“What does it take to make history? From Susan B. Anthony to Rosa Parks to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there’s been no shortage of women who weren’t afraid to fight the good fight and change the world. In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re putting the spotlight on the contributions of women in history by honoring the pioneers who made major advances in civil rights, women’s suffrage, racial equality, environmental justice, reproductive rights, and much, much more. Ahead, we’ve rounded up the stories behind some of the most influential women, ever.” M. De Maria, J. Ohikuare, A. Pasarow, Refinery29
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key
Jane Goodall (born 1934)
Her mark on history: The world’s leading primatologist
How life would be different without her: Born in London, Goodall has been fascinated with animals since she was child, and she wrote her doctoral thesis at Cambridge University about her research on the behavior of chimpanzees. She is now one of the world’s most knowledgeable experts on the species, which she has studied in Tanzania for more than 50 years. She now advocates on behalf of many endangered animals, and she’s spread awareness about a variety of animal species to people across the globe. Her words to live by: ‘To achieve global peace, we must not only stop fighting each other, but also stop destroying the natural world.’
Ida B. Wells
How she made her mark on history: Investigative journalist, newspaper editor, and suffragist who documented lynching in the United States
How life would be different without her: Wells, one of the founders of the NAACP, was one of the first people to extensively document and report on lynching in the United States. She traveled the country investigating incidents and what led to them, and published her findings in 1892, in a pamphlet called “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases“. Wells found that lynch mobs did not act in response to black men raping white women, as was commonly claimed, but were perpetuated in response to economic competition, or consensual interracial relationships. Her words to live by: ‘The white man’s dollar is his god, and to stop this will be to stop outrages in many localities.’
(1925 – 2013)
Her mark on history: As prime minister of the United Kingdom, she was the first woman to lead a major Western democracy.
How life would be different without her: The Iron Lady held the highest office in Britain for more than a decade, from 1979 to 1990. Though her conservative politics were variably received by the country over her tenure, her legacy was influential enough to see her name affixed to a political philosophy. “Thatcherism” has become a shorthand in British politics for an agenda characterized by free markets and a diminished government. After leaving office, she was made a Baroness by the queen, and later awarded the highest honor of all — being played by Meryl Streep. Her words to live by: “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!
(1928 – 2014)
Her mark on history: American literature
How life would be different without her: Angelou authored seven autobiographical books, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and will be forever beloved for her powerful poems. Born in Missouri, she was an active voice in the civil rights movement. She recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration in 1993. In addition to gaining national recognition for her writing, Angelou made many people rethink their ideas about sex workers by writing about her own experience as a sex worker. Her words to live by: “Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Her mark on history: The U.S. Supreme Court
How life would be different without her: Ginsburg was the second female justice ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor was the first). Now, she serves along with two other female justices, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Before serving on the Supreme Court, Ginsburg fought for women’s rights as a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. Ginsburg continues to fight for equality as a Supreme Court justice today. Her words to live by: “Now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay,” Ginsburg said of the Supreme Court during the 10th Circuit Bench & Bar Conference in 2012. “And when I’m sometimes asked, ‘When will there be enough?’ and I say, ‘when there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
(1897 – 1937)
Her mark on history: The first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone
She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo, and she went on to design clothes and to become a faculty consultant at Purdue University. In 1937, Earhart attempted to fly around the world, and her plane disappeared that year. Her legacy continues to inspire pilots of all genders today, and her bravery proved that women (and men) can do whatever they set their minds to. Earhart’s story is still taught to schoolchildren today. Her words to live by: “The most effective way to do it is to do it.“
(1880 – 1968)
Her mark on history: The first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, changing public perception of what a disabled person could accomplish
How life would be different without her: Keller didn’t let the fact that she was blind and deaf stop her from becoming a prominent activist, and she eventually co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union in 1920. Keller earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College in 1904, and she was the first deaf and blind person to do so, setting an example for others to follow. Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan are an example of the power of compassion and determination, and their story is still taught to children in the United States today. Her words to live by: “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.“
NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.
Objective: Students will read and discuss the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer
Directions: Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.
- Jane Goodall is the world’s leading primatologist.
- She advocates on behalf of many species.
- Ida B. Wells investigated and wrote about lynchings in the U.S.
- Berta Cáceres was an environmental activist.
- Berta Cáceres wanted people to be aware of rapacious capitalism.
- Betty Friedan wasn’t the sole instigator of second-wave feminism.
- Amelia Earhart’s legacy continues to inspire pilots of all genders today.
- Helen Keller changed the public perception of what a disabled person could accomplish.
- Harriet Tubman served as a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the second female justice ever appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.
(1867 – 1934)
Curie’s (and husband Pierre’s)___ into___was more than groundbreaking — it was world-changing. Her ___of radioactivity forms the___ for much of the science we have today, including___power and ____research, and even pieces of your smoke detector. Curie also gave a role ___to every little girl who dreams of being a ___— she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, shared with her ___for physics in 1903.
WORD LIST: model, basis, scientist, husband, radioactivity, medical, weapons, theory, research, nuclear,
Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage
Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.
- Cáceres fought for the human, environmental, and economic rights of the Lenca people.
- Much of her work included efforts to protect lands.
- Friedan helped found two of the biggest organization for women’s rights.
- Noor Inayat Khan was a descendant of Indian nobility.
- She evade capture for months.
- Despite the danger, Inayat Khan refused to leave.
- Alice Paul was a suffragist and activist.
- She was arrest multiple times while fighting for women’s right to vote.
- Most reforms, most problems are complicated.
Directions: Place students in groups and have each group list 3 questions they would like to ask a woman mentioned in the article. Each group can try to answer the questions listed. Groups can find additional information for each woman and share it with the class.
1-Minute Free Writing Exercise
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class.