Lesson Plan

Studying this moment of history offers students the opportunity not only to learn more deeply about the revolutionary period in Russia, and the global context of movements for women’s rights, but to consider larger questions about political change in diverse societies. To prepare for such conversations, it is helpful for students to articulate their own “points of entry,” identifying the assumptions that inform their claims and opinions.   

Approaches outlined in this module support key College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards articulated in the Common Core State Standards, reflecting a focus on reading, speaking, and listening literacies in the K-12 social studies classroom.  

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


Materials

Intro and Hook

Writing and Reflection Prompts

1.  Ask students to imagine that they are invited to a summit on improving opportunities for high school students. Would they go if it were run by a group they disliked or with whom they disagreed? What factors would impact their decision to go or not?    OR 

2. Another option is to provide students with a handout including the following prompts: 

  • There are some beliefs on which you should never compromise, even if it would help you reach a larger goal.
  • Compromise is always part of working with other people.

Ask students to briefly write if they agree or disagree with each statement.  Then, circulate around the room trying to find one student who agrees and one who disagrees with their own answers.  Ask students to share the reasoning that led them to that stance.   

Continuum Line-Up

This is a way for students to visually represent their opinion on a question or event, as well as illustrate that a range of opinions may be possible on one “polarized” issue.  In this activity, one end of the room or white / black board is designated one extreme of an issue, the other end of the room or board the other.  Students can either physically stand next to their position along the line or write their initials along a line on a white or blackboard.  It can be interesting to have the students comment on the distribution of opinions represented along the continuum before they discuss their individual opinions.

Setting the Scene

During this period of Russian history, individuals and groups were actively shaping the political destiny of their country.  In this activity, students explore these figures through role play and discussion, presenting an opportunity for students to consider the significance of multiple stakeholders in a political ecosystem while developing skill-based communication literacy.

Procedure

Explain to students that they will be participating in the First All-Russian Women’s Congress.  Pass out the Briefing Document (Appendix A).  Read through the document together, prompting students to answer the questions within it.  

Appendix A: The First All-Women’s Russian Congress: Briefing Document

This gathering took place in 1908, three years after the first major revolution against the tsar.  At this point Tsar Nicholas II has agreed to the creation of the Duma (a legislature similar to the U.S. congress), but much remains uncertain and in a state of change.  Revolutionary energy is everywhere.    

“Thousands of small electric lamps illuminated the spacious Alexander Hall in the St. Petersburg City Hall on the night of December 10, 1908.  A substantial crowd had gathered by eight o’clock, filling the hall to overflowing.  The City Hall had been the scene of many other meetings and conferences, but this was the first time that the participants, numbering more than a thousand, were almost entirely female.  They had gathered to attend the First All-Russian Women’s Congress, held from December 10 through 16” (Ruthchild, 102).  

The congress brought together activists from many different communities.  Although they all shared the goal of social change, many had differing ideas about the causes of injustice in Russian society and the best way to address them.  Activist Alexandra Kollantai opened her speech at the Congress by saying:      

"'The woman question’ - say the feminists - is a question of ‘rights and justice.’ ‘The women question’ - answer the women workers - is a question of a crust of bread” 

What do you think Kollontai means by this?  What is her view about the priorities of feminists?  What is her view about the priorities of the women workers?

“Solidarity was a key theme [of the congress], sounded often during the weeklong meeting.  And this solidarity was to be with both sexes.  The organizers took pains to invite supportive men” (ibid, 104).

“One group, peasant women, the majority of Russia’s female population, was noticeably absent in the congress registrants.  Many factors kept peasant women away, including the difficulties of travel, family responsibilities, lack of money... Does this mean the peasant women weren’t interested?  Representatives of the Trudovik / Peasant Party reported that some peasant women were sufficiently engaged and literate enough that they went from hut to hut to read reports of the Women’s Congress sessions to each other... One midwife wrote, ‘I sit in my hut, await more births, and think of the Women’s Congress” (ibid, 107-8).

