Search form

An Education World WebQuest

Women of the Century

Featured Graphic

Just in time for Women's History Month! Education World offers a Women's History WebQuest. Challenge students to make use of bookshelf and online resources to create an Encyclopedia of Notable Women. Included: Ideas for adapting the WebQuest across the grades plus a simple rubric for grading students' efforts and a database of online resources.

This week, Education World celebrates Women's History Month with a WebQuest for students across the grades. We also provide ideas for adapting this WebQuest for use with younger and older students.

Propose to students to following scenario:

You have just accepted a job as one of the editors of a new encyclopedia that will highlight the greatest women in history. You need to research potential candidates for recognition in your field of specialty -- the arts, medicine, politics, science, or sports -- and select the women who are most deserving of inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Notable Women.

Start this WebQuest with a classroom brainstorm. Ask students, "What names come to mind when you think of the greatest women in history?" As the students respond, write the names they share on a board or chart. After students have listed 20 to 25 names, ask them to group the names into the following categories.

  • Arts and Humanities (for younger students, Artists and Writers)
  • Health and Medicine
  • Politics and Government
  • The Sciences (Science and Math)
  • Sports

After they develop a list, students should use a biographical dictionary to confirm that each woman listed lived during the past century. This list will serve students as a starting point for the WebQuest task. Teachers might print out the list so each group has a copy of it.


Groups of students will be assigned as "editors" of one of the sections of the encyclopedia (in the bulleted list above). Each person in the group will contribute an article to the section. Then each group will select one woman and create a class presentation.

Teachers might choose to adapt the task.

  • Add sections to the encyclopedia. For example, add a section called "Women of Diversity" or one called "Heroic Women." You might adjust the size of the groups to accommodate those sections, or each group might contribute an entry to the new section(s).
  • Tired of the "same old biographies"? Older students might create an Encyclopedia of Unsung Women. To select women for "unsung" status, a teacher might give a quick matching quiz. Ask students to match a list of women's names to major accomplishments. A woman will qualify for inclusion if fewer than 50 percent of students correctly identify her.
  • Teachers might adapt this activity for any century or for a more specific time period. Examples: Great Women of the Civil War or Great Women of the '90s.


  1. Assign editorships. Arrange students into groups. Four to six make a good-sized group -- not too big, not too small. Each group will be "experts" in a field, or one of the five sections of the encyclopedia -- Arts and Humanities, Health and Medicine, Politics and Government, the Sciences, or Sports.
    Option for creating groups: A teacher might assign a spot in the classroom for each of the sections of the encyclopedia. Students will then be asked to go to the spot assigned to the section that most interests them. If the groups are of uneven size, the teacher will need to reassign students, using a "guess the number I've written" game or some other approach.
  2. Research. Students will conduct Internet and library research in their field of specialty. (See The National Women's Hall of Fame Resources below.) As students' research uncovers the names of women whose accomplishments fall into an assigned field, students will add those names to the list from the brainstorm activity in the Introduction section.
  3. Editorial meeting. Groups will meet to share research results and create final lists of accomplished women. They will discuss the accomplishments of each woman and reach consensus about which women to include in the encyclopedia. Remember: The number of women chosen should correspond to the number of students in the group; each student will write an encyclopedia article about one woman. Before group members compile final lists, they should first establish criteria for inclusion. The teacher might provide the following questions or let students determine which questions will guide them as they make their decisions.
    • What makes the woman outstanding in her field?
    • What outstanding personal characteristics did/does the woman possess?
    • How did her accomplishments affect the world?
    • Will her accomplishments stand the test of time? Will people still consider her outstanding in her field 100 years from now?
    • Why include her rather than someone else?
    If the class encyclopedia will include sections about Women of Diversity or Heroic Women, then students must also make sure their choices include one woman who will fit into those extra sections.
  4. Writing. Each student should choose a woman from the final list, do additional research on that woman, and prepare a one or two page report about her. That report should provide paragraphs that summarize the following:
    • Background (the "growing up" years)
    • Education
    • Greatest accomplishments
    • Rationale (why the woman deserves inclusion in the encyclopedia more than other women in the same category do)
  5. Editing. The groups meet to share the first drafts of their work. Each person shares his or her report informally. Encourage members of the groups to make suggestions that might help the student improve the report. The students incorporate comments into their second drafts. After they complete second drafts, group members gather again. Sitting in a circle, students pass their reports to the right. That "editor" does a final edit of the report, then returns it with notes to the writer so the writer can prepare a final draft.
  6. Oral presentation. When the final drafts are complete, each group meets so individuals can share their articles and decide which of the women would make the most interesting subject for a class presentation. (Remember, however, that all of the woman on whom the group has reported will be included in the encyclopedia.)
    • Each group's presentation must include student-made artifacts related to the person's life; a map, chart, or graph; and a fact sheet that highlights five of the most interesting things about the woman that others might not know.
    • Each presentation should address each topic covered in the written encyclopedia article -- background, education, major accomplishments and, most important, the reasons that woman's story was included in the encyclopedia.
    • Group members can divide the presentation in any way as long as each person plays an equal role.


  • Students might create encyclopedia entries as Web pages and use the collection to create an Encyclopedia of Notable Women Web site.
  • Students might create their oral presentations as PowerPoint or Hyperstudio projects.


Younger students will be able to make use of the general Internet resources listed below. They can also use a variety of print and online resources. School libraries or media centers and the children's sections of local libraries usually have a good selection of popular biographies that can serve as valuable resources too.

Older students will be able to use the general Internet resources below. Many of those general resources will link students to more detailed or specific online resources. In addition, older students might be asked to read a full-length biography of the individual they choose to write about. Option: Each student might read two biographies about the same person; that will provide opportunities for students to explore different perspectives and contradictory information about individuals. Among the best of the general biographical resources we've uncovered on the Internet are the following:

The National Women's Hall of Fame
Click on The Women of The Hall to find biographies of dozens of women who have been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Women's History in America
The Women's International Center supplies this alphabetical listing of famous women.

Distinguished Women of Past and Present
Check this site's alphabetical listing for biographical information about almost any famous woman Click on Search by Name.


Education World has created a simple rubric to help students and teachers assess student and group effort on this WebQuest.

Group Work -- Each student is graded by the group.
1 point -- Student did not participate.
2 points -- Student participated to a small degree.
3 points -- Student offered a few helpful thoughts and ideas.
4 points -- Student offered opinions and ideas that helped others a great deal.

Research (to be graded by teacher and student together)
1 point -- Student used one or two resources.
2 points -- Student used a few resources, including bookshelf and online resources.
3 points -- Student used a variety of bookshelf and online resources.
4 points -- Student went out of the way to gather resources.

Written Encyclopedia Entries (to be graded by teacher)
1 point -- Student made minimal effort, copied much material from sources.
2 points -- Student made an effort to put material into his or her own words. 3 points -- Student had original thoughts and took the time to organize material.
4 points -- Student wrote and organized the article, drawing on many resources.

Oral Presentation (a consensus grade for each group from classmates and teacher)
1 point -- Student put in little preparation, stumbled over material.
2 points -- Student did a good job but did not make extra effort.
3 points -- Student presented informative and well-planned material.
4 points -- Student's and group's extra effort was obvious to all.


Ask students to reflect on the characters of the women the groups selected for their presentations. Following are two possible questions to ask:

  • What characteristics did the women have in common? Responses might include characteristics such as perseverance, courage, intelligence, optimism, dedication, or idealism.
  • What factors, do you think, were most responsible for the women's successes -- their backgrounds, educations, character, personality, luck, or some other factors?

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2009, 2017 Education World


Last updated 02/21/2017