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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


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • explore the ways that language and gender stereotyping interact.

  • experiment with ways of using language to create gender-fair texts.

  • reflect on their own language practices and what those practices reveal about their understanding of gender roles and language.

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Session One

  1. Introduce the writing assignment by discussing the basic characteristics of narrative writing. This Narrative Writing resource provides a list of prewriting decisions that you can use to introduce the activity, or you can rely on information in your class textbook.

  2. Give students the In-Class Narrative Writing Assignment. Depending upon your students, you may allow them to complete the writing at home; however, having them complete the task in class is more likely to result in students' initial, uncensored responses to the scenario described in the prompt.

  3. Allow students the remainder of the class period to write. Serve as the timekeeper, letting students know as the end of class is approaching.

  4. Collect all of the papers at the end of the session.

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Session Two

  1. BEFORE beginning the next class session, read through the students' papers. Your purpose is not so much to "correct" them for pronoun-antecedent agreement errors as to see how students' choices of pronouns (or names) identify the gender of each character in the narrative.
  2. Choose passages from a couple of papers to share with the class.

  3. Optionally, you can prepare a table compiling the gender distribution represented in the narratives. Either make copies of the table to distribute to students or make an overhead of the table to share with them.

  4. Start the class by reading one or two passages from students' narratives that employ pronouns that reflect gendered roles. Ask students to visualize the characters from the story as you read.

  5. Once you've finished reading, note details from students visualizations on the board or on chart paper, grouped by the character (e.g., judge, police officer).

  6. Share the Student Ascriptions of Gender Table for groups of students who completed the assignment in 1987 and 1997. Ask students to identify biased job roles represented on the chart.

  7. Compare the information on the chart with the assumptions revealed on the lists on the board. Invite student discussion of the gender assumptions that the numbers on the chart and on the board reveal.

  8. Turn to the way that language has shaped these assumptions, what the choice of "he" rather than "she" communicates about our ways of thinking about the world around us. Distribute information on the use of gender-fair language such as the handout from Purdue OWL: Using Appropriate Language, or point students' attention to similar information in their texts.

  9. Return students' in-class writings. For homework, ask them to read their narrative and write a reflective piece that explores how their use of pronouns reveals their assumptions about others. The general question for their reflection is this: What do you notice now about the language that you used in your narrative that you didn't notice when you originally wrote it, and how does your use of pronouns play a role in what you notice? The piece should be informal. Students' self-reflection is the primary goal.

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This assignment offers an opportunity for students to voice their perspectives on sexist usage and gender equality. Feedback on the activity should focus on students' self-reflection rather than "right" or "wrong" choices that they may make with their pronouns.

After the second class session, collect students' original in-class narratives and accompanying self-reflections. Read the pieces and comment on the self-reflections, noting important self-observations that students make and asking provoking questions where they need to think more deeply.

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