Curriculum Connection Home Introduction

Challenging Gender Role Stereotypes (Grades K - 2)

This lesson helps young students to explore the gender stereotypical beliefs that place limits on the types of activities and interests they pursue.  Through a game about gender roles and musical instruments, small and large group brainstorming and discussion, and children’s literature that celebrates the transcending of gender barriers, students increase their awareness of gender stereotypes and learn about ways to overcome them.


  • Students will engage in a learning game that challenges gender role stereotypes.
  • Students will name activities regarded as only for boys or girls, and identify ways to turn those beliefs around.
  • Students will engage with literature that challenges narrow gender role expectations.

 National Standards (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)

Lesson Preparation

Handouts/Supporting Documents:

Other Materials: chart paper, construction paper or newsprint, markers, crayons, tape or glue, one copy of Drum, Chavi, Drum!/¡Toca, Chavi, Toca! and/or Ballerino Nate, overhead projector or laptop and LCD projector (optional)

Advance Preparation:

  • Reproduce handouts as directed above.
  • Prepare sets of student photos (see step #1).
  • (Optional) Create overhead transparencies of Making Music and Boys and Girls Making Music or save them on a laptop, and prepare the appropriate projector for viewing them on a large screen.


NOTE: The purpose of teaching students about gender stereotypes is not to pressure them to pursue activities simply because they are gender non-conforming, but rather to broaden students’ notions about the choices open to them.  As you encourage students to think beyond gender biases, make sure to also acknowledge and celebrate personal preferences. The girl who wants to study ballet and the girl who wants to take drum lessons should be equally celebrated, without judgment.

Part I: Musical Instruments and Gender Stereotypes (30 minutes)

  1. In advance of the lesson, photocopy the Making Music and Making Music (Student Photos) handouts, one copy for each small group of 3 – 5 students.  Cut out the student photos and create a set for each small group.

  2. Begin the lesson by asking for a show of hands if students like playing musical instruments.  Tell them that they will participate in a brief matching game called Making Music.  Divide the class into small groups of 3 – 5 students and provide each group with a Making Music handout and a set of Making Music (Student Photos).  Have groups lay out the photos on a table and tell them that each of these children has signed up to learn a new musical instrument.  Instruct groups to do the following:

    • Discuss which person they think should learn each instrument, and glue or tape the photos accordingly in the first column when the group has come to an agreement.  (Tell students that they can only assign one person to each instrument.)
    • Discuss which of the six instruments they would choose if they could learn a new instrument, and write their names accordingly in the second column.  (Tell students that more than one person can choose the same instrument.)

    ALTERNATIVE PROCEDURE: If your students are not able to complete this task in small groups, work on it together as a whole class.  Project the Making Music handout on a large screen and, using enlarged copies of the student photos, have students vote on which person they think should learn each instrument.  Subsequent small group activities in this lesson can be similarly adapted if necessary.

  3. Reconvene the class and invite a representative from each group, one at a time, to share their group’s decisions.  Post the completed handouts where everyone can see them and engage the class in a discussion using some of the following questions:

    • How did your group decide which students should learn each instrument?
    • Did everyone in your group agree?  If not, what were some of the different ideas that came up?
    • How did you choose the instrument that you would learn?  Do you play an instrument in real life?  If so, how did you choose that instrument?
    • Did some people in your group think that certain instruments were for boys and others for girls?  If so, which ones were considered “boy instruments” and which ones “girl instruments”?
    • What other reasons—besides being a boy or girl—might make each instrument a good choice for the different children in the photos?

    NOTE: The discussion above is structured based on the likelihood that your students will have made “gendered” choices in matching the instruments to people (research shows that children as young as five display preferences for musical instruments closely related to their gender-stereotyped beliefs).  However, if gender is not a motivating factor for your particular students, adjust the discussion questions accordingly.  Similarly, if other factors emerge as determinants of student decisions (e.g., race, ethnicity, age, size), explore these themes before concluding the discussion.

