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Learning Activity: Women's History Month

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(CNN Student News) -- Use these activities to encourage your students to learn about and appreciate the significant roles that women have played in shaping the world.

1. Equal Rights Amendment

Ask students: What rights does the U.S. Constitution guarantee to the American people? Is there currently an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees equal rights to Americans regardless of their gender? Do you think that there should be? Why or why not? Then, inform students that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was (and still is) a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Explain that the goal of the ERA, which was first proposed in 1923, was to guarantee equal rights for Americans of both sexes.

Share the following text of the ERA with students:

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

Next, review with students the process for amending the Constitution. Explain that though Congress passed the ERA in March 1972, the statute was ratified by only 35 of the 38 states necessary to become the 28th Amendment to the Constitution. So it did not become an amendment.

Then, use the following questions to help guide a class discussion about the Equal Rights Amendment:

  • Do you think that there are any aspects of society in which men or women are at a disadvantage simply because of their gender? State your rationale. If so, to what extent, if at all, might the ERA address these disadvantages?
  • What potential gender-based classifications could be affected by the passage of the ERA (e.g., single-sex schools, team sports, fraternities and sororities, military combat, etc.)?
  • In your opinion, what are some of the arguments for and against the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment?
  • What is your view of the ERA? State your rationale.
  • 2. Gender Roles

    Begin the activity by asking students:

  • What do you think is meant by the term "gender roles"?
  • How do typical gender roles between American males and females differ?
  • How do you think that people acquire these roles?
  • In your view, how can these roles impact our behavior and life choices?
  • Following the discussion, have students comb multimedia resources including the Internet, television shows, movies, magazines and their textbooks to examine the extent to which traditional roles of American women and men have changed over the past century. Students may also interview friends and family members to gather first-person accounts of shifts in gender roles. Based on their research, challenge students to hypothesize how and why these changes occurred. After students have presented their findings, ask:

  • To what extent do you think that shifts in traditional gender roles have impacted America socially, economically and politically?
  • What are some possible benefits and drawbacks of these shifts for women, men and children?
  • How might you expect to define gender roles 50 or 100 years from now? Explain.
  • 3. Profiles in Women's History

    Have each student select a famous woman from history. (Students may narrow their choices by selecting fields such as entertainment, sports, politics, education, business or the military.) Next, refer students to the Related Resources box and other online and print materials to conduct research to learn about the lives and times of these women.(Get them started here.) Instruct students to note these women's accomplishments and any obstacles that they might have had to overcome to achieve their goals. Then, have students create a classroom or an online exhibit that pays tribute to these important women. Challenge students to share their findings in a school-wide or community-wide celebration.

    4. Women's Suffrage

    Remind students that the 15th Amendment, which was ratified in 1870, made it illegal to deny someone the right to vote on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude. And while some people pushed for women's suffrage to be included in the 15th Amendment, women did not achieve the right to vote until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Have students work in groups to research the major events in the long struggle for women's suffrage in the United States. Encourage students to post their findings in an illustrated Timeline of Women's Suffrage. Then, use the following questions to help guide a class discussion:

  • Why do you think that it took so long for women to gain the right to vote?
  • What issues have concerned women at various stages of the 20th century? Were women unified on these issues? Explain.
  • How do you think that women's suffrage affected women and society in the decades following the passage of the 19th Amendment?
  • What social and political issues do you think concern American women today? How do you think that female votes may impact these issues?
  • Correlated Standards

    The National Standards for Civics and Governmentexternal link ( ) are published by the Center for Civic Education ( )

    II. What are the Foundations of the American Political System?

    - Disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life

    III. How Does the Government Established by the Constitution Embody the Purposes, Values, and Principles of American Democracy?

    - Judicial protection of the rights of individuals

    IV. What Are the Roles of the Citizen in American Democracy?

    - Relationship among personal, political, and economic rights

    The Curriculum Standards for Social Studiesexternal link ( ) are published by the National Council for Social Studies ( ).

    II. Time, Continuity and Change: Students will learn about the ways human beings view themselves in and over time.

    VI. Power, Authority and Governance: Students will understand the historical development of structures of power, authority and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary U.S. society as well as other parts of the world.

    X. Civic Ideals and Practices: Students will examine the ideals, principles and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

    The National Standards for Historyexternal link ( ) are published by the National Center for History in the Schools ( ).

    U.S. History Standards

    ERA 7: The Emergence of Modern America

    STANDARD 1: How Progressives and others addressed problems of industrial capitalism, urbanization, and political corruption. Standard 1C: The student understands the limitations of Progressivism and the alternatives offered by various groups. Specify the issues raised by various women and how mainstream Progressives responded to them.

    Era 9: Post War U.S.

    STANDARD 1: The economic boom and social transformation of postwar United States. Standard 1B: The student understands how the social changes of the postwar period affected various Americans.

    STANDARD 4: The struggle for racial and gender equality and for the extension of civil liberties. Standard 4B: The student understands the women's movement for civil rights and equal opportunities.

    Era 10: 1968 - Present

    STANDARD 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States. Standard 2E: The student understands how a democratic polity debates social issues and mediates between individual or group rights and the common good. Explore the range of women's organizations, the changing goals of the women's movement, and the issues currently dividing women.


    Women's History Month, gender equity, suffrage



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