Teaching on the Theme of Power

Are you considering teaching a unit on power? Or perhaps you are looking for some resources to pair with a major text with a theme of power? Look no further. The following list is compiled from a Twitter chat hosted by Talks with Teachers to brainstorm resources for teaching texts dealing with the theme of power. These resources include major works, visual art pieces (click on the link to see the picture), songs, Ted Talks, films, documentaries, writing ideas, question ideas, and more. Pick and choose what you need to create your own unit. 

Q1. List some major works (novels and plays) tackle the theme of power?


A Lesson Before Dying

All the King’s Men

Animal Farm


The Awakening



The Bluest Eye

Brave New World

Catcher in the Rye

The Crucible

Cry the Beloved Country

Darkness at Noon

Death of a Salesman

East of Eden

Ender’s Game

Fahrenheit 451



The Grapes of Wrath

The Great Gatsby


The Handmaid’s Tale

Heart of Darkness


The Invention of Wings

Invisible Man

Jane Eyre

Julius Caesar

The Kite Runner

King Lear

Lord of the Flies



A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Moby Dick

Montana 1948

Native Son

The Fire Next Time

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


The Oresteia


The Poisonwood Bible

A Raisin in the Sun

Richard II

The Road

Salvage the Bone

The Scarlet Letter

Song of Solomon

Snow Falling on Cedars

The Stranger

The Things They Carried

Their Eyes Were Watching God

A Thousand Splendid Suns

To Kill a Mockingbird


Warriors Don’t Cry

Q2. What are some shorter works (poems, short stories) that confront the theme of power?


A Sound of Thunder

All Summer in a Day

All the King’s Horses


American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin

The Apparition

Application for the Position of Abdelhalim Hafez’s Girl

Aunt Jennifer’s Tiger

Barbie Doll

Barn Burner

Bartleby the Scrivener

Between the World and Me

Bona and

The Canterbury Tales,


The Centaur

The Chrysanthemum

Circe’s Power



Conscientious Objector

Counting Descent


Desiree’s Baby

Drab Rambles

Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The Fish

The Flea

A Game of Catch

Good Country People

Greasy Lake

Harrison Bergeron

Hills like White Elephants

The History Teacher

Hunters in the Snow

I, Too

If We Must Die

John Redding Goes to Sea

A Jury of Her Peers


The Lame Shall Enter First

Let America Be America Again

The Lottery

The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock

The Man Who Was Almost a Man

Marionettes Inc

The Most Dangerous Game

My Last Duchess

Lone Ranger and Tonto (short story)

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas


Paul’s Case

Playground Elegy

Popular Mechanics

Porphyria’s Lover

The Possessive


Rite of Passage

A Rose for Emily

The Scarlet Ibis

The Second Coming

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94

Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber

Sonny’s Blues

Starlings in Winter

Still I Rise

Story of an Hour

Story of Your Life

Success is Counted Sweetest

Sure You Can Ask a Personal Question


Take a Knee

Telephone Conversation

Theme for English B




The Use of Force

Utterly Perfect Murder

The Veldt

A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

Waiting for Godot

A Wall of Fire Rising


Welcome to the Monkey House

Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?

The White Man’s Burden

Wife of Bath’s Tale

The Yellow Wallpaper

Q3: What works of fine art display manifestations of power? If you can provide the image, that would help.

St. George and the Dragon

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

Kehinde Wiley’s works

The Death of Socrates

The Ancient of Days paired with Frost’s “Design”

Destitute Pea Pickers in California

1968 Black Power Salute

Le Roi a la Chasse

Self Portrait on the Border Line between Mexico and United States

Founders Memorial


The Nightmare

Jason and Madea

Looking at Appalachia


Dark Towers

Charging Bull and Fearless Girl

Laid Table

The Warsaw Ghetto pictures

The Execution of Lady Jane Grey

Pulitzer Prize Photographs

The Herring Net

The Scream

The Shocking Savagery of American Early History

Joe Lewis Monument

Marriage a-la-mode: The Marriage Settlement

We Can Do It

Joan of Arc

Political cartoons

A Sunday Afternoon on the Grand Jette

The Rape of Proserpina

Bernini, Apollo and Daphne

Michelangelo’s Pieta

The Starry Night

Laocoon and His Sons

Kent state massacre photos

Dante and Virgil in Hell

Q4. Songs? Documentaries? Films? Essays? Articles?


