NWHM Female Olympians Lesson Plan

Content Area/Online Exhibit:American Women in the Olympics

Grade Level: Secondary Grades

Lesson Prepared By: Kïrsten Blake





Students will create a timeline around women’s involvement with and in the Olympics by using the NWHM’s Cyber Museum Exhibit Women Olympians.  They will gain knowledge about when and how women became involved in the Olympics and will produce a visible graphic that displays the increasing role of Women Olympians since their admittance in 1900.  With the 2008 Beijing, 2010 Vancouver, 2012 London and 2014 Sochi Olympic Games around the corner, it is of importance that students have an understanding of women’s role in the games and the obstacles that they went through in order to be involved.


Interactive Activity with the Website:  Divide the website into sections and assign a section to each group of 2-5 students (depending on size of class and number of sections).  Have the group read through their sections of the website and highlight the important facts, people and dates of the information provided on their assigned slides (if you want this to be more in-depth, can also have them do additional research in the library).  Students will then create a “timeline entry” on construction paper (or an index card) with the date and information highlights.  They will give a presentation on their information and then place their various pages on a large timeline (this could be on a bulletin-board or a wall of your classroom).  The class will then discuss the overall timeline of the women in the Olympics. 

Alternative activity with less work:  Give them post-it notes and on each post-it note they will write an important fact with the date.  When they get up to discuss the information from their website pages, they will place the post-it notes on the timeline that was created on the blackboard.  Overall timeline is discussed at the end of class. (2 classes—one for research and one for presentations)


Time: Determined by teacher…

 The teacher can determine how complex and detailed this lesson should be.  If they want students to do additional research on the people and events that are mentioned in the Women Olympians exhibit, then it could take additional time for library visits, etc.  Yet, if a teacher wants they can make it a shorter lesson—90 minutes…45 minutes for research/new information and 45 minutes for presentations and creation of timeline. 


Objective:  Students will be able to…


  •  Examine historical sequence by creating a timeline of women’s accomplishments in the Olympics.
  • Identify the contributions that women made to the Olympics by distinguishing what information on the NWHM’s Online Exhibit Women Olympians is relevant to sharing in a presentation.
  • Create a presentation and timeline entry that displays the information that they summarized from the NWHM’s Online Exhibit Women Olympians.
  • Utilize technology to acquire new information about the subject of women in the Olympics.



  • Students should have some background knowledge of the Olympic games, their origins and their revival.  Might be a good lesson for when students are studying Ancient History and the creation of the Olympics OR the Women’s Rights Movement. 
  • Students should have prior knowledge of what a timeline is and what a timeline can be used to display. 




  • Computer Lab…access to http://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/olympics/olympics1.htm
    • If a computer lab is not available, then print out a copy of the slides that each group is responsible for reading. Make sure to create a small packet for each person in the group, so that they all have their own copy to refer to while doing group work. [i.e. each packet will have 3-4 slides].
      • Construction paper OR small poster board OR post-it notes OR index cards
      • A space in your classroom or hallway to display the final timeline.
      • Markers and any other tools needed to create the timeline points.




            Class Starter/Hook: [10 minutes]

  • On the board or overhead projector write the following quote, “Men are naturally aggressive and competitive and women are emotional and passive, making men better suited for strenuous exercise and sports.”
  • Have the students take 2-3 minutes to write down their reactions to this statement. 
  • After you have given students time to finish their final thought, ask for them to put their pens/pencils down.  Then ask for a few people to read what they wrote.  Try to get a few different voices and ideas when calling on students.  Please Note:  Know your students!  This could get heated, so try to keep it from turning into a full-blown debate!
  •  Explain to the students that while this opinion has somewhat changed, there was a time when this was the common belief.  It was this belief that kept women from being allowed to participate in the Olympics.


            Step-by-Step Instructions:

  • Presentation of new material [5-7 minutes]—
    •  Ask the students to name some female athletes that they are familiar with and that they have heard of in the news.  Write the women on the board as the students name them. 
    • Once you feel that the list is substantial, have the students look to see how many women they were able to list. 
    • Explain that when the Olympics were reintroduced in the 1890s, women were not allowed to compete, as it was thought that they were too fragile to withstand the physical exercise.  Slowly opinions began to change and women began to contest this idea.  The more that women became involved in sports, the more the popular opinion about women competing changed. 
    • Explain that through the research that they will be doing, they will be able to add several more names to the list that they created.


