Feminist Philosophers of the 20th Century


Students will explore the life, primary contributions, and core philosophical ideas of three 20th-century philosophers. They will use secondary sources to connect with that they’ve already learned about the transition of Enlightenment-era thinking and history to the modern world and the history of ideas/philosophy in the 20th century. Students will examine text excerpts from three philosophers: Simone De Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, and Judith Butler. Students will break into small discussion groups twice during this lesson. They will debrief their core knowledge of the significance of each philosopher and then they will select a text excerpt and discuss the text in small groups.  


Two 45-min class blocks or one 90-min block, with two nights of homework reading.

  • Students will read, analyze, and respond to four excerpts from three works of philosophy written in the 20th century by Simone De Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, and Judith Butler 

  • Students will work collaboratively to reflect on their understanding of the text and each author’s time period and deepen their comprehension of the texts.  

  • Students will make connections between the text excerpts and feminism and philosophy.  

  • Students will discuss their opinions and reflections with text-based references in small groups and respond to their peers’ thoughts and observations.  

  • Students will use secondary source background reading to connect, extend, and challenge their understanding of the three philosophers’ selected work. 


Students will read and watch the following secondary source material before the activity, either as a series of scaffolded homework assignments or Socratic seminar discussions in 3-4 class periods before the philosophy primary source activity. 

  1. Simone de Beauvoir 

    a. Simone de Beauvoir, biography and core concepts of her philosophy (Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    b. Simone de Beauvoir, biography and focus on The Second Sex (Biography.com) 
    c. Why is Simone De Beauvoir important? (Britannica) 
  2. Hannah Arendt 
    a. Hannah Arendt, biography and core concepts of her philosophy (Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 
    b. Why Hannah Arendt matters (Britannica) 
    c. Explore the life and work of Hannah Arendt (Contemporary Magazine) 

  3. Judith Butler 
    a. Judith Butler’s impact on contemporary thinking about gender (The Cut, 2015)
    b. Judith Butler biography and core concepts of her philosophy (Britannica) 
    c. Feminist perspectives on sex and gender, features Butler’s philosophy (Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 

  1. Prework/Homework/Class Periods Prior to the Class Discussion: (either homework or one block class period) 
    a. Divide the class into three groups, one for each philosopher (Simone de Beauvoir, Hannah Arendt, and Judith Butler) 
    b. Students are given three secondary sources and a copy of the Connect, Extend Challenge notetaking template. Each group is expected to delve deeply into the biography, core philosophy, and explanations of major works of each of the three philosophers 
    c. The secondary reading can be done either in small groups during two 45 min class periods (or one 90 min. block period) or assigned over two homework nights. 
    d. The members of the assigned group complete the background reading on and the notetaking template for their philosopher. 

  2. Think-Pair-Share: Expertise Sharing (30 min) 
    a. Students break into triads where there is one member of each philosopher group.  It is recommended that the teacher either formulates these groups beforehand or allows the students to select their own group members.  
    b. Using the Connect, Extend, Challenge notetaking guide, each student in the group of three presents a mini-lecture on the life, work, and core ideas of their assigned philosopher. They will complete the first section of the template. The second section is for enrichment/homework when the lesson is complete  
    c. By the end of the think-pair-share, all students will have had a chance to explain and teach the central aspects of their philosopher’s biography and the main contribution to the field.  

  3. Pick a Number Class Discussion Activity: Investing Text Excerpts of Feminist Philosophers (45-50 min) 
    a. Place five posters of flip chart paper around the classroom. On each poster include the philosopher’s name at the top of the flip chart and in the middle of the chart paper paste a text excerpt that is representative of the philosopher’s body of work. In the top right-hand corner of the flip chart, place a number one through five. 
    b. Ask students to walk around the room and read each quotation silently. An alternate approach if teaching remotely or if the classroom space isn’t conducive to walking around, place all of the quotes/text excerpts on one handout and make sure the numbers match those on top of the flip chart paper.  
    c. Students will select one of the quotes/text excerpts that they would like to further discuss with a small group of classmates.  
    d. Students should stand in front of the poster that corresponds to their choice. If a quotation only gets one student, ask that student to go with her/his second choice option. If this lesson is offered in a remote setting, the teacher can create breakout groups after the students have indicated which number group they’d like to placed in. 
    e. Students discuss their quotation using the connect, extend, challenge discussion prompts. Each group should select one facilitator to make sure to read the discussion question aloud and then provide space for all students to share their insights. 

  4. Whole class debrief: 

    a. Lead a whole-class discussion in which students report out from their small discussion groups. 
    b. Ask students to comment on the ideas and perspectives shared in each group and the main themes from the text excerpts. 
    c. As a culminating question, ask, "What similarities and differences do you notice between the ideas that have been shared from each group?" and "What did we learn about some of the core ideas of each philosopher?"
Assessment / Homework

Students will be given the handout of all five quotes/text excerpts and they will be asked to reflect on the small group discussion, the whole class debrief, and their re-reading of each of the five quotes. They will complete section two of the Connect, Expand, Challenge template.


D1.4.9-12. Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.  

D2.Civ.9.9-12. Use appropriate deliberative processes in multiple settings. 

D2.His.2.9-12. Analyze change and continuity in historical eras. 

D2.His.4.9-12. Analyze complex and interacting factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras. 

D2.His.3.9-12. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context. 

Common Core Standards: 
Common Core: 


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole. 


Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) to address a question or solve a problem. 


By the end of grade 12, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 11-CCR text complexity band independently and proficiently.