The Godfather

The Prestige


Star Wars

Shawshank Redemption

Happy (the documentary)

The Great Debaters

An Outrage

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane


Blood in the Face

I am Not Your Negro (documentary)

3% (Netflix)

Dead Poet’s Society

Autobiography of Malcolm X



“Another Brick in the Wall”

Bob Dylan music

Bloody Sunday (U2)

“Born in the USA”

Eye of the Tiger

Eyes on the Prize

Fight the Power (Public Enemy)

Fight Song

Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”

Beyoncé’s “Lemonade” album

“Handlebars” (Flobot)


Judy Collins

Wheat Kings

“The Tragically Hip” “Bobcaygon

Janis Ian

Peter, Paul, and Mary

“Run to the Hills” (Iron Maiden)

Piece of My Heart (Joplin)

Joni Mitchell

“Ohio” (Crosby, Stills, and Nash)

“Stand Up” (Flobots)


“Machine” (Mister Wives)

“Signs” (Tesla)

“Look What You Made Me Do”

Public Enemy Fight the Power,

Stevie Wonder Big Brother,

Curtis Mayfield We Are the People Darker Than Blue

The Hurricane (Dylan)

“These Boots Were Made for Walking”

“Welcome to the Jungle”


The Danger of a Single Story (Ted Talk)

Coach Fitz Management Strategy – Michael Lewis

Michael Franti “We can bomb the world to pieces, but we can’t bomb it into peace.”

Ellen video

James Earl Jones reading Frederick Douglass

The Power of One Person

The Extraordinary Power of Ordinary People (Ted Talk)

teenage power

A Talk to Teachers (Baldwin)

Spoken and Unspoken (NPR)

Why Some Teens Handle Stress and Others Don’t

Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

“One Thousand Days in a Balloon”

Poems of War, Peace, Women, and Power (Ted Talk)

The Danger of Silence (Ted Talk)

The 16th Man (30 for 30)

Q5: What are the some of the questions you would ask your students as they examine power to see it broadly and complexly?

What guise does it come it? How is it being used?

What Types of Power are evident in culture? How is cultural status reflected in our language about power?

How does the desire to acquire power actually cause weakness in the person pursuing power?

What is this image suggesting about the nature of power?  What is the silent message in this image?

How can power be used to uplift? How can power be used to degrade?

When does one person have too much power?

What expectation does the title give as to the content of the piece? How does it contribute to meaning?

What causes shifts in power? Are internal or external forces more impactful on those shifts?

Does power necessitate the loss of another’s power?

What do you think this image, song, text, is saying about power?

Is power an individual search or a communal search and are the rewards/losses the same?

What is the price of ambition? How are we governed by fate, freewill,  and/or power? How is power justified?

Where does power come from? In what ways can power be a positive force?

Can one ever justify the means of acquiring power?

Who has the most power? What can we do to change that?

What is the power of how you spend money?

How does perspective define power? To what extent does experience and/or innocence seem powerful

How does lack of power or possession of power affect character?

What is power? How do you get it? Why do people want it? How is it used? Abused? Threatened? And so on. What does it mean in x?

Who is the author/artist/ suggesting has the power and who is powerless? Does there have to be both sides for power to exist?

How is power exerted over the masses, & how do masses respond to those in power? What is the author trying to say in this?

How is power represented by those with little actual power?

What constitutes power? How does the presence or absence of power change a person’s outlook?

How can power both corrupt and cure?

What is the allure of power?

