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Amelia Earhart:
Aviation Pioneer

by Sheila Tatten and Annie Taylor
Idaho State University

Grade: 7-8
Time Allotment: Three 55-minute class periods
Subject Matter: Social Studies and Women's History

Amelia Earhart is the most famous woman pilot of all times. Her eccentric and stunt-filled life and especially, her mysterious death, set her position in history forever. Amelia was born on July 24, 1897. Her childhood was spent at her grandparent's house being a "tomboy." She first saw an airplane at the age of 11 in Des Moines, Iowa. She was not impressed with the contraption at the time, preferring the Ferris wheel and pony rides. Later when she was in her early 20s, Earhart attended air shows and took her first airplane ride; from then on, she was hooked. At 25, she received her pilot's license and bought her first airplane.

Flying went from a hobby to a full time career after George Palmer Putnam, a New York publisher, became Earhart's manager and placed her as commander of a trans-Atlantic flight, the first such flight for a woman. Amelia was instantly catapulted into fame; she made several other "stunt" flights, including a solo flight across the Atlantic in 1932, the only person, man or woman, to have done so since Charles Lindbergh. Her fame was forever cemented, however, after she attempted to fly around the world in 1937, and disappeared 35-100 miles off the coast of Howland Island. There are many theories but no conclusive reports on what exactly happened to Amelia Earhart.

The goals of this lesson plan sequence is to familiarize students with the social practices and technological advancements of the 1920s and 1930s, to encourage students to relate what they have learned from these contexts to their modern life, and to explore the events of Amelia Earhart's life. Students will also examine how Earhart's feelings about flying throughout her aviation career influenced her poetry, and write their own poetry on an exciting and risky experience in their lives.

Learning Objectives:

Students will be able to:

  • Contextualize the life and achievements of a person from the early 20th century via class discussion/activities/video.
  • List ways that Amelia Earhart contradicted gender roles of her time.
  • Write poetry on an exciting and risky experience.

From the Idaho State Board of Education Standards, middle grades

  1. Understand the political, social, and economic responses to industrialization and technological innovations that have occurred in the United States. Explain how the development of various modes of transportation increased economic prosperity and promoted national unity. (ISBES 477/01/b)
  2. Understand the cultural and social development of the United States. Know the common traits, beliefs, and characteristics that unite the United States as a nation and a society. (ISBES 478/01/c)

From the National Standards for History, grades 5-12

  1. The student thinks chronologically. Students will be able to differentiate between historical facts and historical interpretations but acknowledge that the two are related; that the facts the historian reports are selected and reflect therefore the historian's judgment of what is most significant about the past. (NSH 2D)
  2. The student understands the interplay between scientific or technological innovations and new patterns of social and cultural life between 1900 and 1940. Explain ways in which the airplane, automobile, and modern railway affected world commerce, international migration, and work and leisure habits. [Interrogate historical data] (NSH 3C)

Media Components :

Amelia Earhart (The American Experience) Videocassette Dist. By PBS Home Video, 1993

Web Sites (for reference and student research) Should be bookmarked and put in a folder called Earhart:


  • Parental permission to use the Internet for each student
  • Pencil and paper (in a spiral notebook or looseleaf) for each student
  • Notebook paper for poetry unit
  • Overhead projector with transparency of Earhart's flights (use a global map and label key places from her journey by hand with an overhead marker.)
  • Pictures of early airplanes
  • "Tickets to the Amelia Earhart Show" from the game show in class two are attached to this sequence, as are copies of the three Amelia Earhart poems used in class three.

Prep For Teachers
Prior to the teaching, bookmark all of the websites used in the lesson. The teacher will also want to examine the websites to familiarize him/herself with their content. Cue the videotape to the appropriate starting point. Counter must be at 0:00 every time you start the video.

Introductory Activities
The following activities will provide a pre-assessment of student knowledge on important facts of the early 20th Century, and prepare students with a contextual basis for Amelia Earhart's life.

Establishing the Historical and Social Context of the 1920s and 1930s
Tell the students that for the next few days, they will be studying the life of a famous female aviator, Amelia Earhart. But before we can study her life, it helps to understand the historical and social background of the time in which Earhart lived, just as someone from another time might understand our lives better if they knew significant events that have occurred in the past 5-10 years.

