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Teacher's Guide: Suggestions for Active Learning

Miss America offers insights into American history topics including the Jazz Age, the Depression, World War II, the Baby Boom, feminist and civil rights activism of the 1960s, the women's liberation movement, women's changing roles in society, women and the workplace, leisure, the rise of television, beauty ideals, individualism, self-image, and consumerism. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into 4 categories: history, economics, geography, and culture/civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

Culture/Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1. Read about the swimsuit competition and the century of svelte. Then scan ...The Winners Are... to see the height, weight, and measurements of Miss America winners over the years. Now hold a class debate on the following question: Does the Miss America pageant cause women to judge themselves -- and to be judged by others -- by unhealthy or unrealistic standards?

2. How is your gender portrayed in advertising today? Create a collage of photographs from at least three different sources, such as news magazines, fashion magazines, sports magazines, and newspapers. (Alternatively, you could create a "video collage" of video clips from television ads, or computer-based presentation of images from Web pages.) Try to show a variety of body types. After the class has reviewed each person's collage, hold a class discussion on your reactions to the collages you and your classmates created. Are you more aware now of what kinds of body types are portrayed in ads? Has this exercise changed your attitude toward advertising, and if so, how?

3. In recent years the Miss America pageant has made the social platform a requirement for contestants. Read about Miss Americas with minds of their own, especially Kay Lani Rae Rafko, who spoke on hospice care in 1988. Review the social platforms adopted by pageant winners from 1990 on, in the list of Miss America winners. Now adopt a social platform of your own, research it, and make a presentation to the class on why the cause is important. At the end of the presentations, students can vote to select the top 5 causes presented. If time and inclination permit, class members can get involved in the cause of their choice, volunteering their time and their skills.

Culture/Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1. Divide the class into eight groups and assign each group one of the decades from the 1920s to the 1990s. Each group should create a poster showing a timeline of their decade. Above the timeline, groups should list important events of the decade and other events that affected women. Below the timeline, groups should list developments in the Miss America pageant, such as the crowning of the first Jewish Miss America or the protest at the 1968 pageant. Each timeline should have at least three illustrations. Groups should consult The Changing Ideal and the timeline for ideas on events to include in their timelines. Mount the posters on the wall around the classroom. Have volunteers point out places on the timelines where the pageant was affected by an event in the country.

2. Read about America's beauty culture. Today, do women use makeup as a way of expressing themselves, or are they forced to use makeup by social pressures? Prepare an oral report that presents your view on this issue. Support your argument by showing at least three articles or ads from women's fashion (or other) magazines.

3. Review Miss America and other American women decade by decade in The Changing Ideal. You can view sections of the feature in any order that interests you. Which decade of the twentieth century do you think was the best for women in America, and why? Has each decade improved upon the previous one, for women? Consider factors like education, family, work opportunities, societal pressures about women's appearance and roles, and the changes that took place within each decade.

Culture/Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1a. Read about the first Miss America Pageant in 1921. What group organized the first pageant, and for what purpose?

1b.What examples does the film provide of the continuing importance of business sponsors to the pageant over its history?

1c. Name a public event you enjoy, such as a sporting event, parade, or festival, and list the event's sponsors. Find out (if you don't already know) what products or services these companies sell. Why would these companies choose to sponsor this particular event?

2. Visit the official Web site of the Miss America Organization and click on "Scholarships" to read about the scholarships awarded to pageant contestants. There you will find a list of all scholarships awarded to contestants in the 2001 pageant. But you don't have to be a pageant contestant to obtain help in paying for college. To prove it, work together as a class to write a "Beginner's Guide to Financing a College Education." It should begin by answering basic questions about the differences between scholarships, loans, and other forms of financial aid; it should describe the sources of this aid; and it should explain how students can find out how to obtain aid. To do the research for this guide, check websites such as those of the College Board and FinAid. The U. S. Department of Education also has a Student Guide to types of student aid from the federal government. You can also ask the librarian at your school or local public library for help.

Culture/Civics | History | Economics | Geography

1a. Read ...The Winners Are..., which lists the Miss America winners since 1921. Copy or trace a map of the United States and label each state. Then place a numeral in each state corresponding to the number of times a representative from that state has won the pageant. How many winners have come from your state?

1b. Divide the class into groups for various regions of the United States -- either the large divisions of Northeast, South, Midwest, West, or the smaller Census Bureau divisions of New England (ME, NH, VT, MA, RI, CT), Middle Atlantic (NY, NJ, PA), East North Central (OH, IN, IL, MI, WI), West North Central (MN, IA, MO, ND, SD, NE, KS), South Atlantic (DE, MD, DC, VA, WV, NC, SC, GA, FL), East South Central (KY, TN, AL, MS), West South Central (AR, LA, OK, TX), Mountain (MT, ID, WY, CO, NM, AZ, UT, NV), and Pacific (WA, OR, CA, AK, HI). From the U.S. Census Bureau Web site, students in each group should find out each state in their region's current population, and calculate how many people there are in each state per Miss America winner from that state, to determine how many winners there have been relative to each state's population. They can then do the same with winner totals and population totals for their region, and the class can review the results. Which region has been most successful at the Miss America pageant?

2. Read about the color line at the pageant. Non-white women were barred from the Miss America pageant for several decades; not until 1984 was there an African American Miss America. Look at the map you created in the activity above. How might this map be different if African Americans had been allowed to compete throughout the history of the pageant?

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