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Lesson Plan

Avoiding Sexist Language by Using Gender-Fair Pronouns

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Avoiding Sexist Language by Using Gender-Fair Pronouns

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Two 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



This lesson plan engages students in a brief writing assignment that concretely illustrates how language and gender stereotyping interact causally. Students write a response to a short prompt which includes no information about the participants' gender. Once the writing is complete, students and teacher analyze the narratives for the use of pronouns and what the pronoun choices reveal about language use.

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In-Class Narrative Writing Assignment: This writing prompt asks students to write a story using specific characters (doctor, judge, nurse), using clear pronouns.

Student Ascriptions of Gender Table: Use this table to analyze the genders students assigned to various characters in their narrative writing assignment.

Purdue OWL: Using Appropriate Language: This resource offers guidelines and tips for avoiding bias and stereotype in language.

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As we use language to communicate with one another, we also reveal much about the ways that we think and view; for what we know is revealed in the ways that we talk about the world around us. In his article on epistemic teaching methods, Kenneth Dowst explains: "(1)[W]e do not know the world immediately; rather we compose our knowledge by composing language; (2) how we can act depends on what we know, hence on the language with which we make sense of the world; (3) serious experimenting in composing with words is experimenting in knowing new ways, perhaps better ways. (70)"

By writing and examining a short narrative in this activity, students demonstrate their own assumptions and ways of thinking and how their language use reveals those assumptions. After a discussion of this writing assignment, more students understand why gender-fair pronoun use is encouraged.

Further Reading

This lesson is adapted from: Hayes, Christopher G. "A Brief Writing Assignment for Introducing Non-Sexist Pronoun Usage," Teaching English in the Two-Year College 28.1 (September 2000): 74-77.


Dowst, Kenneth. 1980. "The Epistemic Approach: Writing, Knowing, and Learning." Eight Approaches to Teaching Composition, pp. 65-85. Ed. Timothy R. Donovan and Ben W. McClelland. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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