Shared Inquiry Curriculum for Women’s History Month
In March, we celebrate Women’s History Month and the invaluable contributions of women and girls over time and around the world.
According to the National Women’s History Alliance, 2023’s theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” with the aim to “encourage recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, and more. The timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art, pursuing truth, and reflecting the human condition decade after decade.”
With a mission to support civil discourse and to share works that reflect the wide breadth of human experience, the Great Books Foundation is proud to shine the spotlight this month on girls and women as creators, characters, readers, thinkers, and communicators!
Here are some suggestions from Junior Great Books® (JGB) and our other programs for using our Shared Inquiry™ method of learning to explore the perspectives and creative work of women authors and storytellers. This page also includes sample lesson plans for two selections that you can download and try in your classroom any time!
Choose a text that is written by a woman author and/or centers around a woman or girl character.
Here are several titles to get you started (see also last month’s post on Black History Month for more great options).
Sharing the World’s Stories
“Sharing the World’s Stories” from Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry 2 introduces real-life storyteller and publisher Harriet Rohmer. You might start with her version of the folktale “The Invisible Hunters” from Nicaragua (JGB Series 2, Book Two), or “The Girl and the Chenoo,” a Native American folktale as told by Joseph Bruchac and Gayle Ross (JGB Series 2, Book One).
Realistic fiction by award-winning authors such as:
- “Miss Maggie” (JGB Series 2, Book One) and “A Bad Road for Cats” (JGB Series 5, Book Two), both by Cynthia Rylant
- “Boundless Grace” (JGB Series 3, Book One) by Mary Hoffman
- “Crow Call” (JGB Series 4, Book One) by Lois Lowry
Junior Great Books Nonfiction Inquiry for grades 2–5
The selections in this program often feature “ordinary” girls and women whose actions shape their communities. However, two of the selections that specifically focus on female historical figures are “Zitkala-Sa At Boarding School” (JGB Nonfiction Inquiry 4) and “Plain, Ordinary Mrs. Roosevelt” (JGB Nonfiction Inquiry 5). You can download sample lesson plans for the latter here.
Junior Great Books Series 6–8
Several of the nonfiction selections in Junior Great Books 6–8 are memoirs that give us “windows and mirrors” into the lives of women authors such as:
- Julia Alvarez (“Names/Nombres,” JGB Series 7)
- Christina Tang-Bernas (\’in-glish\, JGB Series 6)
- Malala Yousafzai (“I Am Malala,” JGB Series 7)
You may already know that Emma Lazarus wrote the inspiring poem “The New Colossus” that appears at the base of the Statue of Liberty, but do your students? Download a copy of the poem with suggested activities and questions for Shared Inquiry from this page. It makes a great text-to-text discussion with more contemporary stories of immigration from our anthology Immigrant Voices: 21st Century Stories, many of which are by women authors.
For Educators and Adults
Our collection of modern American women’s writing, Her Own Accord: American Women on Identity, Culture, and Community, includes more than 25 outstanding poems, stories, memoirs, essays and talks that present adult readers and discussion groups with a diverse range of perspectives, styles, and questions by writers such as Toni Morrison, Joy Harjo, and Sandra Tsing Loh.
If you are working with students, think about how to address the setting — its time or culture — or whether to delve into the biography of the author using resources such as those provided by the Women’s History Museum as you share and answer questions throughout the Shared Inquiry process. This is even more critical when the goal is to support deeper knowledge and understanding about perspectives that may have been overlooked.
Consider tracking and then reflecting on patterns of participation in your classroom or group.
Allowing time for individual reflection, inviting those with quieter voices to share, and encouraging more verbal participants to be mindful of how often they speak helps ensure everyone has the opportunity to express their unique viewpoint and insights. We recommend that the leader in Shared Inquiry discussion use a seating chart to note how often each person speaks, and to note key words and ideas to pursue. These notes can also help the leader guide a metacognitive reflection on what went well in that discussion and what could be improved the next time. You’ll find short animated videos that introduce Shared Inquiry and our guidelines for civil discussion here.
We hope these ideas inspire you to intentionally incorporate women’s history and voices into your classroom during March—and all year long! For more information on how to implement Junior Great Books in your classroom, please get in touch with your Great Books K–12 partnership manager.
Senior Academic Consultant
Denise Ahlquist has enjoyed leading thousands of Shared Inquiry discussions with participants ranging from ages 4 to 99, across the United States and abroad. A veteran educator and “road warrior,” she has introduced thousands of other teachers and learners to the Shared Inquiry method and supported them in a wide variety of K–12 environments.