Pronoun Lesson - A New Way to Say "They"

An inclusive English presentation structured to teach students how to use the genderless pronoun "they" in situations where gendered pronouns may not work.

Hello all!

I created this lesson for those who want to introduce the idea of non-binary pronouns in the classroom.

Pronouns are extremely important to the English language as it's a way of marking a person's identity, and language has shifted in recent years to be more inclusive of those with differing identities, ie those who do not identify on the binary system. This concept may be confusing at first for students, but hopefully with the simplicity of this lesson, we can show how "they" can be used to identify people who a.) do not identify on the binary system and b.) people who we cannot identify at first glance if they are male or female. This lesson also gives examples on how "they" is traditionally used to identify a group of people.

This lesson is not meant to be a lecture on LGBTQ+ identities; rather, it is an English lesson structured around how we can refer to those who relate to such identities in an inclusive way without erasing who they self-identify as. The focus here is on the grammar, and the varying ways we can use the singular "they". I've opted to leave out Neopronouns such as xe/xer because I want to keep the concept familiar to students.

There are many trans and non-binary people both in the Western world and in Japan; just because they're in the minority, doesn't mean they are not to be respected. This lesson is meant to normalize and utilize such grammar so that we can better refer to our students and they can refer to each other in accurate and inclusive ways.

Thanks guys!

Medium files (requires an account to download) -
  • A New Way to use They.pptx (1.03 MB)
  • 61
    Submitted by robertsbp May 8, 2023 Estimated time: 10-15 minutes
    1. Bonjure289 May 8, 2023

      Thank you very much for this! It is simple, and easy to understand while still keeping it useful for English class! Probably a little difficult English for elementary school, so I do not think I would be using it, but if I was teaching higher levels absolutely (and of course if it was approved, would make sure beforehand).

    2. Bonjure289 May 8, 2023

      Oh! You are the person who made Mewo! Have you also designed and made these characters? They are super cute!

    3. robertsbp May 8, 2023

      @Bonjure238 Thanks! Yeah, I'm the person who made Mewo! Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed that activity! :D

      These characters I didn't make myself, unfortunately, I found them online on a public domain site, but I did edit their faces and outfits to have a wider range of characters for the sake of the presentation!

      And you're right about it being too difficult for Elementary; I've gone ahead and removed that tag. Thanks for the feedback! :D

    4. Bonjure289 May 8, 2023

      I mean even editing them is way beyond my abilities haha, so amazing job!

    5. lsuna May 8, 2023

      This is amazing! I love it

    6. Fernand May 8, 2023

      Thank you for your hard work. However, I feel that we shouldn't teach this. In for native speakers it might be important, but we need to consider the fact that in Japanese, they don't use pronouns. It is already hard for them to learn the pronouns for binaries, so imagine how hard for them can be to learn the pronouns as for no binaries. 1/2

    7. Fernand May 8, 2023

      2/2 Let's touch the ground. Are they going to talk in regular basis with an English native speaker? I doubt a Japanese student will ask a person: what pronoun should I use in order to refer to you. Especially, because when you are talking to a person, you just use the pronoun "you". I really think we shouldn't swim in these waters.

    8. ashizurimisakimajo May 8, 2023

      Very clean and simple and easy to understand! Love it!

    9. robertsbp May 8, 2023

      @Fernand Thanks for your feedback! As with the other activity, if you don't agree or if you don't want to teach it, then don't. I just wanted to provide an option for those who may want to explore this topic with their students. The truth is, the English language is changing, and a student might encounter an English speaker or ALT (there are plenty of trans ALTs) whose pronouns may not line up with what students may have expected. In that case, this lesson may be very useful. :D

    10. Nordmagie May 8, 2023

      Yes! I'm glad you made this activity to counter balance the other one. I wanted to do something similar, but your artwork is always so welcome. Glad to see openness and inclusiveness ^^! Thanks again!

    11. Nordmagie May 8, 2023

      Oh just one thing. Last slide you wrote "prounouns" instead of "pronouns" XD

    12. robertsbp May 9, 2023

      Just fixed, thank you! :]

    13. KobeALT May 9, 2023

      This is a really good resource, and it would definitely be applicable to everyday English from JHS upwards! I like the characters that you used. This promotes a safe environment for ALL of the kids too.

      Even in elementary school, when my kids are writing about their heroes, they struggle to put an identity on genderless characters (like Pokemon or something). Although I would say that it's too grammatically complicated to introduce at that stage, it's definitely our place as the ALT to be like "Hey, there is an English solution to this kiddo, but you will do more about it later".

    14. AndrewL May 9, 2023

      @Fernand Actually, when I was teaching a lesson on "he/she" pronouns to my students, one of them raised their hand and specifically asked what they could use in a situation where the other person was neither a boy or a girl. The simple concept of a non-gendered singular pronoun is not too complicated for students, and it's actually really important for them to learn if they want to understand English. I told them if they didn't know the gender of the person being talked about, or if the person didn't use male or female pronouns they could just use "they". That's not a controversial position, it's just basic English grammar and you should be able to answer that sort of question without making it a debate about social issues.