What makes someone powerful? How does lack of power impact people?

What are the variations of power? (voice, face, muscles. . .)

What are the negative and positive connotations of power?

How can your power be used to help protect vulnerable people? How will you use your power to fight for social justice?

What should the response be when power is abused or used unjustly?

Which is manifested first, power or the hunger for power?

To what extent can two people be in relationship to each other w/o a power dynamic?

Is power influenced based on how it’s acquired (force, struggle, happenstance, inheritance)?

What makes power so attractive to people? What moral responsibilities come with receiving power?

How is power created? How does this creation generate positive or negative outcomes? What traits/steps could manipulate that?

Consider Ophelia – was she powerless, or did she exert power?

What is the connotation of the word “power”? How does that change based on experience?

If no one entity were in power, how would society change? Would it be for better or worse? Why?

What conditions enable someone to relinquish power? At what cost?

What personality quirks can be distorted to become ones thrive on power?

Is it possible to be both powerful & kind?

How does power change us? What kind of responsibility do we have if we have power?

How can “doing nothing” be the most powerful action of all?

What is power? What is required circumstantially for a person to have power? Can a person with absolute power not be corrupt?

What can we do when those in power abuse the privilege?

How can power and weakness share the same origins, the same manifestations?

What can we do when those in power abuse the privilege?

What do you do if you don’t agree with those in power?

Does one individual have the power to affect change?

What is a responsible reaction to the feeling of powerlessness?

Q6. What are some of the writings you would want students to do with this unit?

I would want them to write reflectively on their own power – relate it to their lives in some way

How does the author lead the audience to support or negate the protagonist’s acquisition of power.

I’d want to students to find a common thread of the “nature of power” is multiple forms

Looking at two different approaches to power, what might be the underlying similarities in those differences

I would start out with what we call “thinking pieces.”  I want kids to flesh out their ideas before moving on

a Q3 timed essay based on the complexity of power: how is one character’s power both positive and negative?

I have never had my students write anything with a dystopian focus; this is an interesting lens for  examining power

Personal journal: What power do you hold?

I would want students to create a visual representation power and write about it

Think & write on mission & values. What’s the pwr of compassion? What diff can an ordinary person make?

Creative nonfiction

Analyze the power relationships in the first 5 songs on your current playlist on your phone

Comparing two different reactions to possession of power (or lack thereof). A lot of work across texts for sure

I’m thinking of the FRQ poetry with the owl & history teacher, or prose FRQ abt siblings at the beach. Journaling, too

This unit we’re creating () lends itself to personal essay, exploring the use of ind. voice as one that influences change.

Analyze corrupting influence of power in Kurtz(charcoal) in HOD (work)

I have also never had my students experiment with prose poetry; would love to try this with the topic of power – Excerpts from Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me would be a great mentor text for this

a piece of creative nonfiction would be beautiful, a blending of their own stories and the stories around them.

Applying this to #APLang speech: Harness your power to educate an audience about something they need to know, but don’t.

I have lots of dancers in my class. I often offer choreography as creative proj opt. Would LOVE to see power manifest thru dance

An argument about how power should be used; an analysis of power in a literary work; an original poem/story with power as a theme

I would love to include a multi-media or genre component to writing they do Using a few sources to thread an idea about power

The word power, originally a noun, meant the ability to act or to do. The verb, later, meant “to supply with power.”

Research a group that lacks power and explain how they’ve been subjugated.  Then maybe write how they could become empowered

Trace the power throughout the work. How is it gained? How does the character utilize it? How is it different at the end?

Personal narrative: what has our unit on Power called you to address in your life? What will you be more aware of as a result

A synthesis essay at end exploring big idea might be nice — citing specific works, etc. Could get at compassion & empathy too

Writing about power with those preparing for future leadership roles in society is powerful indeed.

Write about the cost of power reflected in “Dulce et Decorum Est” (or any Owen poem, really)

What would you add to this list?