Image: From left to right, the women featured above are Malala Yousafzai, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Rosa Parks.
March is Women's History Month, and 2020 marks an important anniversary in women’s rights in the United States. One hundred years ago, American women earned the right to vote—it took a massive movement and determined female advocates to bring about change.
But voting rights were just one step in making real change for women; we had a long way to go to bring women of color into the fold. Later in history, Rosa Parks made a mark by standing up for human rights in 1955. She played a pivotal role in turning the tide of change for people of color.
As an election year, this is a great time to cover the significance of the 1920 milestone in women’s history and to celebrate all the women who have made a difference in society—from Harriet Tubman to Susan B. Anthony to Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Malala Yousafzai. If you have students who are turning 18 and will be exercising the right to vote for the first time, encourage them to do so. It’s a right we shouldn’t take for granted. With the right to vote comes opportunities to inspire change not just for women but also for our local communities as a whole.
Women's History Month Lesson Plans and Activities: Elementary and Middle School
Use these Women’s History Month activities for students to celebrate women’s history and give them a peek at the climate for women in the early 1900s as they fought for their right to vote. Additionally, you can share this podcast conversation with your class, where Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo discusses how the organization prioritizes teaching civic responsibility and ways young girls can see and make change happen in their local governments.
1. Power of Persuasion (Rhetorical Analysis)
Have students read a speech advocating for women’s suffrage. They might read Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” or Susan B. Anthony’s “Women’s Rights to the Suffrage.” Have them answer the following questions about the speech:
- Who is the audience? How do you know?
- What assumptions does the writer make about her audience?
- What strategies does she use to persuade? Do you think those strategies would be effective for her particular audience? Why or why not?
Then, challenge students to write a one-minute speech tackling an issue facing women today, such as equal pay, paid maternity leave, the lack of women in positions of power, or gender bias in the workplace. Tell students to take a position on the issue and back it up with evidence, including the opinion of experts or data from studies. Remind students to consider their audience and which persuasive strategies might be most effective: hard facts, emotional appeal, or a combination of both. Allow time for students to make their speeches to the class.
2. Get the Message? (Editorial Cartoon Analysis)
Invite students to examine the scene depicted in the 1909 editorial cartoon “Election Day!” available on the Library of Congress website. Ask questions including:
- What is happening in the scene?
- What issue does the cartoon address?
- What do you think is the cartoon’s message? How can you tell?
- Who might disagree with the message and why?
Have students create speech bubbles for the man and woman in the cartoon to represent what each might say in this situation. Allow time for students to share their writing with the class. Then, challenge students to create an editorial cartoon expressing support for women’s right to vote. This includes first having them brainstorm a list of reasons why women should win the right to vote. Students can read some of the arguments women of the time made here. Have students try to convey those reasons in the cartoon.
3. Lights, Camera, Action! (Research and Art)
Challenge students to produce a short “film” spotlighting an influential woman. Choose a theme for a film series, such as “Voting Rights Heroes” (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Alice Paul, Marie Louise Bottineau Baldwin, or Adelina Otero-Warren); “Female Firsts” (Shirley Chisholm, first African American congresswoman; Sandra Day O’Connor, first woman to serve on the Supreme Court; Elizabeth Blackwell, first woman doctor in U.S.; Ellen Ochoa, first Hispanic woman to travel into space; or Junko Tabei, first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest); or “Women in STEM” (Marie Curie, Katherine Johnson, Edith Clarke, Mareena Robinson Snowden, Mary G. Ross, or Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski).
Once you’ve settled on a theme and students have chosen a woman to spotlight either individually or in small groups, they can begin researching and writing a short script describing their subject’s background and accomplishments. Then have students fill in the frames of this “filmstrip” organizer with drawings depicting the highlights of the woman’s life and work. If you wish, you can have students bring the script and drawings to life by creating a short film. The film might involve actors or use photos and voiceover to tell the story. It should be limited to five minutes and include any historical information that would help their audience understand the woman’s contribution.
For background information, students might read Women’s Suffrage Movement by Jill Keppeler. You can download a lesson plan based on the book here.
4. Caption It! (Writing)
Challenge students to compare historical views of women’s suffrage with contemporary views. Begin by drawing students’ attention to the photos below and asking them to describe what they see. Ask:
- Who are the people in the photos?
- What are they doing?
- Who do you think is the target audience for the photo, and how can you tell?
- What does the language in the photos tell you about women’s position at the time?
- How are women in the second photo using language to convince men to support their cause? Do you think it’s an effective tactic? Explain.
Have students choose one of the photos and write a caption from the point of view of a news editor at the time. Then have them write a second caption from the point of view of a modern-day historian.
- National Anti-Suffrage Association photo: Men look at material posted in the window of the National Anti-Suffrage Association headquarters around 1911. (Courtesy Library of Congress)
- Woman Suffrage Headquarters photo: Women converse outside of the Woman Suffrage Headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1912. (Courtesy Library of Congress)
5. Great American Women (Research and Writing)
Check students’ knowledge of women who have shaped American history with this quiz (Grades 3–5). After taking the quiz, have students partner up and switch papers. Display the answers so they can check each other's work.
Then provide each pair with two large index cards with the name of a different influential woman printed on the front. You might include women highlighted in the quiz or in the book Women Who Changed the World by Elizabeth Anderson Lopez. You can download a lesson plan based on the book here.
Tell students it is their job to research the women, draw each woman's picture under her name, and then write a sentence on the back of each word describing who the woman is and one of her accomplishments. Keep the finished cards in a language arts center or in your classroom library.
6. Women’s History Word Search (Vocabulary Building)
Provide each student with a copy of this word search puzzle (Grades 2–4). Review the words listed at the bottom. Ask:
- What do the words have in common?
- Do you see a theme? Explain.
- What do you think the words equal, rights, justice, and fairness have to do with women and voting?
- What words could be added that fit the theme?
After completing the word search, students can learn more by reading Women’s Suffrage Movement by Jill Keppeler. You can download a lesson plan based on the book here.
Finally, challenge students to create their own Women’s History Month word search here. The words might relate to women’s fight to win the vote or include the names of women who were influential in the cause.
Share Your Activities and Lesson Plans
Have any other Women’s History Month lesson plans or project ideas? Share them with us on Twitter (@LeadAndLearn) or email us at Shaped@hmhco.com.
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