Strategies for Empowering Students

  • To help students learn how to think, using their experiences and metacognitive skills
  • To help students realize their affective, conative, and cognitive strengths
  • To have students understand that they have some control and power in being the "masters of their own fate"

  • Use of dialogue in modeling "thinking" techniques or strategies
  • Use of narrative and expository text as a vehicle to help students think beyond the printed word and to read between the lines

  • Reading
  • Social Studies
  • Science
  • English

Students will select a character from a favorite book or story, fictional or nonfictional. They will create a list of the character's traits and explain how these traits helped the person or animal cope with adversities or hardships and how their traits helped them succeed in spite of difficulties they may have encountered.

Students will create two columns. In column 1 they will list the problems or barriers that the character had to confront. In column 2, they will write the trait that helped the character emerge as a winner.

After completing the columns, students will analyze the character's traits and determine whether they were a contributing factor. Students will then list their character traits, compare their list to the characters, and see if they possess some of the same traits.

Students will list some problems or situations they have experienced and write about how their character traits helped to solve those problems or deal with the situations.

Example: The Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Because accurate records were not kept for slaves, it is estimated that he was born around 1818. His mother was Harriet Bailey, who died when Frederick was about eight. Like many slaves, he did not know who his father was.

Frederick had a quick mind and a desire to learn. He was taught the alphabet by his master's wife until his master, Thomas Auld, terminated the lessons. At the time, it was unlawful to teach slaves to read and write. However, this did not stop Frederick; he bribed other boys to teach him how to read. He taught himself to write by copying words. In 1838, Douglass escaped to freedom to Philadelphia, married Anna Murray, and moved to Massachusetts.

Frederick Douglass had character traits that helped him become a free, educated man. He knew that he wanted to be a free man and not a slave all of his life. But he also knew that in order to be a free man and make a living for himself he needed to be educated. Therefore, he found a way, in spite of the laws, to learn how to read and write. Without a belief in himself, his values, and his character traits, he would have remained a slave.

Students should be guided in the selection of reading selections for this activity. For example, if a student always selects a narrative story with fictional characters, then his or her next assignment should be to read an expository text that deals with real people and actual events.

Have the students read the quote by Virgil: "These successes encourage; they can because they think they can."

  • Ask the students to interpret what they think Virgil meant by this statement, and how it applies to someone like Frederick Douglass.

  • Have students do a historical research of people from other racial, cultural, or religious backgrounds who, like Douglass, were faced with seemingly overbearing odds. But because of their perseverance, determination, and will to succeed they were able to overcome the barriers in their lives and emerge as heroes to themselves or others.

  • Remind the students to focus in their presentations on the main point of the quote, "They thought they could; therefore, they did!"

  • "Give students options about how they will prepare and present their research on the selected person. They can work individually, in pairs, or in teams. The presentation can be a skit, a mock television presentation, an oral report, and some other creative way the students may develop.

  • "Students may select people such as:

      Benito Juarez
      Anne Frank
      Joan of Arc
      Ida B. Wells
      William and Ellen Craft
      Simon Bolivar
      Percy Julian
      Queen Victoria

  • How were students able to exhibit their ability to analyze and summarize?

  • How did students determine what their strong and good character traits were?

  • How did students demonstrate their problem solving abilities?


Excerpted from Beyond Rhetoric and Rainbows: A Journey to the Place Where Learning Lives ©1996 University of Illinois Extension.