Standard Lesson

From Friedan Forward—Considering a Feminist Perspective

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Combining letter writing, potential publication, and the power of perspective, this lesson challenges students to think about how opinions develop and change based on such things as age, experience, time, and place. Students first freewrite about the potentially controversial topic of feminism, and share their thoughts in a class discussion. They read and discuss the short story "We" and Betty Friedan's "The Problem That Has No Name" and review the history of feminism and the goals of the feminist movement. After examining their own feelings about those goals, each student writes a letter expressing his/her views on the topic. Sealed in a stamped envelope, each letter is mailed to its writer by the teacher six years later.

This lesson focuses on feminism as a controversial topic, but the lesson plan can be used effectively with a variety of issues.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

By focusing students' attention on meaningful audiences, teachers can more effectively explore writing and publishing with students. This lesson plan concentrates on what Rubenstein describes as "writing that matters":

Only when adolescents are involved in writing that matters-and matters beyond the quest for the almighty A-can they produce work that speaks from their hearts and speaks to an audience beyond that of the teacher. Unfortunately, most students are all too comfortable with "school writing." Tell them to write a five-hundred-word essay on "My Most Important Decision" and they'll spew it out with ease, the bright ones even remembering to use that sacred five-paragraph format! And when the teacher reads these essays, some will be "good" and some will be "poor," but rarely will there be one that takes her breath away. Even if there is one essay that does, where will it go from there?. . . Certainly there is nothing wrong with teaching students to write personal essays. . . But as a form it is perhaps overused in middle and high school classrooms, and when students begin to see it as "the way one writes in school," they adopt a writing voice that is academic and artificial and calculated to please the teacher alone.

The teacher's task, then, is to design assignments that will have a natural audience-and one that extends beyond the classroom. When the audience is real-and red penless-so too does the writing become real, free of the classroom clichés and studentspeak that spoils good writing. (15-16)

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Copies of  “We” in Stealing Time by Mary Grimm (Random House 1994) or a similar short story that inspires discussion of the role of women in society

  • Copies of “The Problem That Has No Name” in The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)

  • Additional texts for research and exploration




  • Obtain copies of Mary Grimm’s short story “We” which appears in her book Stealing Time (NY: Random House, 1994) and in the New Yorker (October 17, 1988).

  • Obtain copies of Betty Friedan’s essay “The Problem That Has No Name,” Chapter One of The Feminine Mystique (New York: Norton, 1963), as well as in with numerous reprints. Chapter One can also be viewed online.

  • Familiarize yourself with biographical material on Betty Friedan and historical information about the feminist movement. Useful resources can be found in the Websites listed in the Resources section.

  • Prepare and make copies of Discussion Questions on “We,” Assignment Sheet: Putting It In Perspective—A Letter to Myself, and Reflection Questions.

  • Test the ReadWriteThink Letter Generator on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • read and discuss fiction and nonfiction texts.

  • research and analyze the feminist movement from the 1960s to the present.

  • consider their own goals, plans and hopes for the future.

  • apply their knowledge to express their views on feminism in both oral and written form.

  • employ all the steps of the writing process to create a polished piece.

  • appreciate the importance of writing for a real audience.

  • take the first steps toward writing for publication.

Session One

  1. Ask students to freewrite for 8–10 minutes on this question: “What specific experiences have you had that caused you to think that you were treated in particular way because of your gender?” Encourage them to write about more than one experience if applicable.

  2. Ask students to share their responses orally. Encourage them to explain why they felt they were treated in a certain way and to describe the feelings they had in the situation. Expect lively discussion!

  3. Now pose this question: “Do you believe males and females are equal in American society today?”

  4. Ask students to freewrite again for 8–10 minutes, and encourage them to include specific reasons for the views they express.

  5. Ask students to share their responses orally.

  6. Collect both freewrites, and put aside to use in later sessions.

  7. For homework, ask students to read “We” by Mary Grimm, and to be prepared to respond to the Discussion Questions.

Session Two

  1. Ask students to share their gut-level reaction to “We” by focusing on questions #2 and #3 from the Discussion Questions. Use this conversation to begin to spark interest in the issues that will form the core of the writing assignment.

  2. Next, ask students to form small groups of three or four, and assign one of the quoted lines from question #4 from the Discussion Questions to each group.

  3. Ask each group to discuss the quotation and prepare a brief oral explanation of its significance to share with the class.

  4. Continue class discussion with response to questions #1 and #5. Use Question #5 as a transition to a conversation about issues in the feminist movement.

  5. Ask students what they know about feminism. Ask them how they define the term and to explain if they see themselves as feminists based on their definitions.

  6. Encourage students to share whatever information they already know about the history of the feminist movement and its goals.

  7. Depending on the focus of the class, this can be a place to offer factual content in a lecture format and/or to assign students the task of doing research on the development of the movement.

  8. Introduce Betty Friedan and her book The Feminine Mystique with background material.

  9. Hand out “The Problem That Has No Name,” and begin reading it with the class to help them understand the basic intent of the piece.

