Empowered Barbie

By anna rusbosin, January 11, 2010

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Other

Subject Area

  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

260 to 300 minutes for classroom activities and 60 to 90 minutes for homework


This is the final project for the women’s studies unit on childhood.  Students will have already studied child development, from the psychological perspective, and students will have background knowledge on feminism and gender issues in childhood.

The final project is a Barbie redesign where students have to rework a Barbie, its packaging, its outfit, its theme, to make it more empowering and positive for girls.  Students will work in groups of two to three.

National Standards


Standard 6. Levels III and IV. Understands that culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions

3. Knows the ways in which culture influences the perception of places and regions (e.g., religion and other belief systems, language and tradition; perceptions of "beautiful" or "valuable")

2. Understands how individuals view places and regions on the basis of their stage of life, sex, social class, ethnicity, values, and belief systems (e.g., perceptions of distance, impressions about what makes a place secure, views of public housing or wealthy urban neighborhoods)

Career Education: Arts and Communication

Standard 2. Level IV. Knows and applies appropriate criteria to arts and communication products

3. Knows ways in which to evaluate the sincerity and credibility of various media messages and productions (e.g., detect gender and ethnic bias; compare print and non-print versions of the same story, assess facts of news media for completeness, bias, accuracy and relevance; detect emotional appeals and propaganda devices; evaluating ad campaigns for various products)

World History

Standard 44. Level IV. Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world

12. Understands gender roles across the globe (e.g., conflicts in the perception of gender roles in various religions, especially the role of women; how the legal status of women varies around the world in Muslim societies, and how the status of women from different classes has changed in the past century)

Behavioral Studies

Standard 4. Level IV. Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions< o:p>

11. Understands that mass media, migrations, and conquest affect social change by exposing one culture to another, and that extensive borrowing among cultures has led to the virtual disappearance of some cultures but only modest change in others

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

 Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will be able to:

  • analyze theories of gender development using specific examples
  • use play theories to discuss how children learn gendered behavior
  • identify specific gender stereotypes
  • evaluate theories of gender development
  • create a toy that does not conform to gender stereotypes


textbook: Half the Human Experience 7th Ed. Janet Shibley Hyde

LCD projector and speakers for PP on body image and Barbie commercials


  • five to six basic Barbie dolls
  • scissors
  • scrap material
  • needles
  • paper
  • glue
  • staplers
  • markers
  • other various craft tools as needed


Students will already have been quizzed on the vocabulary for the unit including feminism, psychoanalytic theory, social learning, cognitive development, and gender schema.


(Note: Students will work in groups of two to three.)

Review the Challenge: (55 minutes)

1. Students are required to recreate a Barbie doll (the most basic one available).  Their only limit is that the new Barbie must be a positive, empowering Barbie. In this stage, there is a lecture on Barbies and body image in girls.  Students watch various Barbie commercials from 1959-2009 on Youtube.

Investigate the Problem: (45 minutes)

1. Students will have read articles on Barbie and dolls and the development of gender roles. They will look at alternative Barbies and think about their own experiences with dolls and how to make them better.

2. Students will write a reflection on body image and Barbie dolls.

Frame/Reframe the Problem: (30 minutes)

1. Students will identify the traditional gender roles that Barbie reinforces and identify what they most want to change about the doll.

2. Based on their research, students will write a reflection that frames the problem, specifically, “What is it that is so objectionable about Barbie?”

Brainstorm: (15 minutes)

1. Brainstorm ideas on how to create a more positive Barbie. In this stage, students will record possible alternatives to the traditional Barbie doll.

Edit Ideas: (20 minutes)

1. Students will finalize design ideas for their Barbies and start creating the final draft.  Remind students of time and materials constraints.  In this stage, students are sketching ideas but not making any permanent changes to their Barbie dolls. In this stage, students will note what materials they need to provide for their Barbie redesign.

Share and Evaluate : (30 minutes)

1. Students will do a tuning protocol with one other group to give and receive feedback.

Finalize the Solution: (75-100 minutes)

1. Students will work with their Barbie to create final draft of the redesigned Barbie and packaging. Students will have a limited amount of materials in class, but can take the Barbie home or bring in their own materials for the next class.

Articulate the Solution: (45 minutes)

1. Students’ Barbies will be on display at the Spring Art Show.  Accompanying the Barbies will be a short one paragraph description of the redesign, justifying the changes made to the doll.


Students will assess each other’s Barbie dolls in a gallery walk, and fill out the rubric for each group.  Students will also assess each other within the groups.  There will be check-ins with each group and the instructor.

Each group also has to back up their Barbie design with a written paragraph justifying their changes. 

Enrichment Extension Activities

This could be expanded into the next unit on adolescence issues, in which the students do surveys on the student population. Students could focus on experiences with dolls and body image and try to make connections.
  1. I think this is a very interesting lesson and has the potential to be incredibly thought provoking for the students, both male and female. The suggestions I would make are prior to beginning the lesson, have the students interview 2 women and 1 man in their life about their perceptions of the Barbie doll for homework. I would also, if possible, bring in various barbie dolls and have the students examine them at the start of class. They would then chose one doll (assuming they are numbered or labeled) and create a story based off of their visual analysis. This could serve as the warm up for the class and then provide the opportunity for the students to share in groups.

    Such a cool idea! I see it being applicable in multiple classes!

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