    15. Fernand May 9, 2023

      @robertsbp you are exactly right. Students might encounter a transgender ALT. However, they will use "you". "How are you?" "Do you play @@@?" "Have you ever eaten @@@?". In what situation are they going to use the pronoun "They" for a transgender ALT? Unless you are saying that "you" is an NG pronoun. Is that the issue here?

    16. cto562 May 9, 2023

      @KobeALT this is a great point! I love the basketball cat from irasutoya and pointing out that students can use the they/them pronoun for that image (e.g. They are playing basketball).

    17. chibaleon May 9, 2023

      It’s extremely common for people in the English speaking world to ask for pronouns, especially in educational or professional settings, so this is super useful! Appreciate the cute little avatars for the nonbinary student as well.

    18. Bonjure289 May 9, 2023

      @Fernand Even in elementary school, I get the students to talk about others. For example, there is a "my hero" unit, where they introduce someone they admire by using "she/he/they is/are strong/funny/cool etc." So yeah.. they absolutely would be using pronouns. And sometimes they do choose the ALT as their hero ;p

    19. Fernand May 10, 2023

      @bonjure289 that's exactly right. They do that unit in JHS as well. The fact is that they are going to talk about some else who is not going to be present in class. They can perfectly say he or she, and the "hero" will never be offended 'cause they are not in class. In fact, they can say things like: "My hero is a transgender person. He/she wants to be treated as @@@." Very simple, right? No need to confuse anyone.

    20. KaterinaSenior May 10, 2023

      This is a good idea, but I would refrain from calling it a new way to use they... Singular "they" has existed for a very long time, such as "Someone's left their wallet here. I hope they come back for it." or "If a student forgets their textbook, they must tell the teacher."

      It might not be often we use singular they in casual speech, but it's been linguistically correct for a very long time, and calling it new makes it easier for people to dismiss or question. You touch on unknown gender, but it might be good to mention that it can also be used to avoid saying he/she like in my student example.

    21. Nordmagie May 10, 2023

      @Katerina Senior I'm not the author of the pptx, but I read this "new" more like a new way for the students to use "They", since they only learn it as plural up until then. But I get how ambiguous it can be... Might be better to say "another way to use they", but it's maybe more interesting to put "new" especially with learners of a second language still at a beginner level. New as in "here's some new information for you".

    22. KaterinaSenior May 10, 2023

      @nordmagpie, That's a good point. My interpretation of the use of the word "new" partially came from the talk of shifting language. Either way, I still think it would be good to touch on how it can encompass a "he or she" situation as well as non-binary and unknown... Theoretical? They can be used for a theoretical individual? Not sure if there's a better word for that scenario.

    23. robertsbp May 10, 2023

      @Nordmagie @KaterinaSenior That was exactly what I was going for! I understand that "they" as a single pronoun has been around for a while, but I decided to title it that way because 1) the information would likely be new to the students and 2) the title is just a bit snappier that way. But I do appreciate the feedback, thank you!

    24. flashpoint May 12, 2023

      Great powerpoint! It's simple and can fit into any larger lesson. I see multiple people saying it's not our place to teach this stuff but tbh I have had several students who have seemed to be battling with gender dysmorphia and they always seem to appreciate when I take the time to explain non-gendered pronouns. Teaching students to be sympathetic towards others who might be a little different may not be in our literal job description but it is sort of why we are here as foreigners teaching English. Keep up the good work!

    25. Sean1112 May 15, 2023

      @flashpoint that's a great point!

    26. ToddC May 16, 2023

      I looked this activity over and I agree that as an ALT we can add it to the list of topics we shouldn't touch. Whoever created this did a nice job and I don't think it is presented in an indoctrinating way, albeit for the "what are your pronouns?" part. Remember there are counselors and psychologists available to the students at school. Let's stick to teaching with the textbook and be a professional ALT. If you meet someone who has issues with pronouns, you can always refer to them by their name.

    27. robertsbp May 17, 2023

      @ToddC This lesson is meant to be an example on how the singular "they" can be used in cases where a person doesn't identify as a boy or girl, or in the case where you are unsure if he or she would work (you can't immediately identify them.) This is how our language works. It isn't difficult to change a single word when correctly identifying someone.

      I fail to see what you mean by the pronouns question being "indoctrinating" and how this lesson isn't "professional." Part of our jobs as ALTs is yes, teaching grammar, but teaching culture as well. Could you elaborate?

    28. KobeALT May 17, 2023

      @ToddC It isn't indoctrinating. My kids just wanna say their hero is Gudetama or something.

    29. DannySchild May 18, 2023

      I feel like this can be a really sensitive topic for people. Although, I feel like we shouldn't complicate the language even further for people who just started on their journey of language learning. Although many people will agree with the fact that there are multiple genders. There are always people who don't. Which makes this more of a social lesson than an English focused lesson in my opinion.

      I think for us ALT's it's more important to teach what counts for more people. Just to make it less confusing. Now if you want to do this lesson. I would advice to discuss it with your teachers and their views upon this topic.

    30. sophie May 18, 2023

      This is a great presentation! It's not too long, uses characters that the students can relate to, and seems easy to understand. I think it's a very nice and light way to approach a topic that I've been wanting to try to teach for a while, especially since I use they/them pronouns and have kind of just been stomaching everyone calling me she\her. Thanks for making it!

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