As the first introductory activity, ask the students to take out a piece of paper and write down slang sayings that they hear today. Offer examples such as "fly", "the bomb" and "hot." Ask them to define these sayings in words their parents or grandparents would understand.

After the students are finished with their lists, write down some of their sayings on the board. Ask the students if they know of any phrases / slang from the 1920s. Introduce the sayings on the list below and explain their meanings. Ask students if they recognize any of the sayings from their great-grandparents.

  • Upchuck: Vomit, puke
  • Bunk (or) baloney: Exclamations meaning it's not true, that's nonsense, it's a lotta hooey, it's a scam
  • For crying out loud: Something outrageous, silly, unbelievable.
  • Hot diggety! Hot diggety dog!: Expression of excitement; or an emergency situation (Hot diggety! I gotta get going!)
  • Blind date: Date between a boy and girl who'd never met before; usually arranged by friends
  • Two-timer (or) Ex: Terms referring to cheating and rejected suitors
  • Cat's Meow, Cat's Pajamas: "He's the cat's meow;" means "he's cute," "she's cute (or wonderful)," etc. Could also refer to objects.
  • Flapper: Outspoken young woman with boyish manners and dress.
  • Sheik: A handsome young man; often the boyfriend of the flapper. A sheik's girlfriend might also be called a Sheba.

Divide students into two groups. Have them play a game of charades using the above words and other words that the students came up with for modern day slang.

If you have not covered the history of the 1920s and 1930s, you will want to discuss the following points with your students, so that they are able to understand the time period in which Amelia Earhart lived.
Explain to students that the 1920s were known as the "Roaring 20s" because people liked to party and dance. This was the time of prohibition, when alcohol was illegal. The stock market was soaring; movies and radio were just beginning.

Women had just received the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment on August 24, 1920 and were testing their wings as recognized citizens. The movies and radio programs at the time intrigued the public, focusing on people who were considered extraordinary. Ask the students what this meant to women of that time. If they just received a right that others already had, how would they feel?

Ask students if they know what happened on October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday). Briefly explain to students the effect of the stock market crash and the Great Depression that subsequently followed. The President at the time of the Great Depression was Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR). Because of the impoverished state of the country during the 1930s people often listened to the radio and watched movies/news reels when possible. FDR would talk to the American people every night on the radio in a show called the Fireside Chat. He did this to reassure the nation that better times were in the future.

Establishing the Context of Aviation in the 1920s and 1930s
Ask students if they know when the first airplane was flown. Tell them that the Wright Brothers were the first people to ever fly an airplane, in the year 1903. Point out that this was almost one hundred years ago to date. Ask students if they know what the first airplanes looked like. Pass around pictures of early airplanes.

Explain to students that aviation came into the lime light of American media at this time. With the media glamorizing extraordinary people, it really focused on those who could fly. Flying was still very new by the 1920s and those who could fly were not only considered exciting but also risk-takers. Flying was an unstable thing requiring real talent from those who chose to take on the challenge.

Ask students to think of modern technology that is less than 20 years old and causing a major stir in the world (keep the Internet and computer technology in mind but do not discount any ideas students may suggest). Explain that the Internet is still young in its life and is ever evolving and becoming more user friendly. This is how flying was in the 1920s.

Learning Activity
Establishing the Context of Gender Roles in the 1920s and 1930s
Have students take out a sheet of paper. On this paper have them write down the jobs of three of their favorite women (specify that a job is not always outside the home). After this is done, have students write down the jobs of three of their favorite men. Go around the room and have students tell you these jobs. Write them under the headings FEMALE and MALE on the blackboard.

Ask students what jobs they think were available to women in the 1920s and early 1930s. Explain to students that women's roles were viewed much differently during this time period than they are today. Give them examples of jobs that women could work at (such as nurses NOT doctors, teachers NOT principals, etc.) Understand that there were sometimes exceptions to this, but not often. Ask students if their families' have any types expectations for boys and girls in housework. Explain that during the 1920s and 30s women were judged upon their abilities to cook, clean, and mother.

Culminating Activity
Give students the journal prompt of comparing and contrasting their family's expectations for their roles and jobs today with what their family's expectations for them might have been in the 1920s and 30s. Have them give at least three specific examples of similarities and three examples of differences.

