Revolutionary Women: Little Tweaks Make a Perfect Fit

Revolutionary Women: Little Tweaks Make a Perfect Fit

By Sharon Cohen, WHP Teacher
Maryland, USA

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, all kinds of women became active in the fight for change. WHP’s Revolutionary Women activity gives students a chance to engage with one of these revolutionaries and explore how they pushed the boundaries of the status quo.

As part of our new collection of lessons and resources on the Age of Revolutions, we’re re-surfacing some words of wisdom from an experienced teacher and one of the pilot teachers who helped develop and test World History Project. Check out Sharon Cohen’s tips for teaching the Revolutionary Women activity, available in all WHP courses, and featured in one of our new lesson plans

I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I read a description of a lesson or activity, I think “oh well, that doesn’t fit for me or my students,” and I don’t try it. In the case of World History Project (WHP), you’re in luck, because pilot teachers, like myself, have tried out these lessons and activities, in classrooms all over the country, with widely varying student demographics and class sizes. My colleagues and I have piloted the WHP curriculum with AP world history (modern), IB history, and regular modern world history classes.

Most of us teaching world history make sure that we teach about political revolutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. WHP helps us guide students through the ideas of the Enlightenment and includes readings and activities about causes and effects of the Atlantic revolutions. I really like the Revolutionary Women activity in this part of the course because it enables more students to see themselves in the course and reflects the increase in student activism that’s occurred in recent years. It also provides a good way to show you how I’ve tweaked an activity to increase student success and engagement in my classrooms.

revolutionary women activity worksheet

Revolutionary Women timing tweak

For multi-day activities like these, I usually explain the activity on a Thursday, and give students a few minutes to talk with each other about the process and ask me questions. Then, at the beginning of the period on Friday, I have them sign up for their choice of a woman leader. Students can use the weekend to accomplish some research, which they finish in class on Monday. They’re usually ready to share on Tuesday. My classes meet every day for 45 minutes, but you could combine these steps for a block schedule.

Tweaks to the selection process

For my large classes (more than 20 students), I allowed students to work in pairs. This gave some less-confident students a partner for both the research and presentation steps. I gave students a simple log sheet for recording their individual work and their partner conversations, and I required that they record at least two items in each column per class period. I encouraged students in my small classes to work together across class periods using Google slides. There’s room for a lot of variation here: You might even collaborate with classrooms in other parts of the country, especially if your world history class is small and the only one in your school.

Tweaks to the research process

My students are juniors, and although they have more experience researching than younger students, they don’t always have time to access reliable sources. For this Revolutionary Women activity, I chose to find the reliable sources for them so they could concentrate on the “pitch” part of the work. I find that challenging my students to do claim testing is easier if they use sources with known authors and publication dates. This also allows students to practice making bibliographies from their citations.

Tweaks to the judging process

Every year, I have a few students who have very advanced research skills and a few other students who are quick in their analysis on the spot, but have some attendance issues. I often pair up these students to be judges because it takes them out of the competition and gives them a more appropriate challenge. For this activity, I selected three students in my small classes and six in my large classes to decide who was the most influential woman. I let each judge (or pair of judges) select one frame to use for their criteria (communities, networks, production/distribution) and even gave them large plastic glasses with the frame names on them so their classmates could identify which criteria the judges were going to use. I also gave the judges some fake nineteenth-century money (Spanish pesos, British pounds, silver bars) to use to “invest” in the women they thought were the most influential (à la Shark Tank). I also had some prizes for an “audience choice” award: food (baked goods or fresh fruit); a pass for being first in the cafeteria line, and some trinkets from my travels (pins, mugs, stickers). As one student remarked recently, “we’re a generation used to being rewarded with prizes.” Fine with me, if it motivates them to do their best.

Tweak for reflection

Since I teach in an IB school, our students need to practice writing the kind of reflections that show up in their formal oral and written examinations. For this activity, my students found it natural to reflect on the process. They wrote about whether they were satisfied with their choice of woman. Was she as interesting as they’d expected? They also examined the progress they made in their historical reasoning skills, especially how much they increased their understanding of how historians analyze continuities and changes over time. Finally, they reflected on the judges’ decisions. Did they think the criteria the judges used was fair? I want them not only to gather evidence about the changes in their learning process but also to feel like their voices are heard, to be able to challenge what happens in the classroom, which students sometimes complain isn’t allowed in the normal press of moving along swiftly in the world history course. For this activity, I also added a question about whether they felt like they were able to see themselves and their communities through their investigation of these women leaders from the past.

I hope you try Revolutionary Women and see my tweaks as permission and an invitation to do what you need to make it fit your classroom. My students liked it, and I’m sure yours will too.

About the author: Sharon Cohen teaches world history at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. She taught AP World History for twenty years, International Baccalaureate History for 11 years and recently returned to the course, Theory of Knowledge. She is excited to be a part of the WHP community and this new project.

Header image: Women's March on Versailles, French Revolution, 5 October 1789 © adoc-photos/Corbis via Getty Images

  • My relationship with WHP is always tweaking because I use the curriculum with 7th grade. We just started this project, which is a great fit. Last year, it became a really comfortable application by saying that the United Nations had decided to honor one revolutionary woman in history each year because of a recognition that women's stories were under-represented in history texts. My students have to complete an "application" for a revolutionary woman from the OER list selected at random from a spinner wheel. The application is a five-slide Google Slides presentation with a page for: 1) name(s) and identification; 2) background/childhood; 3) what made her "ordinary"; 4) what made her "extraordinary" or unique among her community members; and 5) what made her "revolutionary." Then we post the presentations and conduct a vote for the most revolutionary woman and post links to the de-identified presentations of the top five candidates in our school newsletter in March - Women's History month.

  • Sharon, I love how you provide opportunities for students of all skill levels to participate in this activity through different access points. The idea of the investment is a great way to increase the passion and persuasion in student presentations. So glad that I found this -- we're getting into revolutions over the next several weeks, and I'm definitely including this in my classes. 

  • I also tweak things quite a bit! I have AP World and am using the WHP for an ELL course as well. I like to take things out of my AP course to bring into my WHP course. I haven't tried the reflection writing, but I am definitely planning on trying it now. I think my ELL students will really get a lot out of thinking about their choices and then writing on how the process went. Thanks!

  • Just stumbled across these resources and they are AMAZING! Thank you so so much for creating and sharing. Would love to share some results from my students when they complete the activity! 

  • This is amazing! Thank you so much. This gets me a pretty good start based off what I worked on yesterday too.