Part II: Debunking Gender Role Stereotypes (60 minutes)

  1. Ask students if they believe that boys and girls might each be “right” for or better at certain types of instruments?  Project or pass around the photo collage, Boys and Girls Making Music, and reinforce that anyone can play any instrument.  Ask students how the trumpet player might feel if someone told her she should switch to an instrument that’s more “lady-like,” or what the flute player might do if other kids kept teasing, “You’re a girl, only girls play the flute.”

  2. Ask students how people get their ideas about what girls and boys are “supposed to” do or like.  For each response, help students to distinguish myth from reality.  For example, if students suggest that boys run faster so they are better suited for soccer, or that girls are neater so they are better suited for housework, challenge these ideas by providing examples of girls and boys who contradict these notions.  Emphasize that narrow ideas about boys and girls roles can be hurtful to others and limit opportunities for everyone.

  3. Ask students for examples of interests or activities, besides playing musical instruments, that some people say are “only for boys/men” or “just for girls/women.”  Elicit general categories (e.g., toys) rather than specific items (e.g., Barbies).  List their responses on the board or a sheet of chart paper.
  4. Examples:

    • toys/games we play
    • colors we like
    • clothes we wear
    • TV shows/movies we watch
    • who we play with
    • sports we play
    • chores we do
    • hobbies/things we collect
    • pets/animals we like
    • songs/singers we like
    • jobs that grown-ups have

  5. Have students get back into their small groups and provide each with a large sheet of construction paper or newsprint and some drawing implements (crayons, markers, etc.).  Assign each group one of the topics generated above and ask students to talk about the ways in which girls and boys are set apart (e.g., if the topic is sports, students may discuss how only the boys play soccer during recess and how they don’t let the girls join in).  After a few minutes of discussion, instruct students to draw a picture depicting what it would look like if girls and boys were not set apart, and to write a caption at the bottom (e.g., “Boys and girls playing soccer together happily in the schoolyard”).

  6. Reconvene the class.  Have each group briefly share its work and hang their illustrations where everyone can see them.  Emphasize the idea that attaching a gender to activities or interests is hurtful and limiting.

Part III: Using Literature to Transcend Gender Stereotypes (time will vary)

  1. Reinforce the ideas explored in this lesson by reading one or both of the following stories aloud during subsequent classes and completing one or more of the extension activities that go with them (see the discussion guide for each book).  

    • Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
      Penguin Young Readers Group, 2006, 32 pages, grades Pre-K – 3
      Summary: Nate, a kindergartener, wants to become a ballet dancer, but is discouraged by his second-grade, sports-loving brother, who pronounces, “You can’t... You’re a boy.” Despite his parents’ reassurance, Nate is apprehensive when he begins a ballet class and learns that he is the only boy enrolled.  After Nate’s mother takes him to a ballet performance, where he sees that half the dancers are men, Nate feels good about his new pursuit at last.

    • Drum, Chavi, Drum!/ ¡Toca, Chavi, Toca! By Mayra Dole
      Children's Book Press, 2003, 32 pages, grades K – 3
      Summary: Chavi is determined to play the drums on the school float during Miami’s Calle Ocho parade, but everyone—from her music teacher to her own loving mother—is convinced that because she is a girl, she cannot possibly be good enough. Chavi knows differently, and she practices on anything she can get her hands on: pans, paint cans, car hoods. She just knows she’s good, and before the book is over, so does everyone else.

  • In This Issue
Lesson Plans
  • Lower Elementary Lesson (K-2)
  • Upper Elementary Lesson (3-6)
  • Middle School Lesson (6-9)
  • Entire Unit (.pdf format -35 KB - requires Acrobat Reader)
Additional ADL Programs & Resources
  • Hate on the Internet
  • A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children Grades K-6
  • A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources
  • Holocaust Awareness and Remembrance® Institute
  • Combating Anti-Semitism
A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute Recommended Multicultural and Anti-Bias Books for Children
A CLASSROOM OF DIFFERENCE Programs and Resources

  ©2008 Anti-Defamation League