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Cover of Engaging Empathy and Activating Agency by Alice D. Hays
March 2021
Rowman and Littlefield

College or Unit:

Engaging Empathy and Activating Agency

Young Adult Literature as a Catalyst for Action
Alice D. Hays

This book provides a step-by-step guide for teachers to implement an action-based curriculum, using young adult literature to engage students with contemporary issues. In addition to reading, ELA core standards including speaking and writing are addressed within this curriculum. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the curriculum: helping students find their passion; guiding them in collaborative group reading of relevant novels; supporting them in researching, writing and speaking about their topic; and helping them translate their ideas into action within their school and community. The book is set up in such a way that teachers can follow the curriculum from beginning to end — or, if they choose, incorporate only some of the chapters. The author brings the curriculum alive with teacher and student voices about their experiences. The appendix describes contemporary middle school and high school novels that address a variety of social justice topics. Ultimately, the book supports teachers as they inspire their students to examine issues with empathy, research potential solutions and exercise agency as they take action to help address issues the students are passionate about.


Alice D. Hays received a PhD in English (English education) from Arizona State University in 2017.

Praise for this book

"'Engaging Empathy and Activating Agency' is a refreshingly vivid account of how teachers can cultivate students’ inquiry stances to act on their worlds and create change. Through tangible and adaptable activities and detailed and scaffolded instruction, Dr. Hays provides a clear path for those of us wishing to engage students with both literature and life. Accompanied by real-life examples, this work shows us both the successes and challenges of curriculum that pushes the boundaries of traditional classroom settings and offers a way forward in our particularly trying times."

Ashley S. Boyd
Assistant professor, English education, Washington State University

"In 'Engaging Empathy and Activating Agency,' Alice Hays demonstrates how young adult literature can be utilized by teachers and students to interrogate social issues and build action plans towards addressing those issues. Hays offers a coherent curriculum unit plan and set of resources for secondary English Language Arts teachers to take up and implement in their own classrooms. The important inclusion of teacher and student voices show the impact of uniting literary analysis with a call to social action."

Stephanie Reid
Assistant professor in literacy education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, University of Montana