What is Power? | Facing History & Ourselves
Two male students write at their desks.

What is Power?

Students define power and then analyze five perspectives about power in order to understand its many sources and the different ways it can be experienced.


At a Glance

lesson copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts




One 50-min class period
  • Culture & Identity


About This Lesson

The initial response for many students to the question, “When have you felt powerful?” is “Never.” Feeling powerless is common for young people, especially when it seems like the adults in their lives—parents, guardians, teachers, school administrators, coaches, employers—are making all of the important decisions and these decisions don’t always address the unique needs of youth. 

In this lesson, students define power and then examine a range of perspectives that shed light on where power lies, the different ways that individuals and groups experience power, and the responsibility that comes with power. The resources and activities help to equip students with the vocabulary and confidence to engage in a more nuanced exploration of the relationship between power and agency in the next lesson.

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

  • What Is power?
  • What are the different ways that an individual or group can have or experience power?
  • 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.

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

  • 2 handouts, available in English and Spanish
  • Suggested homework

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

Before class, familiarize yourself with the Four Corners teaching strategy, which you will use in the first activity. Make four signs—Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree—and hang them in the corners of the classroom.

Before teaching this lesson, familiarize yourself with the Big Paper: Building a Silent Conversation strategy, which you will use in Activity 2. The activity calls for students to reflect on five quotations that you can find on the Perspectives on Power: Big Paper Quotations handout. Affix each quotation onto a big piece of paper before the lesson.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Lesson Plans


Pass out the What Is Power? Anticipation Guide handout and have students complete Steps 1 and 2. Then debrief using the Four Corners teaching strategy. To provide opportunities for everyone to voice their opinions, have students share with others in their corners before facilitating the class discussion. Then have students complete Steps 3 and 4 on the handout. They can share their definitions in pairs or small groups, adding any new ideas that arise.

Let students know that they will read and reflect on five different perspectives about power and consider the ways in which each one confirms, challenges, or changes their initial thinking about the concept. Explain the Big Paper strategy and provide students with markers. Give them time to circulate silently, read, annotate, and write their ideas, connections, and questions on each paper. Consider projecting the following questions for students to refer to as they interact with the quotations:

  • What, if any, ideas about power from the anticipation guide does the quotation explore? What new ideas does it add to a conversation about power?
  • How does the quotation change, challenge, or confirm your own thinking about power?
  • What questions does the quotation raise for you? What does it make you wonder?

Hang the big papers on the board so students can see them alongside one another. Give students a few minutes to review them as a whole. Then discuss the following questions as a class:

  • When considering the five perspectives on power, which one do you find the most valuable? What makes you say that?
  • What are the different ways that an individual or group can have or experience power? How do one or more of the quotations help you answer this question? How about your own experiences?
  • What are the different ways that an individual or group can have or experience disempowerment? 
  • What responsibilities do you think come with power? For adults? For young people? 

Use the Wraparound strategy to bring the lesson to a close. Have each student complete the following sentence stem with a word or short phrase: Power is . . .

Invite students to create a Power Playlist composed of five songs that convey what it’s like to feel powerful, or that might help when they feel powerless and are looking for inspiration. They should list their songs, give their playlist a title, choose an image for the playlist, and write a brief description (three or four sentences). Let them know that they will share their Power Playlists in the next class period. If you plan to allow students to play their music in class, it is important that you provide content and language guidelines for the songs they choose that reflect your classroom norms and school handbook. Consider creating your own playlist to model the activity for your students.

Materials and Downloads

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

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