Day Two:
Introductory Activities
Who was Amelia Earhart? Reviewing the Social Climate of the Early 20th Century
Ask the students to review for the class the roles and the kinds of jobs that were typical for women during this time in history. After reviewing, ask the students what kinds of jobs are typical of women in the year 2001? How have gender roles changed? How have they stayed the same?
Then tell your students that Amelia Earhart was a very unconventional woman for her time. She was considered a "tomboy" growing up, drove a gravel truck to help pay for her first airplane, and flew planes at a time in which there were few women aviators.

Establishing Background Information on Amelia Earhart
Introduce the students to Amelia Earhart's life with a "game show". Divide the students into teams, and ask them to guess as you ask them questions about Amelia Earhart's life. Have all of the questions and answers on her life written on index cards and use your "game show announcer voice." Use a buzzer from a board game, such as "Taboo" for incorrect answers. You can offer multiple-choice answers, or simply ask the question. The latter option is a more accurate pre-assessment of student knowledge on Amelia Earhart's life. Possible quiz questions may include:

  • Who is Amelia Earhart?
  • When did she live?
  • How was Earhart different from other women of her time?
  • How did she earn the money to buy her first plane?
  • What color was the plane?
  • Earhart is famous for flying across what ocean?
  • How many times did she fly across this ocean?
  • What other talents did Earhart have?
  • What was Earhart attempting to do in her last flight?
  • What happened to Amelia Earhart?

Congratulate your students for completing the game show and give all of them "Tickets to the Amelia Earhart Show". Tell them that they have won the opportunity to find out more about the extraordinary and courageous female pilot, Amelia Earhart, through video. Inform the students that the tickets will also be used towards the end of this lesson to allow the students to research Earhart's final flight on the Internet.

Learning Activities
Insert An American Experience: Amelia Earhart into your VCR; make sure that the counter on the VCR is set to 0:00.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to raise their hands when they hear what influenced Earhart to fly. PLAY the tape from where the counter is at 7:43, and the narrator says "Like most Americans, Amelia was fascinated by the sheer novelty of flight," until the counter is at 9:13, and the narrator quotes Earhart: " ' I think I'd like to fly,' I told my family casually that evening, knowing full well I'd die if I didn't." STOP the tape.

Check for comprehension, and ask your students to list the events in Amelia Earhart's life that instilled a desire to fly. Then ask the students what kinds of dreams or goals they have for their life. What event or events influenced their goals? How far would they be willing to go to fulfill their dreams? Also review the second quiz question with the students: When did Earhart live?

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to raise their hands when they hear about what Amelia Earhart did in her early life that went against the society's ideas about the roles of girls and women in the early 1900's. FAST FORWARD the tape until the counter is at 10:46, and the narrator is saying "Sent to finishing school in Pennsylvania…" and PLAY until the counter is at 11:47, and the narrator is saying "She bought a new by-plane, and painted it bright yellow." FAST FORWARD until there is a picture of Earhart on the beach in a swimsuit (counter 12:16) and the narrator says, "From the beginning, Earhart saw herself in the vanguard…" and PLAY until there is a picture of Earhart with children sitting on and around her car (counter 13:12), and the narrator says, "In 1925, Amelia moved to Boston, finding work in a settlement house…"

Ask the students to share some of their observations from the video on things that Earhart did in her early life that were unconventional for women of her time. Point out that these observations should answer the third quiz question: How was Earhart different from other women of her time? Give the students a few minutes to write their observations in their notebook. Then review information in the video that answered the fourth and fifth quiz questions: How did Earhart earn money to buy her first plane? What color was the plane?

Remind the students that early aviation was very risky. Anyone, man or woman, who attempted to fly across the Atlantic in the early 20th Century was a brave individual. Tell the students that they will now see a video clip of when Amelia Earhart traveled on a trans-Atlantic flight, first as a passenger, and then solo.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to raise their hands when they see something about early aviation that made it a risky adventure.

FAST FORWARD to where there are pictures of Charles Lindbergh and Earhart side by side (counter reads 15:04), and the narrator is saying, " Putnam asked her to make the trans-Atlantic flight" and PLAY until there is a picture of Amelia in the midst of a crowd (counter is at 18:05), and the narrator says, "…another huge crowd waited to see Amelia."

