3 reasons to acknowledge Gender Issues in the EFL classroom

 In Behaviour, Teacher Training

With the #MeToo movement, gender issues and (in)equality have become a hot topic, so it’s only natural that this should spill into our EFL classroom. But why should we acknowledge it?

  • How is gender related to my learners’ needs?

Why is Alice so reluctant to come to class in the evenings in winter?  You might jump the gun and think that she really doesn’t like the cold weather, but what if it’s because she’s concerned for her safety? And Zahra might be missing classes because she is restricted by her many domestic and care-taking responsibilities, not because she lacks motivation. You may argue that these constraints are out of the EFL teacher’s hands, and you’d be right, but when aware of Alice and Zahra’s plights, our capacity to help them becomes stronger.

  • How does gender change my T-S/Ss interaction?

Here’s some food for thought:

Do you pay attention to everyone equally? According to the AAUW (American Association of University Women) in 1992 they found that boys were paid more attention than girls in the classroom. Is this behaviour now outdated or is it still prevalent in most classrooms… and in yours?

How many times have you divided the class into ‘the Boys/Men/Gentlemen group’ and ‘the Girls/Women/Ladies group’ or worse, one vs the other? But what about the transgender / transsexual / intersex / gender neutral / gender fluid students? What assumptions are you making and how comfortable do these make your students?

We need to consider these behaviours when thinking about our interaction with the students. We may think we are using gender-neutral terms and have gender-neutral responses, but are we? Having a colleague observe you or videoing yourself so you can better reflect on your interaction might be something to try.


  • How can I help tackle gender issues in my classroom?

Some of us are lucky enough to have classes with diverse linguistic and cultural worlds, and this can be used to engage students in an ‘Alternative World’ (Norton and Pavlenko, 2004) where they can explore powerful topics such as gender issues while still acknowledging their background. Those of us who do not have such diversity, can still engage students in critical reflection by dealing with gender issues in project work, or example. And since grammar is still so very important to most of us, this engagement can still have a grammatical focus: Nelson (2004) gives an example of how one teacher used an ambiguous picture of two women to explore gay and lesbian cultural practices while providing the students with ample practise of the use of modal auxiliaries for speculation!


THE AAUW REPORT, How Schools Shortchange Girls, Executive Summary for The American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, 1992

Nelson, C. (2004). Beyond straight grammar: Using lesbian/gay themes to explore cultural meanings. In B. Norton & A. Pavlenko (Eds.), Gender and English language learners (pp. 15-28). Alexandria, VA: TESOL

Norton & Pavlenko, Addressing Gender in the ESL/EFL Classroom, TESOL Quarterly, Vol 38, No. 3, Gender and Language Education (Autumn 2004) (pp. 504-514). Alexandria, VA: TESOL


Want to find out more?  https://www.ihlisbon.org/teacher-training/celta/

Author – Alex Costa

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