Strong Women and Gentle Men

The nonviolent Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s included a good mixture of young people, both boys and girls. They worked bravely in the face of a fierce unwillingness by other citizens to granting basic rights to all people. This lesson explores what gave those boys and girls the power to stand up for what was right; how they reacted to the messages they were getting from society; and what today’s students can learn from those experiences.As part of this discussion, students will draw parallels between today’s gender issues and the Civil Rights movement. They will review popular magazines and look at how the media portray girls and boys differently. Afterwards, they will create a found poem to express their views. This activity shows the importance of strong women and gentle men through the screening of "The Children's March," a film about the role of young people in the Civil Rights movement. Teachers receive the film for free; get the details and download the Teachers’ Guide here.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to:

• describe the role played by different genders in the Civil Rights Movement

• identify how popular culture influences them

Essential Questions

What role does point of view play in breaking down stereotypes?

Enduring Understanding

The power to resist rests in being able to see things differently than the way they are presented.



Gender identity [jen dər aɪˈdentəti] (noun) an individual’s deeply held sense of being male, female or another gender. Separate from biological sex.

Gender expression [jen dər ɪkˈspreʃn] (noun) the way we show our gender to the world around us.


Suggested Procedure

Share with students that the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, was powered by a combination of girls and boys as well as women and men. Write or project the following questions on the board. Have students think about answers to these questions as they view the video. (Download complete answers (PDF) here.)

1. What roles did you see boys and girls taking?

2. Were their roles different or similar? How so?

3. Who is leading whom at what time? Why?

4. How is each gender represented?

5. How do these gender roles in the film compare to who leads at your own school?

6. Who in your school or community are the leaders? Are they males or females?

7. What do you think is meant by "strong women" and "gentle men"?

Tell students that now, as then, people are affected by the images around them. Ask: What would it be like if our community had a "Whites Only" sign up for water fountains or restrooms? How would that shape (or misshape) your identity? Discuss with students the idea that the power to resist rests in being able to see things differently than the way things are presented.

Point out that non-violence requires strong women and gentle men to accomplish its goals. Tell students that in the next part of this lesson, they will review popular magazines to look at how they portray girls and boys differently.


Found Poem

In this part of the lesson, you will guide students in creating “found poems” that address the gender roles and expectations affecting their lives. Explain that a “found poem” is made up of words or phrases from something someone reads. It uses someone else's words, but in a new way. Students can, of course, find words anywhere: newspapers, magazines, works of literature, documents, oral histories and narratives. Students can also use spoken words that they hear in the hallways or at lunch.


Found Poems Model

Tell the class that everyone will be writing a found poem on poster board. Encourage students to arrange their poster boards as shown in the model PDF. This poster uses the text of a composed poem (adapted from another poem by Nancy R. Smith) as inspiration for the ‘found poem’ that has been pasted above it.

Read the poem aloud, or ask a student to do so.

Next, guide students through the following steps to create their own found poem:

1. Flip through a magazine or piece of literature. Look for words that catch your eye.

2. Cut out (or photocopy and cut out, if you’re using a book) 10 main key words or phrases that describe how you see each gender represented or addressed.

3. Arrange these words or phrases in a pleasing and meaningful way to make a poem. Write, type or use the pieces you've cut or ripped out of the magazines. Glue them to poster board. If you’d like, illustrate it with drawings or pictures.

Note: After students create one for both genders, ask: “What do you notice when you compare and contrast font size and color? Why do you think magazine people chose these for each gender?”

4. Write or find a response to how you see genders represented differently in the media and explain your poem to the class.

Follow-up Discussion

  • Do these ads represent gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students? Why or why not?
  • Can gender be fluid?
  • Can all genders have all attributes?

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS SL.1, SL.2, SL.4, SL.6, R.6, R.9, W.7, W.8, W.10


Extension Activity

Do Something

Ask: Where can you strategically put your poem for others to see it? Who is your audience? Why is it important that they see it? Have students place their poems around the school and community in places where they think it will be most effective.