lever described in the heading. If such a lever was not used, students can write “N/A” in the row. If a “lever of power” was involved that is not listed on the handout, students should describe it at the bottom.
  • After students have completed their handouts, have them meet briefly with at least two other classmates who worked with a different reading. When they meet, they should introduce the story they each read, describe the strategies that the people they read about used, and explain which levers of power were most useful to those people.
  • Finally, lead a whole-group discussion in which you ask students to share their observations. Guide the discussion with the following questions:
    • What patterns did you notice? Did certain “levers of power” seem to come up in more readings than others?
    • Which of the strategies for change that you learned about seemed most effective? Most difficult? Most creative?
    • Which of the “levers of power” on the handout seem most accessible to you? Which seem most difficult to influence? Which are you struggling to understand?

Ask students to choose an issue that they care about and a change they would like to bring about regarding that issue. Then have them describe some specific actions they could take to try to help make that change happen. Their plans should include at least two of the “levers” of power outlined in this lesson, and students should describe how the specific action they could take might make use of those levers to increase their impact.

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