  • Guided Practice [5 minutes]—
    • Tell the students that today they will be getting into groups and doing research using the NWHM’s Online Exhibit Women Olympians.  Each group will be examining different content and then will be presenting their information to the rest of the class; therefore, it is important that they are thorough, as they are acting as the “teachers” of their content.
    • The end result will be for students to create timeline entries to be posted on a timeline in the classroom or hallway.  This way there will be a visual for the progression that women made in their involvement in the Olympics and sports in general. 
    • Divide the students into groups of 2-5 students (depending on the size of the class).  Assign each group to a set number of slides.  For example:
      • Group 1: Slides 1-4
      • Group 2: Slides 5-7
      • Group 3: Slides 8-11
      • Group 4: Slides 12-14
      • Group 5: Slides 15-17
      • Group 6: Slides 18-21

    If a computer lab is not available, make sure that the packets that you created for the groups align with the slides that are assigned to each group.

    • Students are responsible for pulling out the important information from their group of slides and presenting it to their classmates in a presentation.  In addition to the presentation, they will have to write the important facts (name, date, sport, accomplishment, Olympics competed in, etc.) on a small poster board, post-it note, index card OR construction paper that will be posted on the timeline that you created in the hallway or on a bulletin board. 
    • Have these guidelines written either on the board or a handout, so that the students can refer back to them.  Also, ask for a student or two to repeat the instructions to ensure that they are clear on the assignment. 


    • Independent Practice [30-35 minutes]—
      • Give the students the remainder of the class period to read through their slides, take notes and create their timeline entries. 
      • It is important that you circulate around to all of the groups to ensure that they are working well together, comprehending the content and are including the major pieces of content in their timeline entries/presentations. 

    **If you were teaching this lesson in two 45-minute classes, then you would stop the first day here and close out by having students ask any questions about their presentations and making sure they were clear on what was required of them [5 minutes].  Let them know that you will be continuing tomorrow with the presentations.


    • Give the students 10 minutes to wrap up any lose ends and prepare for their groups presentation. 
    • Since the slides are in chronological order, groups will need to present based on whoever has the 1st set of slides and will continue on from there. 
    • Give each group about 4 minutes to present (depending on how many groups you have).   Once the group has finished presenting, if the timeline is in the classroom, have them post their timeline entries on the timeline in its relevant place.  If time permits, allow time for the rest of the class to ask questions to the group that is presenting. 
    • If you feel that a group left out an critical piece of information from their assigned slides, then make sure to ask them about it.  If they do not remember, then offer the information to the rest of the class.


    Closure: [10 minutes]

        • Have the students all look at the timeline that they created in the classroom.  What do they notice?  What surprised them about their research?  What did they learn that they did not know?  Have at least one person from each group share a thought. 
        • Ask them if anyone changed their opinions about the quote from the “Class Starter/Hook” based on their research and their peers’ presentations. 



    • Ideas:
      •  If the decision were made to make this lesson more intricate by turning it into a research project, then the final assessment would be the students’ presentations and timeline entries.  It is suggested that you create a rubric for the presentations and pass it out to the students prior to them presenting.  This way they will know what is expected of them in the presentations.
      • Who is missing from the Online Exhibit?  After the students present about the site in their groups, for homework have them do some research on the Internet about a female athlete that was not mentioned in the Online Exhibit.  Have them write 1-2 pages about this athlete and her accomplishments.  If you feel that your students might need some assistance with picking an athlete, then assist them by creating the list and having them pick one to research OR assign each group or person to a specific athlete. 
      •  Depending on when this lesson is being taught, examine the women that competed or are about to compete in the closet Olympics (i.e. Beijing 2008).  Have them find any articles, etc. that talk about the Olympics and the contributions of women.  What was the ratio of men to women in this Olympics? Did women break any records?  How were these Olympic games different from the first Olympics that women competed in (1900)?  Have them write a short essay describing what they have found in their comparisons. 
      • Follow Up Lesson: Title IX—what it is and its impact on women.

    Further Research/Resources:


    • Women in the Olympics:




    • Teaching Timelines/Timeline Examples:









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