Debating the Equal Rights Amendment
An Eleventh or Twelfth Grade Lesson by Holly Greenman

Connections to the NYS Social Studies Standards:
  • Standard 1: History of the United States and New York
  • Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
Time Allocation:

Six Class Periods: One 41 minute class period to introduce the topic. Three class periods are given to research and prepare their arguments for the debate. Two class periods will be used to debate the question. Students will also need to work outside of class in order to complete the written portion of the unit.

Topical Focus:

In 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed. Written in 1921 by Alice Paul, it sought to guarantee men and women equal rights under the law. In 1972, it passed in Congress, but failed to be ratified by the necessary 38 states before the July 1982 deadline. While it was ratified by 35 states, it is still not part of the U.S. Constitution. This is one issue that has torn women's groups apart for decades.


Upon completion of the activity students should be able to:
  1. Consider the necessity of a constitutional amendment to guarantee equality.
  2. Research and debate the possibility of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.
  3. Write and essay arguing for or against the need for the Equal Rights Amendment
Essential Questions:
  • What is equality?
  • Is equal always fair or appropriate?
  • In what ways has the phrase, "We the people," been applied differently to "the people?"
Literacy Strategies:
  • SQ3R: Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review
  • Discussion

Learning Experience:

Before this lesson, the students learned about the Women's Rights Movement through lecture and discussion. They also watched People's Century: Half the People, a PBS video that depicts women's various experiences and the Women's Rights Movement. This SQR3 activity was designed to have students work with a variety of sources in order to gain a better understanding of the debate that raged over the possible ratification of the ERA. Students are given various websites to research and a guiding question to help them create an argument for or against the ERA. They are to use three class periods to analyze the websites and their arguments. During the Discussion Group Strategy phase of the lesson, two days will be devoted to the debate of the issue. Students will then each write an essay independently out of class about the possible ratification of the ERA.



  1. Students will discuss ways in which women face discrimination today.
  2. Students will continue the discussion by contemplating the questions:
    • What is equality?
    • Is equal always fair or appropriate?
  3. Student will watch the 17 minute video, The Equal Rights Amendment: Unfinished Business for the Constitution from the Alice Paul Institute. While they watch, students will consider the question:
    • "The Constitution Begins with 'We the People'. In what ways has the Constitution been applied differently to 'the people' based on sex?"
  4. Students will then look at the Equal Rights Amendment and decipher the vocabulary used in it.
  5. Each Student will then be put in a group to gather information to support their side of the debate using the websites provided. Students will also be given an outline on how a debate is run so they can prepare their side of the argument. There are four possible groups:
    • Group one will argue against the ERA by explaining why it is not necessary and should not be ratified.
    • Group two will argue for the ERA by explaining why it is necessary and should be ratified.
    • Group three will argue against the ERA by explaining that it will not guarantee the equal treatment of women and that it would eliminate legal supports for women provided by current legislation (for example, Title IX, the Equal Pay Act, the 19th Amendment, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act).
    • Group four will defend the ERA by explaining that it will guarantee the equal treatment of women and that it would provide additional legal support for women beyond current legislation.
  6. When all four sides have presented, students will write an essay in which they use the evidence presented to evaluate the merits of the Equal Rights Amendment.
  7. Assessment of the group and independent phases of the unit using the rubrics provided.

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