Secret Agent


This activity centers around Kenneth Burke’s Dramatistic “Pentad,” which outlines the five motivations integral to any complete narrative: Act, Agent, Agency, Scene, and Purpose. Burke conceived this model on the premise that a compelling overarching narrative is pivotal, whether in extemporaneous or prepared speech or any debate round.

The “Secret Agent” activity aims to encourage students to reflect on different elements of the pentad from varied agents’ viewpoints, providing them with a more holistic and multi-dimensional perspective on narratives.


This exercise is particularly fitting for students looking to deepen their understanding of narratives and the motivations behind them. It is versatile and can be applied to any topic, resolution, news article, or speech, helping students explore different lenses through which ideas can be viewed and understood.

Learning Outcomes

  • Multidimensional Understanding: Develop a nuanced understanding of narratives by considering them from different agents’ perspectives.
  • Critical Reflection: Engage in thoughtful reflection on how news impacts different agents and what it reveals about the motivations in a story.
  • Comprehensive Analysis: Learn to dissect narratives into their component parts and understand the interplay between them.


  1. Introduce Kenneth Burke’s Pentad: Prior to the activity, conduct a review of Burke’s Pentad and its five motivations. Brief students on why Burke developed this model and its relevance to constructing narratives in debates. Click here for an easy guide!

  2. Select an Article and Assign Roles: Choose a relevant news article and divide students into groups, assigning each a different agent. For instance, using an article about international students, Group 1 could be US Students, Group 2: Koreans, and Group 3: US University Leadership.

  3. Article Reading and Reflection: Have each group quickly read this article and reflect on how the news impacts their assigned agent. They should consider what the article reveals about the other four parts of the pentad (Act, Agency, Scene, Purpose) from their agent’s perspective.

  4. Group Discussion and Analysis: Encourage students to discuss within their groups the insights gained about the pentad components from their agent’s viewpoint. They should collaboratively analyze and understand the motivations and narratives surrounding their assigned agent.

  5. Classwide Synthesis: After group discussions, facilitate a classwide conversation where each group shares their insights and analyses. The groups should argue why THEIR group acted as a secret agent to accomplish the actions mentioned in the article. Compare and contrast the different perspectives to achieve a multidimensional understanding of the narrative.

  6. Reflection: Conclude the activity by encouraging students to reflect on how viewing ideas through different lenses can enrich their understanding of narratives and improve their argument construction in debates.

  7. Repeat! You can find other articles that have multiple actors with different intentions and use these to repeat the exercise. You can also ask students to find relevant articles that would work for the exercise.

Additional Tips:

  • This activity can be varied using different topics, resolutions, or speeches to keep it engaging and to cover a diverse range of narratives.
  • Encourage students to explore not only the explicit narratives but also the implicit, underlying motivations and stories in their assigned roles.
  • Reinforce the importance of understanding different perspectives to build more robust and compelling arguments in debates.

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