Engaging Students Online: Resources and Activities on Women in American Politics


This post is the beginning of a series on teaching students about women in American politics. Stay tuned for more posts in the series with resources and activities geared toward students K-12. You can also check out the CAWP Teach a Girl to Lead® initiative for more teaching tools and activity ideas.

The past few weeks have seen K-12 schools and colleges move to online-only learning. Hundreds of thousands of teachers and professors are working to transition their face-to-face lessons to an online format. If you are teaching high school or college courses on history, government, or politics and would like to incorporate discussions of gender into your activities and lectures, here is a list of resources and activity ideas using CAWP’s historical data and a recent report on gender and the 2018 election:

*All of these activities can be adapted for both online learning management systems and a traditional in-class format.


Activity #1

Have students go to the CAWP website and see how their home state stacks up to other states in terms of women’s representation. Have students record how many women currently represent their state in the U.S. Congress, statewide elected executive offices, and the state legislature. Additionally, students can see how their state ranks among all 50 states. Ask students to note any patterns in which states tend to have more women in elective office and if these patterns vary by level of office.

Activity #2

Use CAWP’s report on the 2018 election, Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond to generate discussion questions or prompts for brief response papers. Here are some ideas:

  1. The Unfinished Business report states that “Women made history in the 2018 election, but the story of women’s political success is more complex than the records broken.” In what ways was the 2018 election historic for women and in what ways is there still significant progress to make? Cite specific examples from the report to support your argument.  
  2. Women of color made historic gains in the 2018 election.
    1. What historic “firsts” occurred in 2018 and what do these “firsts” reveal about the progress to be made for women of color in elective office?
    2. Did the sites for success (types of districts, levels of office) for women of color candidates in 2018 indicate progress and/or persistent hurdles in where women of color run and win?
  3. The majority of the gains made in the 2018 election were made by Democratic women, while Republican women saw a decline in representation across levels of office. Using information presented in the report and your own assessment of the current political environment, why do you think these partisan disparities were evident in women’s electoral and representational gains in 2018?
  4. The “Barriers to Progress” section of the report details the unique challenges that women face when making the decision to run (or not) and waging their candidacy. What do you think are the most significant challenges women face in navigating U.S. elections as potential candidates or candidates?
  5. One of the barriers to progress that women candidates and politicians tend to face at higher levels than men is violence and harassment. Watch the “Silencing Women in Politics” video in the “Barriers to Progress” section of the report. How do you think things like online harassment and threats of violence might have an impact on women who are considering a run for office? How do you think we can address this issue?

Activity #3

Direct students to CAWP’s Milestones for Women in American Politics timeline and ask them to do one or more of the following:

  1. Identify an individual or event on CAWP’s milestones for women timeline and conduct additional research into their importance to women’s political history in the U.S. Write a short paper to further explain the milestone and why it matters to our understanding of women and American politics.
  2. Review the timeline in its entirety and write a short response (either in paper format or in an online discussion forum) to the following questions:
    1. What surprised you most on this timeline of milestones for women in American politics?
    2. How many of these milestones were you aware of before reviewing the timeline? Why do you think you were or were not aware of these milestones before now?
    3. What does this timeline reveal about the historical progress for women of color and LGBTQ women in American politics?
  3. Have students review the CAWP milestones for women timelines and choose a film from for students to view that relates to one or more of the historical events. Take a look at our curated list here from our Teach a Girl® to Lead project. 

Instructors should also note that CAWP’s Milestones for Women in American Politics can be filtered by categories (major events, levels of office, women of color, etc.) for more targeted review and activities.

Activity #4

Use the 2020 Candidate Summary and the Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond report to have students compare the number of women running so far in 2020 to the number of women who ran in 2018. They can also use the tracker at the bottom of each level of office to compare 2020 to 2018 numbers of women candidates, as well as CAWP’s tracker of women as a percentage of candidates in both years. Have students write a short memo on what the broad trends are in terms of women in the 2020 election. Where are we on track to break records made in 2018 and where might we fall short? Are there notable trends by party? Students can also use the maps to see where women are running in the primary and where women have won the nomination for different levels of office. Make note that not all the state’s candidate filing deadlines have passed, which means 2020 numbers will change.

Activity #5

According to a Gallup poll conducted in May 2019, 94% of Americans say they would vote for a woman for president. However, an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll conducted in June 2019 found that only 33% of Democrats and Independents believe their neighbor would vote for a woman for president. Take a poll of your students, asking how much they agree with the following statements and report the results to the class:

  1. I would feel comfortable voting for a woman for president.
  2. My neighbors would be comfortable voting for a woman for president.

*Response categories are “Strongly agree,” “Somewhat agree,” “Neither agree nor disagree,” “Somewhat disagree,” “Strongly Disagree,” and “Don’t know”

After reporting the results of the class poll, compare those results to the Gallup and Ipsos/Daily Beast polls. Either have a discussion about the results on your online learning management system or have students write a brief response paper.

Claire Gothreau is a Research Associate at the Center for American Women and Politics. She works on data collection and analysis at CAWP. She received her B.A. in Political Science from Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, PA and her Ph.D. from Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. At Temple, she was the Assistant Director of the Behavioral Foundations Lab where she specialized in the collection of physiological data. Her research interests are in American politics with a focus on gender and political psychology.