Teaching About Gender Inclusive Pronouns

Introduction

Gender pronouns are words used for a person in place of their proper name. The pronouns he/him/his and she/her/hers are examples of gender pronouns, but some people feel limited by these pronouns and the certain set of expectations that are associated with them. Gender-neutral or gender inclusive pronouns, such as they/them, do not assume the gender of a person and can be used for people who do not identify as either male or female or in a situation where a person’s gender is unknown. Those who have a gender identity that is non-binary, including people who are transgender and gender noncomforming, may use gender-neutral pronouns because the conventional gender pronouns assign them a binary identity that does not fit their authentic self. Using the correct pronouns for a person is a way of respecting that person’s gender identity and forming an inclusive environment. Therefore, it is important to ask a person what their pronouns are and when and how to use them instead of making assumptions. Teaching about gender and gender-neutral pronouns is important because all people deserve respect and to work, learn, and ultimately live in a safe and inclusive environment!

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about gender and gender-neutral pronouns. For educators who want to teach their students more about issues related to gender, U4SC offers Teaching About Gender Identity and Teaching About LGBTQ+ Pride and History (Month).

Lesson Plans

  1. Gender Diversity and Pronouns: University of Michigan has created a resource guide on gender diversity and pronouns for teachers who want to become more inclusive. This resource contains three sections: Why Pronouns Matter, Making Mistakes, and Making Your Classroom More Inclusive of Trans Students. From this guide, teachers will understand the importance of respecting their students’ gender identities, familiarize themselves with trans-inclusive language, and learn how to create a safe and inclusive environment for all of their students, no matter their gender identity.
  2. They She He Me – Free to Be! – Understanding Pronouns: Welcoming Schools provides a lesson plan for students in grades 2-5 on understanding pronouns using They She He Me: Free To Be! by Maya Gonzalex and Matthew SG. In this lesson, students will explore pronouns through discussion of literature and art and learn to embrace differences in the classroom! The lesson includes goals, objectives, educators’ notes, materials, notes for before reading They She He Me to students, directions for each session, extension activities, assessment and evaluation, and additional resources. (For the lesson, teachers will need their own copy of the novel to read aloud to students!)

Articles

For Educators

  1. Let’s Get It Right – Using Correct Pronouns and Names: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides an article on using correct pronouns and names. The article starts off by introducing the concepts of gender, pronouns, and names. Then, the article goes on to explain a few strategies for supporting and respecting students, including a student interest survey, modeling inclusivity, one-on-one conversations with students, discussion starters, and confidentiality. There is a list of pronouns and ADL related resources for additional support!
  2. Inclusive Teaching – Gender Pronouns and Teaching: The College of DuPage Library offers an overview on pronouns and gender pronouns and strategies to be inclusive with gender pronouns in teaching. It also explains what teachers should do if they accidentally use the wrong pronoun and make a mistake with a student.
  3. Pronouns – A Guide from GLSEN: GLSEN has put together a pronoun guide to help students and teachers alike learn how to use people’s correct pronouns. The guide covers what pronouns are, why there is a focus on pronouns, how this is more inclusive, what if people don’t want to share their pronouns, mistakes and misgendering, what happened to the term “preferred gender pronoun,” making support visible, and tips for gender-neutral language.
  4. Respecting Pronouns in the Classroom: Penn GSE has created an educator’s playbook on respecting pronouns in the classroom. In this article, Erin Cross, the Director of Penn’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Center and a Penn GSE lecturer, and Amy Hillier, a professor at Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice, offers ideas to get teachers thinking. They suggest that teachers should be inclusive and personal, use “they/them/their,” be a model for their students, be prepared to make a mistake—and to apologize, use a form to give students more privacy, etc.
  5. 5 Myths About Teaching Personal Pronouns Debunked: We Are Teachers debunks 5 myths about teaching personal pronouns in this article. These myths include that pronouns are only for older students, it is too hard to integrate pronouns/identity into curriculum, the singular “they” isn’t grammatically correct, students will get confused, and “I don’t have LGBTQ+ students in my class, so I don’t need to teach identity or pronouns.” For educators who are having some doubts about the importance of integrating personal pronouns into their curriculum, this article will do a good job of erasing them!
  6. Trans Inclusive Practices in the Classroom: NYU offers an article about trans inclusive practices in the classroom. The article provides important terminology and discusses cultivating more trans and non-binary inclusive classroom settings by setting the tone for your classroom around pronouns and gender inclusive language, asking for pronouns in the classroom, and adding LGBTQ+ content, perspectives, writers, researchers, etc. into the curriculum.