“The worker’s group at the Women’s Congress was relatively small, but their impact was large.  Opponents of congress attendance, generally Bolshevik men, gave the usual argument that such a gathering would enable the bourgeoisie with a golden opportunity to split the working class.  Supporters stressed the agitational possibilities of the Women’s Congress... Their arguments carried the day; the textile workers voted in favor of sending delegates to the assembly”  (ibid, 108).

What does this tell us about who is at the congress?  What are their goals?  What are sources of disagreement between them? Could the decisions made at the Congress be truly representational of Russian women when a large subsection of the shareholders were not present?

Discussion

Perspectives and Process Writing

Tell students that each of them will be taking on the identity of one of the individuals who lived during this time, and holding their own congress to debate and discuss questions about the future of revolution and women’s rights in Russia.  Pass out profiles from Appendix C.  There are nine profiles provided, including:

  • Vera Figner
  • Alexandra Kollontai
  • Olga Shapir
  • Ariadna Tyrkova
  • Maria Blandova
  • Anna Kal'manovich
  • Paul Miliukov
  • Nikolai Chekhov
  • Ivan Shcheglovitov

Students can work in teams for each profile, or have multiple students individually review the same profiles.  Have students fill out the process writing worksheet (Appendix B) to analyze the perspective and goals of the individual they will be representing.

Questions for Discussion

“The main point of conflict between the worker’s group and the feminists centered on three issues: primacy of economic factors, separatism, and suffrage” (Ruthchild, 126).  

As participants in the first All-Russian Women’s Congress, students will be asked to address the following questions:  

  1. What should the major goals of the First All-Russian Women’s Congress be?
  2. Should women work on these goals alone or with men?  
  3. Should the fight for women’s suffrage be a top priority during the revolutionary period?  Why or why not?    
  4. Should the current government be overthrown?  
  5. Is it possible for bourgeois men and women to work together with working and peasant men and women?
  6. What should be the role of women in any future government?

The following strategies can be used to add structure to the congress discussion:  

Socratic Seminar as Classroom Convention

Have students form two concentric circles: the inner circle will be participants in the Women’s Congress, while the outer circle will be active observers and spectators.  This format can be used to help students develop awareness of how productive discussions develop, to provide feedback to individual students about their role in classroom discussion, and as a method of assessment.  After they have filled out graphic organizers, give students in the inner circle 10-15 minutes to address discussion questions.  After 10-15 minutes have students on the outer circle reflect on the conversation thus far.  What are the major sources of conflict between the participants?  On what points have they managed to agree?  Do you think their discussion has been productive?  What suggestions would you give for improving the discussion?  If there is time, have students switch from inner to outer circle and continue the conversation.    

Final Word

This activity format is a way for students to dramatize several different perspectives on an issue or debate. Each involved student role-plays the perspective of a person or group of people [Ex: Socialist Feminists, Radical Feminists, Male Socialists].  Students sit facing each other; one will have the “final word.”  This student begins by stating their perspective in 1 minute or less.  Each remaining student then has 1 minute to respond to the original statement.  At the end, the first student has the final word:  they have 30 seconds to respond to what the other three have said.   The teacher can repeat this, in turn giving each student in the group the “final word. “  After the activity the class as a whole can engage in a larger discussion about the issues raised by each person or group.  

Hot Seat

Students are picked, either one at a time or in a group of two or three, to sit in the “hot seat” and portray an individual, group, or idea (examples: Vera Figner, the Tsar, “Socialism”, etc…)  The rest of the class then asks the student questions about their experiences, opinions, and ideas.    

Wrap Up and Reflection

Following the students’ congress, have students report back about their experience while still in character.  What do they see as the future for differing revolutionary groups in Russia?  Did their own goals or perspectives shift?  Who might they want to work with to accomplish their goals for Russian society?  What challenges and opportunities do they see in working with activists from diverse segments of Russian society?