  10. For homework, ask students to finish reading the text.

Session Three

  1. During this session, encourage students to identify the issues that the feminist movement addresses and to examine their own opinions and ideas on these issues.

  2. Ask students to brainstorm a list of the issues that are at the core of he women’s movement. Record their responses on the board or chart paper. Such issues might include equal opportunity in education and employment, the role of the housewife and division of labor in the home, childcare, a woman’s right to control her body, and violence against women.

  3. Using both the fictional story “We” and the nonfiction chapter “The Problem That Has No Name,” ask students to find examples that show how women express these concerns and deal with them. Encourage students to find parallel examples in the two pieces.

  4. As a precursor to discussion, ask students to respond briefly in writing to each of these questions. Offer the questions one by one, and give students a few minutes to answer each in freewrite fashion.

    • Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?

    • How do you define the term feminist?

    • For each of the following topics, note whether or not it is important to you and why.

      • Equal opportunity in education

      • Equal opportunity in employment

      • Equal pay

      • A woman’s right to control her body

      • Sexual freedom

      • Violence against women (rape, domestic abuse, etc.)

      • Maternity leave

      • Childcare

    • What problems do you imagine encountering in the future in working out your role as a woman or as a man?

    • Has the feminist movement made life in the United states better? Why or why not?
  5. After they have responded to the questions, ask students to discuss their answers with one another. It’s likely that enthusiastic discussion will ensue.

  6. Remind students that they need to support their opinions with specific examples and that they need to listen to and reflect on the comments of their peers.

  7. Observe the discussion, but if possible, do not participate—so that you can avoid influencing students’ opinions.

  8. At the conclusion of the discussion, hand out the Assignment Sheet: Putting It In Perspective—A Letter to Myself.

  9. Explain the requirements for submitting and publishing the letters during the final session. Students will need:

    • to make two copies of the final piece—one to be graded and the other to be sealed in the envelope.

    • to supply an envelope, which will be addressed and collected in the class session in which the final paper is due.

    • to bring two stamps to that class session (two are necessary because of the inevitable rise in postal rates), or to bring in money if you are willing to make the trip to the post office for them.
  10. Tell students to begin working on the first draft of the piece.

  11. Use the ReadWriteThink Letter Generator to review the general requirements of friendly letters.

  12. Remind students that their letters will be in friendly letter format and will therefore have an informal tone, but that it must address these issues clearly and with solid and specific supporting ideas.

  13. Return the freewrites from the first session for students to use as additional material.

Session Four

  1. Have student share the drafts of their letters in response groups.

  2. In particular, ask responders to look for details that indicate the writing expresses specific reasons for the opinions the writers puts forth.

  3. During discussion with responders, the writer’s task is to make a strong case for the views expressed in the papers.

  4. Demonstrate how to use the ReadWriteThink Letter Generator to create final drafts of the letters.

  5. Give students whatever time is necessary for further revision and response.

  6. As students are working outside of class on their letters, more in-class time can be devoted to further study/discussion of the feminist movement.

Session Five

  1. Pass out copies of the Reflection Questions, and ask students to respond to the questions.

  2. Ask for volunteers to read their letters and/or to share their ideas with the whole class or in small groups.

  3. Collect one copy of the letter along with the Reflection Questions for grading purposes.

  4. Ask students to seal the other copy in the envelope. If necessary, conduct a mini-lesson on addressing envelopes.

  5. Suggest that students include a return address that might serve as a second chance if the intended address is not applicable in six years.

  6. Collect all envelopes and make a show of binding them with ribbon or string and the promise to store them safely for six years.

  7. Ask students to imagine how they will react to their letters in six years. Ask how many think their views will change, and encourage discussion about why they believe they may feel differently in the future.


  • This lesson can be used with a variety of literature texts that will inspire discussion about feminist issues. The teacher can also guide students to examine the changing roles and views of women based on the time frame of each of the pieces studied. The text list contains options for extensions.

  • With student permission, create a bulletin board to publish these letters. Suggest that students add pictures, photographs, and/or words that illustrate various people, events, and issues central the feminist movement.

  • Create a class time capsule, a class publication of all letters collected in a booklet or binder. Consider bringing this collection to class reunion.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Grade each letter as a complete writing assignment. When students are writing and revising their letters, they should be guided by the specific questions outlined in the assignment sheet.
  • Ask students to assess their own work and learning by completing a Reflection Sheet, which they hand in with their letters. As with all reflection sheets, this should include 4-5 questions that ask writers to think critically about their pieces and the process that led to their creation. Suggested questions include the following:

    • What aspect of your letter are you most satisfied with? Why?

    • What do you think is the most persuasive point you’ve made in the letter?

    • What makes it a strong point?

    • What part of the letter are you still dissatisfied with? Why?

    • Where could you include some more specific detail?

    • What was the best piece of advice you got from your response group?

    • What did you say in your letter that surprised you?

    • How do you think your views differ from those of your classmates?

    • In writing this piece, what did you discover about yourself as a writer? As a person?

    • How do you think you will react when you receive this letter in six years?

    • Which, if any, of your views do you think will change?

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