Show your students a map of Earhart's first journey across the Atlantic, highlighting Nova Scotia and Wales. Then show them a map of her solo flight across the Atlantic, highlighting the path her plane took and her arrival in Ireland. Ask them to continue to raise their hands during the following two video clips when they see something about early aviation that made it a risky adventure.

FAST FORWARD the tape to a video clip of Earhart climbing into the cockpit of her plane (counter reads 29:08), with the narrator saying, "On the 5th anniversary of Lindbergh's flight, the Vega was ready" and PLAY until the counter is at 29:30, and the narrator is saying, "…and Amelia re-staged her arrival."

Review the material in the video with your students. Ask the sixth and seventh quiz questions as a review of the material covered in the video: How many times did Amelia Earhart travel across the ocean? Which ocean did she cross?

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to raise their hands when they hear things about the early airplane industry that are different from today.

REWIND the tape to the picture of Earhart dressed up with pearls around her neck (counter reads 21:23), as the narrator says, "Her celebrity status made her invaluable to the airline industry…" and PLAY until the screen shows Earhart shaking hands with executives of the airline industry (counter reads 22:40), and the narrator says "Earhart's contributions were limited to public relations."

Check for comprehension: ask the students to name how flying both as an individual pilot and in a commercial airliner was different from today. Ask the students to think how it must have made Earhart feel to have been an accomplished pilot, yet unable to fly for a commercial airline. Tell the students that they will now see what happened to the last flight Amelia Earhart took, in which she was attempting to fly around the world.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking them to write down in their notebooks what they think happened to Earhart in her last flight.

FAST FORWARD to the segment highlighting Earhart's last flight, starting at vintage footage of her taking off in her plane (counter reads 50:24), and the narrator says, "Only luck could guide them to Howland Island" and PLAY until after the footage of the search planes (counter reads 53:44), as the narrator says, "Amelia Earhart was gone."

Ask the students to discuss some of the comments that they wrote down regarding Earhart's last flight. What went wrong? What do you think happened to Earhart and her navigator? Review the last two quiz questions with the students.

At this time, announce that your students may now turn in their "tickets" to approach the computers in pairs to research Amelia Earhart's last flight and theories behind her disappearance. Tell them they can find the sites for their research under Favorites: Earhart that you have previously bookmarked for them. After the students have researched for about 15 minutes, call on a few pairs to share what they learned from their assigned site.

Culminating Activities
For a homework assignment, ask the students to write a story about Earhart's last flight, including where they think she landed / crashed and what they think happened to her once she landed. Did she live? Encourage the students to be creative, but to base their stories on facts learned about Earhart and her last flight in the videotape and from the websites.

As a quick review, ask the students the quiz questions from the game show at the beginning of the lesson. Tell them that they will find out about the eighth question tomorrow, which is: What other talents did Earhart have?

Class Three:
Introductory Activities
Establishing a Context in Which to Study Poetry
First ask the students to share some of their stories from the previous day. After several stories have been shared, tell the students that many people use writing as a way to express their feelings and experiences. Ask your students if they have ever felt compelled to write about an experience. How did they write it down - in a story? A poem? A letter? In a journal?

After a brief discussion, tell the students that Amelia Earhart had another talent: writing poetry (quiz question #8 from the previous day). She wrote often about her passion for flying and its risks, including death. Inform the students that today they will hear some of Earhart's poetry in three different clips from the video they saw yesterday. The first video clip they will see includes a poem Amelia Earhart wrote when she first developed a love for flying. The poem is called "From an Airplane."

Learning Activities
Ensure that your VCR counter is set to 0:00 again. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to raise their hands when they hear how Amelia felt while she was in an airplane. PLAY the tape immediately after a picture of Earhart with her new plane (counter reads11:49), as the narrator says, "The amateur flyer was also a novice poet" until the counter reaches 12:15, and the last line of Earhart's poem is being read, "The stain of evening creeping from its heart." STOP the tape.

Ask your students to share how Earhart felt while she was in the airplane, judging from the words in her poem. Now remind your students that flying was dangerous in Earhart's time, and involved taking many risks. As a review from the video clips from yesterday, ask your students to tell you what some of those risks were. Then tell your class that they will now hear another poem by Earhart on flying, this time dealing with courage and taking risks.

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to think about what Earhart was implying about flying as the narrator reads this poem.

