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Who Wears a Veil?
Lesson Snapshot

Learning objectives
Students will define stereotypes and learn how common misperceptions foster visual stereotypes about Muslim women. Students will identify famous women and learn about the significance of the veil in different cultures.

Grade level



NCSS standards

Time estimate
Approximately 45 minutes

What you'll need (see Resources for links)

Lesson Plan

  • Begin by defining stereotype. Stereotypes are oversimplified and sometimes mistaken beliefs about a place, thing, or group of people. They often draw on one narrow aspect of a location or social type, amplify it, and then invest an entire area or group with this characteristic. Often negative, stereotypes can suppress the complexities and diversity inherent in any region or group and can keep us from understanding people as individuals.

    Stereotypes can be used to reaffirm mainstream ideology. For example, the classic hero in a Hollywood Western is independent, single-minded in his pursuit of a goal, able to resist feminine temptations, and not averse to using violence to gain a moral end.

  • Help students understand the subtlety and pervasiveness of stereotypes. When they think of Alaska, for example, do they imagine a place that's always cold and snowy? People in many parts of Alaska would say that it's often quite warm and green, and temperatures can reach into the 80s. Brainstorm for similar examples that connect to different world regions in your curriculum.

  • One way to move beyond stereotypical thinking is to become aware of preconceptions and to challenge their validity. You may want to list groups of people in your school or community that evoke stereotypical images to show students that everyone is susceptible to preconceived ideas about people, places, and cultures. For example, ask students:

    • What are some common characteristics associated with these groups: football players, cheerleaders, smart kids, administrators, musicians? Make a list of students' answers.

    • How many of the characteristics listed are based on your own experience? How many are based on popular opinion?

    • Of those characteristics that are based on your own experience, how many are true of a few people, and how many are true of every individual in a group?

  • There are many different kinds of stereotypes. Visual stereotypes are based on what something or someone looks like. Ask students to list or draw their ideas of what comes to mind when they hear the term "Muslim women." They may discuss their ideas in small groups or share them as a class.

  • Have students look at the pictures in this interactive lesson.

  • Continue the class discussion with the following questions:

    • Which of these women did you think were Muslim? Non-Muslim? Why?

    • As you looked at these photos, what characteristics led you to identify some women as Muslim and others not as Muslim? Was it head covering, skin color, or other features? Did these prove to be reliable clues? Why or why not?

    • As you read the brief biographies of the Muslim women, what, if anything, surprised you about their lives?

    • What, if any, features do most of these women -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- have in common?

    • How might this activity cause you to challenge stereotypes?

  • Did students notice that no Jewish women were represented? Similar to many religious and ethnic groups, Orthodox Jewish women are required to wear a head covering at all times.

  • Have students write a letter to the editor of your school or town newspaper illustrating what they've learned, debunking common misconceptions, and warning against the danger of stereotyping groups such as Muslims.


  • How well can the student define and give examples of visual stereotypes?

  • How well can the student give examples from the biographies that challenge stereotypes?

  • How well can the student build a convincing case, using examples from the activity, to illustrate the assertion that Muslim women have diverse roles in society?


Internet Resources:

Related Video:

Related Activities:

  • A Woman's Place
    Students will learn about women's status in Iran and the U.S. across different points in history, explain why women in Iran dress and interact with men in specific ways, and relate this to certain groups/religions in the U.S., and adopt the perspective of a woman living at a different time in the U.S. or Iran.

  • Gender Issues in Islam
    Students will compare and contrast the roles of men and women with regard to various topics in the six countries featured in the film.

  • An Introduction to Islam and Muhammad
    Students will compare the major monotheistic belief systems of the world.

Extension activities

The UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies has produced a feature, Veiling and the Media, which looks at the issue of Muslim women and head coverings. It includes video of Muslim students talking about their experiences in an American high school.

NCSS standards


  • Interpret patterns of behavior reflecting values and attitudes that contribute to or pose obstacles to cross-cultural understanding.

Individual development and identity

  • Compare and evaluate the impact of stereotyping, conformity, acts of altruism, and other behaviors on individuals and groups.

Global connections

  • Explain conditions and motivations that contribute to conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among groups, societies, and nations.

For more information, see the National Standards for Social Studies Teachers, Volume I.

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