Change Agents in Our Own Lives

Students identify individuals in their own lives who embody heroism and think about the various roles people play in conflicts.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Consider the motivations behind being an upstander, a bystander or a whistle-blower.
  • Relate broader concepts of activism and justice to issues in their daily lives.
  • Apply the steps of the writing process to reflect on issues surrounding activism.
Essential Questions
  • What are the qualities of people you admire in difficult situations?
  • What makes different people choose to act in different ways in difficult situations?
  • What motivates individuals to overcome obstacles to bravery and to stand up for what they believe?
  • Notebooks and pens or pencils (Note: If your students are more accustomed to writing digitally, that is also fine.)
  • Graphic organizer: Describing a Role Model for grades 3-5 or grades 6-8

This is the third lesson of the series “Dealing with Dilemmas: Upstanders, Bystanders and Whistle-Blowers,” which is designed to help students think about the importance of standing up for what they believe in despite both external and internal obstacles.



Role models play a crucial part in helping children answer questions about the way they want to be in the world. Kids need people to look up to and identify with, and they also need opportunities to think about what exactly it is they admire or question in heroes. Often, curriculum focuses on heroes on a large scale, outside of our own communities. This lesson will allow students to identify individuals in their own lives who embody heroism by being change agents. Using the structure of the writing process, students will profile someone who, in their eyes, has made a difference. Students will also think about what other roles people play in conflicts and why people might choose not to stand up for principles they believe in.



role model [ ROL MAHD-uhl ] (noun) A person someone can look up to, admire or try to be more like.

change agent [ CHEYNDJ AY-djent ] (noun) Someone who works toward change or helps make change happen.

bravery [ BRAY-vuh-ree ] (noun) Courage. 



1.  Explain or remind students that there are many ways to show bravery and many ways to be a change agent. Recall previous discussions about different roles people might play in working toward change, and tell students that this lesson will help them think about people in their own lives who act as change agents in a number of different ways. 

2. Ask students to turn and talk to their neighbors about different situations in which they have seen people in their own lives work for change. Remind them that it could be someone in their family or neighborhood or a friend from school. If students seem stuck, ask them to zero in on people who have stood up for what they believe in (upstanders) or have spoken up when they thought something was not right. Circulate as students talk, and make note of any common characteristics in their discussions. Bring the group back together, and allow a few pairs to share their discussions. Tell the class the common characteristics you noticed, and discuss any new themes that arise. 

3. Give each student a graphic organizer (grades 3-5 or grades 6-8), and ask them to think of one person they know whose attitude toward effecting change they particularly admire. Remind them that this is not to be a celebrity or a historical figure, but someone they know personally.

4. Have students work at home to complete their graphic organizer). This gives them a chance to communicate with their role models, both to express appreciation and admiration and to ask questions to gain a better understanding of their perspectives, ideas and obstacles. As an extension, ask your students to interview the person they chose to write about. Have them focus on the person’s motivation for being an upstander or whistle-blower, and encourage students to try to understand how people overcome obstacles that make it challenging to speak their minds. After conducting the interviews, give students a chance to report back and reflect on their findings as a class.

5. After completing the graphic organizer, have students develop a descriptive piece of writing using the information in the graphic organizer. Make sure students complete all sections of the organizer and include those elements in their writing. (Note: You should determine expectations for length and sophistication of the writing based on previous work you have done with your students.) After students have drafted their pieces, have them revise and edit, then type or neatly copy a final draft. Consider having students revise in triangle groups. To do this, organize students in groups of three, and have each student pass her writing to the student on her left. Ask students to offer their partners a compliment and two constructive suggestions before passing the writing back. Another suggestion for cooperative revision is to have each student come up with two specific questions he has about his own writing. Have students write these questions at the bottom of their draft before sharing it with a partner. Then have the partner offer suggestions related to the writer’s questions.

6. Place the final drafts around the room, and allow students to circulate and read one another’s work. Bring them together to discuss the following questions: What themes repeatedly came up in your classmates’ writing? What are some similarities between the personal change agents your classmates described and the historical figures you know about? What are some differences? What did you learn from this activity about what motivates people to work for change and how they go about doing it?


Additional Resources

A variety of sites, including More 4 Kids and My Health: Being a Role Model, talk about the importance of role models in children’s lives. For a more detailed understanding of the social justice implications of children learning to admire those in their own communities who speak up, see Meira Levinson’s No Citizen Left Behind. Articles at Brave Writer and The Creative Penn explicitly address the role that writing and the writing process can play in developing a voice as a potential change agent.



Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards from Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.

CCSS: W.3.1, W.3.2, W.3.3, W.3.4, W.3.5, W.3.6, W.3.8, W.4.1, W.4.2, W.4.3, W.4.4, W.4.5, W.4.6, W.4.8, W.5.1, W.5.2, W.5.3, W.5.4, W.5.5, W.5.6, W.5.8, W.6.2, W.6.3. W.6.4, W.6.5, W.6.7, W.7.2, W.7.3, W.7.4, W.7.5, W.7.7, W.8.2, W.8.3, W.8.4, W.8.5, W.8.7, SL.3.1, SL.3.3, SL.3.4, SL.4.1, SL.4.3, SL.4.4, SL.5.1, SL.5.3, SL.5.4, SL.6.1, SL.6.2, SL.6.3, SL.7.1, SL.7.2, SL.7.3, SL.8.1, SL.8.2, SL.8.3, L.3.1, L.3.2, L.3.3, L.4.1, L.4.2, L.4.3, L.5.1, L.5.2, L.5.3, L.6.1, L.6.2, L.6.3, L.7.1, L.7.2, L.7.3, L.8.1, L.8.2, L.8.3, WHST.6-8,2, WHST.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.9


Extension Activity

Students will benefit from the opportunity to compare and contrast role models in their own lives with those they have studied in the content areas. Ask students to find a hero or role model they have learned about in science, social studies, language arts or math and list the traits that hero shares and does not share with their personal role model. Remind them to focus on personal traits, rather than specific accomplishments. Allow students to share their lists with the class and process any lessons they take from the comparison.

ELL Extension

Language and culture can play significant roles in how one goes about speaking up. Ask English language learners to describe their role model in whatever language is dominant for them, then have them go back and underline key vocabulary that is helpful in describing the theme or capturing the person’s essence. If students chose to write in English, have them work with a partner to develop definitions of and synonyms for these words, and talk about why the words are important. If they chose to write in another language, help them translate the words or talk about why translations might not work as specifically as they would like. All students can benefit from these sorts of metalinguistic conversations, so encourage your class to discuss what they notice and learn about cultural values and the idea of effecting change.

Group of adults listening to one person speaking.

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