 

For Educators and Students

  1. Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Time offers an article discussing everything people want to know about gender-neutral pronouns. In this article, Jacob Tobia⁠—the author, genderqueer advocate, and media personality who uses gender-neutral pronouns—and Nick Adams—the director of GLAAD’s transgender media program—give information on what gender-neutral pronouns are and tips and pointers on how to use them correctly. For educators who want a resource that answers all of their students’ questions on gender-neutral pronouns, this is a great place to start!
  2. She? Ze? They? What’s In a Gender Pronoun: The New York Times published this article just after the American Dialect Society officially anointed “they” as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun for those who do not identify as male or female or when a person’s gender is unknown. The article explains the singular “they” and other gender-neutral pronouns, such as “ze” and “xe.”
  3. A Guide To Gender Identity Terms: npr has put together a guide to gender identity terms. This guide not only includes a glossary of gender identity terms but also contains a question and answer section on pronouns. This section covers the role of pronouns in acknowledging someone’s gender identity, the right way to find out a person’s pronouns, whether people should be asking everyone their pronouns or if it depends on the setting, how “they” is used as a singular pronoun, what it means if a person uses the pronouns “he/they” or “she/they,” and more!
  4. How to Get People’s Pronouns Right and What to Do If You Slip Up: CNN offers an article on how to get people’s pronouns right and what to do if you slip up. This article gives a quick grammar refresher and discusses why it matters what pronouns you use for someone, how language is constantly evolving, where to start in order to be respectful while using pronouns, how to start normalizing the sharing of your own pronouns, and what to do if you slip up.
  5. Gender-Neutral Pronouns Make Headlines: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) provides a piece on gender neutral pronouns making headlines as a part of their Table Talk: Family Conversations about Current Events series. It discusses Merriam-Webster adding ‘they’ as a singular pronoun, Pew Research offering a new survey on the use of gender-neutral pronouns, Sam Smith announcing their use of they/them on Instagram, questions to start the conversation and dig deeper with kids ages 10 and up, and how people can take action and make a difference!

 

Current News

There have been several instances where clashes over gender pronouns or new ways that institutions are becoming more inclusive have been in the media. The articles below will give students and educators a better understanding of how various people and institutions are responding to using different gender pronouns!

  1. ‘This Isn’t Just About a Pronoun.’ Teachers and Trans Students Are Clashing Over Whose Rights Come First
  2. Gender Pronouns Can Be Tricky on Campus. Harvard Is Making Them Stick.
  3. A Virginia Teacher Was Put On Leave After Opposing New Rights For Trans Students.

 

Opinions

  1. The Problem With Pronouns: Inside Higher ED provides a piece from Rachel N. Levin in which she explains why her experience in the classroom has led her to believe that asking everyone their preferred personal pronoun is not a good idea. She explains her experiences with two separate students who were still figuring out their gender identities and therefore their preferred pronouns, so her question about their pronouns actually caused more harm than good in the situations. From there on, Levin has not singled out students on the first day of class in order to prevent them from being uncomfortable. Instead, she emails them individually to give them names of required textbooks and information about the class and also asks them to communicate with her if they want her to be sure she has the correct name and/or pronoun for the first day the class meets. She also tries to include a discussion on pronouns, privacy, and not making assumptions about anyone’s identity on the first day of class. This piece is, of course, an opinion and may be some good food for thought for educators and students as they develop their own ideas about how to best create an inclusive environment in the classroom.

Informational Sites

  1. Gender Pronouns & Singular “They”: Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) offers information on gender pronouns and the singular “they.” This page explains what a pronoun is and why people use different ones, what gender inclusive language is and what it has to do with OWL, some things to keep in mind when using gender-inclusive pronouns, and why we should use this kind of language.
  2. What To Know About Gender Pronouns: Medical News Today offers an article on what to know about gender pronouns. This article discusses what pronouns are, why they are important, how to be inclusive and respectful, some common gender pronouns, and what to do if you use the wrong pronouns by mistake, and general do’s and don’ts when using pronouns.
  3. LGBTQ+ Resource Center – Gender Pronouns: The LGBTQ+ Resource Center from the University of Wisconsin-Mikwaukee has put together a resource on gender pronouns, which includes frequently asked questions, a how-to guide to pronouns, gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns, and a history of gender inclusive pronouns.
  4. Springfield College – Gender Pronouns: Springfield College provides an article on gender pronouns. This informational article explains what a pronoun is, why they are important, how to be inclusive in using and respecting gender pronouns, what to do if you mistakenly use the wrong pronouns for someone, and pronoun do’s and don’ts. It also includes both a pronoun table and table of gender-inclusive terms to use in place of common gendered nouns!
  5. Understanding Pronouns: The LGBT Life Center offers an article of information on understanding pronouns that covers what a pronoun is, why pronouns matter, some common terms used when talking about the LGBTQ+ community, the most commonly used pronouns, and what to do if you make a mistake with pronouns.
  6. A Guide to Pronouns for Allies: The LGBTQIA Resource Center at UC Davis has created a guide to pronouns for allies. This guide covers understanding pronouns, they/them/theirs, sharing your pronouns, and asking someone their pronouns.
  7. FORGE – Gender Neutral Pronouns: FORGE provides a basic chart to traditional and gender neutral pronouns, which includes pronunciations and conjugations.

Conclusion

Teaching about gender and gender-neutral pronouns is very important for respecting people of all gender identities. While teaching about this topic, educators should emphasize to students that mistakes are inevitable, but we should always apologize and take accountability when we do wrong and use the wrong pronouns to refer to someone. Again, students can never hear enough that they should avoid assuming someone’s pronouns!

Additional Resources

  1. Gender Identity and Pronouns – Onlea – What Will You Teach the World?: Onlea has created a video about gender identity and how to use pronouns correctly. This video discusses sex vs. gender identity, cisgender vs. transgender, pronouns, how people who are transgender and gender non-binary may use pronouns, misgendering, what to do if you make a mistakes with pronouns, and the importance of pronouns. 

Newsletter

Newsletter

Facebook Group