Gender Lesson: The Gender Box

By confronting prejudices and allowing students to speak openly about their experiences, the foundation developed from from The Toy Box is strengthened with shared experiences and concepts. Students will look further into the gender normative roles they may feel they need to fulfill.

This lesson is part of a large mini-unit on Teaching Gender Representation in the Media.  It can be used as a stand alone piece, or part of a larger conversation.

Minds On

Display two images in your classroom.  One of a young boy, and the other of a young girl.  You are free to use the following two images, or search for your own.  Alternately, you can use my The Gender Box – Minds On Handout.


Ask students to make notes about the following:

  • Write two things you think each person enjoys playing with
  • Write two joys you think each person will be good at when they grow up
  • Write two words you’d use to describe each of the people

Ensure you do not lead your students to give gender normative responses to the props.  Be prepared to fully discuss their answers, making note of gender-normative ideas for a future discussion.

Debriefing the Minds On

Once students have had time to make their notes, they should pair up with a few elbow partners and compare notes.  They should highlight similarities they share with their partners.  Next, partners should attempt to find an overlap between how they described the male character, and how they described the female character.

Allow students an opportunity to share their responses with the entire class, and take note of any commonality or different opinions that are raised.  You will want to return to those when you debrief the lesson’s focus.



During the Minds On part of the lesson, students probably raised a few gender-normative ideas, be in in the toys they are assumed to like, the jobs they were assumed to excel at, or the words used to describe the individuals.

Dividing the Class

Now, divide your class into groups.  You may choose to divide the class randomly or break them up so students are equally distributed by gender.  It is also possible that you might want to divide the class in half by gender for this activity.  How you split your class can change the dynamics of the lesson.

Once you have two large groups, they will each need a space in the room to congregate.  Should you have an exceptionally large class, you may want to create three or four groups.

Thinking in Groups

In their new groups, students should be instructed to divide a sheet of paper in half.  One half of the chart will represent males, and the other half will represent females.  You are, of course, free to use my Gender Box Handout instead.

On the male side, students should write everything they think males like.  On the female side, students should write everything they think females like.  You should allow students five minutes to fill out their chart.  Telling students that there will be a prize (be it a pencil, a sticker, or simply bragging rights) for the students in the group that has the most words on their chart is often a great way to motivate them.

During this time, students will often talk about what they are writing down, and this can cause conflict.  Advise students to keep writing, and that the more they talk, the less they’ll get down.  Also, advise them that they’re giving their peers more ideas which will detract from their chance of winning the prize.

After five minutes pass, tell them to share their ideas with the group.  If someone says the same word (or a similar word) as what they have on their sheet, they should circle it.

This sharing will take some time, and – again – there will be conflict as students disagree with each other.  Constructive conflict can be an excellent learning tool.  Ensure that students are not belittled or demeaned for their ideas.  Explain that while everyone may not disagree, all ideas are valid at this stage.

A Public Record

Your two large groups should now be invited to areas where they can write lists in big letters.  If you have two chalkboards, this is a perfect place to direct them.  Large chart paper can also be used.  Each group may require two sheets.

On the public record, students will recreate their Male and Female charts, writing down every circled word their group members have come up with.  If at least two people thought it made sense to have a word under male, it should be added to the male side of the public record; the same should be done for the female side.

You are free to allow each group to add up to five more words they think belong, even though two or more people didn’t write them.

Taking Control of the Conversation

Once students have created their Male and Female public records, they should return to their seats.  At this point, you should look at the two public records, and circle the words that appear on both male lists and the words that appear of both female lists.

Next, place a star beside any circled words on the male side that also appear on the female side.

You can start your discussion by talking about why the starred words appear on both sides.  See if there’s a common thread that links them together.  Normally there will be very few starred words.  Highlight the idea that if so few words appear between the two lists, then we must have very different ideas of what it means to be male, and what it means to be female.

At this point, you can talk about how these ideas are often with us from birth.

Use this opportunity to connect the words on the board, to the thoughts students had about the two children from the Minds On discussion.  This will show that he allow these ideas to influence our ideas of people regardless of their age.

Grouping the Terms

There are often a number of different types of words on the board.  You can group them into the following sections (or create your own).

  • Clothing (Skirts vs. Cargo Shorts)
  • Acceptable Relationship Partners (Boys vs. Girls)
  • Activities (Hiking vs. Cooking)
  • Chores (Garbage vs. Laundry)
  • Types of Media (Violence vs. Fantasy)

You may also find that sexual content appears on these lists.  Often the male list will list pornography, sex, or specific body parts.  Rarely do these things appear on the female list.

Be sure to highlight the different ideas students have when it comes to all of these categories.  Feel free to have a brief discussion about where they got their ideas, and how they know that males are supposed to like one thing, while females are supposed to like the other.

Bringing Disagreement Forward

Now is the time a number of students will have been waiting for.  Allow them to point out the words that they think should absolutely NOT be under the male or female headings.

Students will have an opportunity to share their ideas with each other, and debate whether the categorization is right or wrong.  This is often the part of the discussion when sexual content is challenged, with some students claiming that those things should be under both categories, while others claim they shouldn’t be under either.

As the teacher, it’s your job to moderate this discussion and allow that all voices are respected.

Once this discussion has run its course students should be asked to further think about where their ideas of gender norms came from.



Students should take a scrap of paper to use as an Exit Slip.  These slips will be collected by you as they leave the classroom.  On the slip of paper they should write at least one sentence explaining how the following four things can influence, and enforce gender norms:

  • Television / Video Media
  • Magazines / Print Media
  • Parents / Friends
  • Religion / Culture

You may also wish to use my Gender Box Exit Slip for this part of the assignment.



While Intersectionality should not be ignored, it is something best discussed once a strong foundation already exists.  There are a wealth of articles available to delve into at The Mary Sue; they can help lead future discussions.

If you feel your students have the necessary foundation to understand intersectional feminism, you can use my Slightly Modified Gender Box Handout.  The one difference is the column to the side.

While they fill out the main box the same as described above, they should be challenged to come up with another label relating to either:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Ability (Physical / Mental)
  • Sexuality
  • Gender (Cis vs Trans)
  • Religion
  • Socio-Economic Status

In the side box, students will fill out words that describe someone who would be identified as both the box’s gender, as well as the newly assigned label.  Students may wish to use a label they identify with, as an opportunity to express their own ideas or frustrations.

You may wish to specify a label, or category for the entire class to look at, or you may wish to ensure each large group has representation from all eight of the above categories.


Next Steps

After learning about The Gender Box students will have a strong foundation for discussing X: A Fabulous Child’s Story – Literacy Skills Assignment.  This story will be used to assess a number of literacy skills while reinforcing and growing concepts discussed in both The Gender Box and The Toy Box.

Or, you may wish to move on to the next lesson, The Past is Present, which examines gender messaging in both contemporary and historical advertisements.


Gender Box – Minds On.pdf

Gender Box – Handout 1.pdf

Gender Box – Handout 2.pdf

Gender Box – Exit Slip.pdf


PART 1: Gender Representation in the Media

PART 2: Lesson – The Toy Box

PART 3: Lesson – The Gender Box

PART 4: Lesson – The Past is Present – Part 1

PART 5: Lesson – The Past is Present – Part 2

PART 6: Lesson – Annotating Texts

PART 7: Lesson – Gender R.A.F.T.

PART 8: Lesson – Reshaping Roles

PART 9: Final Thoughts

PART 10: Gender Representation – Resources


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