FAST FORWARD to where Putnam kisses Earhart goodbye as she climbs into her cockpit (counter reads 29:08), as the narrator says, "On the 5th anniversary of Lindbergh's flight, the Vega was ready" and PLAY until counter 29:41, as the narrator says "…and Amelia re-staged her arrival."

Check for comprehension and ask students to explore the meaning of the line in Earhart's poem: "Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace…" What kind of peace is she talking about? Is she right? How would you define courage, based upon experiences in your life? Tell your students that now they will hear the last, unfinished poem by Amelia Earhart. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, and ask them to raise their hands when they can think of ways that this last poem was different from the first poem they heard.

FAST FORWARD to counter 54:23 as the narrator says, "Amelia Earhart lives as if…" and PLAY until the counter reaches 54:41, as the narrator reads the last line of the unfinished poem.

Provide your students with copies of Earhart's three poems heard in the video. Ask them to compare and contrast the first poem with the second one, the second one with the third one, and finally, the first poem with the last poem. Did Earhart's feelings about flying and her reasons for flying seem to change as time went on? If so, why do you think that her feelings changed? (Possible answers vary, but might include: Earhart was facing increasing pressure to pull more publicity stunts, she was too busy to practice or enjoy flying anymore, she began to realize the risks of flying were more serious as she got older, etc.)

Culminating Activity
Using Amelia Earhart's life and poetry as an example, this activity will encourage students to think of an exciting and risky experience that they have had, and write a piece of poetry on the subject. Remind the students that flying was both a thrilling and challenging occupation for Amelia Earhart. As we learned from her poems, Earhart had various feelings about flying that ranged from excitement to dreadful awe. Ask the students to brainstorm experiences that they have had that were exciting and risky. Students write down their ideas on a sheet of notebook paper. Here are some questions to guide them along:

  • What was the experience?
  • What made it exciting?
  • What made it risky?
  • What kinds of feelings did this experience evoke?

Tell the students that today they will write their own piece of poetry on one of the experiences that they have just brainstormed. Show students some examples of different forms of poetry, including free verse, rhyming poetry, etc. Encourage the students to pick the form of poetry to write with which they are most comfortable. Show an example of a poem written on one of the teacher's own challenging/exciting experiences.

Have the students begin writing a draft of their poem on a clean sheet of notebook paper. Monitor the students periodically to answer any questions or give support. When the students are finished with their draft, they may get together with a partner to read each other's poem and offer any editorial suggestions.

Have the students re-write their revised poem, and then have volunteers read their poetry to the class. Encourage class members to be supportive and positive towards every poem that is read - explain that it is sometimes difficult for people to share what they have written because they are afraid of criticism

Review with the students the social and political climate of 1910-1930s as well as the key points in Amelia Earhart's life. Highlight the courage that was necessary to take up flying as a hobby during the 1920s and 1930s, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field. Discuss how writing about her experiences may have helped Earhart express her feelings about flying and deal with the pressures and nervousness about being in the spotlight. Also discuss how writing about the students' own exciting and risky experiences helped them process their feelings.


    After students have completed their stories explaining their views of what happened to Amelia Earhart in her last days, have them write develop their stories into a play. Have a small group of students act out the play for the class.
    Have students research the architectural design of early airplanes, and compare/contrast these designs with modern day aviation. What changes have been made in the design of planes that make them more aerodynamic? What changes have been made in the cabin of airplanes to make them more comfortable for modern day travelers? After their research, the students can write a report, complete with illustrations, and present the report in small groups.
    Have the students draw a visual representation of one of Amelia Earhart's poems in the form of a picture book or as a single picture. Bind the pictures into a book and display it in the classroom.

Community Connections

  • Invite some of the elders from your community who remember Amelia Earhart to come into your class and share some of their memories. Students may also bring their grandparents or great-grandparents, if possible. Organize several student-lead committees to come up with questions to ask the elders, to set up the room for the visit, to bring refreshments, and to share what they have learned through the lesson plan.
  • Visit an air and space museum, if there is one nearby. Ask a guide to lead the class through various models of airplanes, and to discuss how these models have changed over the past century. Provide a worksheet for students to fill out and take notes on.
  • For parent conferences or a back to school night, have your students design and construct a bulletin board on women pioneers, from aviation to chemistry to education.

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