Early Colonial Gender Roles

Authors: Carly Solberg, Lillian Guo
Subject: History
Topic: Integrated
Grade Level: Elementary School: 5th Grade


This lesson seeks to introduce students to gender roles, stereotypes and family roles in pre-colonial and early colonial time periods. Students will also explore current gender systems and examine how gender roles have changed over time.

Time: 50 minutes

Lesson Plan Resources:

Recommended pre-lesson*: To allow students to better understand the term “gender roles” : Gender Stereotypes Online
Time: 45 minutes
*Note: To view you must have a free www.commonsense.org account.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Become familiar with the terms gender roles, gender stereotypes, and family roles.
  • Examine pre-colonial, and early colonial gender systems and explore similarities and differences with in them.
  • Discuss current gender systems and how they think they will change in the future.

Essential Questions:

  1. What is gender? What are gender roles?
  2. How do gender and family roles change over time? How does society influence gender roles?


CCSS W 5.1: Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

CCSS W 5.2: Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.

HSS 5.1: Students describe the major pre-Columbian settlements, including the cliff dwellers and pueblo people of the desert Southwest, the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest, the nomadic nations of the Great Plains, and the woodland peoples east of the Mississippi River.

HSS 5.4: Students understand the political, religious, social, and economic institutions that evolved in the colonial era.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 8 P 98: Students may explore the social and cultural diversity of American Indians by addressing this question: How were family and community structures of North American Indians similar to and different from one another? Students learn how American Indians expressed their culture in art, music, dance, religion, and storytelling. They also gain a fuller understanding of how gender roles and family life varied between different tribes by examining the multiple roles and influence of women in American Indian communities. Students are introduced to the rich legends and literature of American Indian cultures and spiritual traditions about people’s relationship to the earth. Finally, students should appreciate the diversity of Native American communities and connect this national story of diverse natives to their fourth-grade studies of California Indians.

HISTORY FRAMEWORK: CH 8 P 107: [The Puritans] valued hard work, social obligation, simple living, and self-governing congregations. Their religious views shaped their way of life, clothing, laws, forms of punishment, education practices, gender expectations, and institutions of self-government. Puritans believed that God created women as subordinate companions to men. Women who challenged male authority or who were free from male control (through widowhood, for example), were liable to end up identified with Satan’s rebellion against God’s authority; four-fifths of those accused of witchcraft in colonial New England were women.


Stereotypes: An often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic.

Pre-colonial: Existing before colonial rule – before Europeans came to this land.

Indigenous: Living or existing naturally in a particular region – native to a place.

Colony: A group of people who live in a distant territory under the control of another nation.

Patriarchy: A family, group, or government controlled by a man or a group of men.

Gender: How you feel – your internal felt sense of being a girl, boy, both or neither.

Gender roles: A set of social beliefs or expectations about how men/boys or women/girls should behave.

Teacher Background:

Teacher must have an understanding of gender roles throughout American history and how they have influenced our culture today. Teacher must understand that gender expectations affects all of their students.


  • Projector
  • Computer
  • Storyboard worksheet
  • Colored pencils/crayons


Icebreaker questions (5 minutes)
Using the projector introduce the topic on “Early American Gender Roles” by opening up the slideshow and asking the class primer questions (on the first slide). Allow students to answer, and debate. Come up with basic definitions of gender and gender roles, write on whiteboard.

PowerPoint (20 minutes)
The teacher will show the Early American Gender Roles PowerPoint (above). During the presentation, the teacher can ask general questions about the time period to gauge interest and see where students are. Examples are:

  • Where did colonists come from?
  • Why did they come to the Americas?
  • What was life like for these early colonists?

Storyboard Activity (15 minutes)
Have students count off by three until every student has a number. Group 1 will be assigned Virginia Powhatan Tribe, Group 2 will be assigned Virginia Algonquian Tribe, and Group 3 will be assigned Early English Colonies.

Hand out a storyboard worksheet (see Materials) to each student, and let them know that they should use crayons/colored pencils to draw and make a short story about a day in the life of either a man or woman in the society that they are assigned to. Ask them to think about these questions while making their stories.

  • How did this group of people think about gender?
  • What was expected of men? What was expected of women?

Jigsaw Activity (10 minutes)
Have students “jigsaw” into groups of three. Each group of three should have one person from each group. Have students share their day in the life stories with their group members.

After students have finished sharing their stories, they should discuss in their small groups how their stories were different and similar to each others’, and how gender is different today. Utilize the slides to project the questions:

  • How were your stories different? How were they similar?
  • What are some gender stereotypes we see today?
  • What does a family look like today?
  • How are these different than early Colonial America?
  • Why do gender roles change?

Relevant Resources:

“Gender and Sexuality in Colonial America”, The Columbian Exchange

Kenduck, Michael. “Anne Hutchinson.” YouTube, YouTube, 7 Jan. 2014,


Author Information:

Carly Solberg is an undergrad student at Sonoma State University studying Women, Gender and Queer Studies and is an Education Intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

Lillian Guo is an undergrad student studying Learning Sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, and is a Summer 2018 Education intern at Our Family Coalition in San Francisco, CA.

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