Authored By - Samantha Worth

clipartteacher.jpg Promoting Inclusive Language in your Classroom

1.) Introduction

Many school boards and educators are pushing to have a more inclusive classroom, which is a great idea. It promotes social diversity and allows students to learn about other nationalities, abilities, and the world around them. As much as we push for an inclusive classroom, we must also introduce inclusive language. Inclusive language is something that is becoming much more important in our society today, as teachers we need to be educating our students about inclusive language so they may continue to use it throughout their lives and become more fluent. The following will present ideas on how incorporate inclusive language in your classroom.

Inclusive language is defined as language that avoids the certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people.Including gender neutral, abilities and race. So, why is inclusive language important in our classrooms today? The first answer that would cross my mind is that if you are teaching in a class with both male and female students, as a teacher, you should not be addressing the students all as one specific gender. For example when trying to get the attention of your class you should not use the term "guys" which is directed toward the male population specifically.

There are several different categories to include when discussing inclusive language including race, religion, gender, and ability.

2.) Inclusive Language and Race

In today's classrooms teachers are going to have several children, not all of which will share the same race. The following are some ideas on how the teacher can use inclusive language.

  1. Avoid generalizations based in race or ethnicity. Do not assume that a person's appearance defines their nationality or cultural background.
  2. Avoid vocabulary that extends negative racial, cultural or ethnic connotations and avoid usage that carriers hierarchical valuation or portrays groups of people as "inferior," "bad," "criminal", or less valued than others.
  3. Mention of the race or nationality of an individual should be made only when it is necessary or important to the sense of the material. When race or nationality must be cited, it should be done in a non-pejorative way. No one should be presented as "typical" of his or her ethnic group.
  4. Be conscious of norms which can limit a person's aspirations and self-concepts. Think what it would do to a black child to be bombarded with images of white as beautiful or clean or pure or virtuous and black as dirty and menacing. It is equally unproductive to create guilt in the mind of the socially-concerned white middle-class youth by insisting that he or she is "one of the oppressors" or "the focus of evil."

There seems to be more options for choosing literature that deals with multi ethnic characters. Because our schools today have such diversity it seems there has been more effort to incorporate learning materials that do not focus on one race in particular. Giving the students the chance to learn about different nationalities and races.
Many of the strategies found to help people use inclusive language are found as guidelines on different web pages created for Universities or companies as a way to have employees use this type of language in a professional setting. A website I found extremely helpful when trying to find examples of inclusive language and race was the Inclusive Language Guideline for the University of New Castle in Australia.
New Castle Guidelines to Inclusive Language

3.) Inclusive Language and Gender

We live in a much more modern society than perhaps our parents or grandparents lived in which means we need to begin using more modern language and not referring to all humans as man. Although MAN in its original sense carried the dual meaning of adult human and adult male, its meaning has come to be so closely identified with adult male that the generic use of MAN and other words with masculine markers should be avoided.

There are several words that have 'man' in them which supposedly means "human" however to some people this may be offensive, so there are alternative words to use to create a more neutral language.
  • mankind -- humanityinclusivelang.jpeg
  • salesman -- salesperson
  • sportsmanship -- fair play or sportspersonship
  • steward and stewardess -- flight attendant

Using language that is gender neutral does not give students the impression that men tend to have more power than women. This way we have a more equal society.

4.) Inclusive Language and Exceptionalities

When talking about an individual with disability it is very important to make sure you put the person before the disability. The person should not be labeled because of their disability. There are no disabled people, but people with a disability. In our Ontario schools such individuals or students can be described as students with exceptionalities.
Phrases such as "suffers from", "stricken with" or "victim of" should not be used. People with disabilities do not necessarily suffer, nor do they wish to be seen as victims.
Inclusion in the classroom plays a very large part when trying to promote inclusive language. If you do have students in your class with exceptionalities be sure that all of your students understand what words would be appropriate to use when discussing any type of disability.
Using Inclusive Language

5.) How to Use Inclusive Language in the Language Arts Class

English teachers have a multitude of responsibilities, they must pay close attention to the cultural factors that might promote or prohibit student achievement. This is especially true in classes where the student body is as diverse as the literature studied.

Treat each students as an individual and respect each student for who he or she is.

Rectify any language patterns or case examples that exclude or demean any groups.
  • Use terms of equal weight when referring to parallel groups: men and women rather than men and ladies
  • Use both he and she during lectures, discussions, and in writing, and encourage your students to do the same
  • Recognize that your students may come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds
  • Refrain from remarks that make assumptions about your students' experiences, such as, "Now, when your parents were in college . . . "
  • Refrain from remarks that make assumptions about the nature of your students' families, such as, "Are you going to visit your parents over spring break?"
  • Avoid comments about students' social activities that tacitly assume that all students are heterosexual
  • Try to draw case studies, examples, and anecdotes from a variety of cultural and social context
  • collectively analyzing gender assumptions in the text
  • raising questions about main characters and their portrayal.
  • asking children to reverse the genders of individuals, e.g., "What if Sleeping Beauty was a boy?" (Temple, 1993)
  • having children guess a writer's gender on the basis of the story they have just heard (Lawrence, 1995)
  • asking children to use gender-neutral names in the stories they write and read this aloud to other students so that they can guess the protagonist's gender (Lawrence, 1995)
  • have children adopt the opposite sex's point of view about a very gendered issue (Lawrence, 1995)

When choosing novels, poems, short stories or any type of learning tool, be sure that you choose ones that use language which is gender-neutral and free of stereotypes. Choosing texts or readings that include minority groups, and have women as the powerful character in the reading.

6.) Sample Lesson Plan for Inclusive Language

In this lesson, students become sensitized to the ways in which the use of language in the media can imply inequality between men and women. The class begins with the teacher presenting a mock news story in which students must identify the gender-specific language. Using the CBC's gender guidelines as a basis, students will discuss how gender-specific language can create negative gender stereotypes. As a homework assignment, students will complete a word search where they have to replace gender specific terms with gender neutral terms.

Students will:
  • understand the way the media's use of language can marginalize women.
  • reflect on their own use of gender-specific language.
  • use gender neutral terms when writing and speaking.
Preparation and Materials

The Lesson
Welcome your students to the Channel 8 Evening News and read the following:
Hi! I'm your anchorman, (your name).
In our top story tonight, Mr. John Smith and his wife Mary have an amazing escape.
It seems that John Smith's little lady was baking some cookies, when the stove exploded, trapping them both in a back room.
Luckily, a delivery boy saw the tray of cookies come flying out the window and called the firemen, who quickly extinguished the blaze and saved the Smiths.
Mrs. Smith, a plucky gal, says that next time, she won't use self-rising flour.
Ask your students:
What is wrong with this newscast? (The language used in this newscast is sexist and gender-specific.)
  • Re-read the newscast to your students, line by line, and ask them to spot the gender-specific language.
    (Explain to your students that sexist language is not always as obvious as 'plucky gal' and 'little lady;' gender-specific terms such as anchorman, fireman and delivery boy also contain a gender bias.)
  • What words could they use to replace the gender-specific language?
  • In the original newscast, what was the message that we were being given about Mary Smith? (That she is not her husband's equal and is treated like a possession: ' John Smith's little lady,' 'John Smith and his wife.' That she is not capable or mature: 'gal,' 'little.' That it is the men who are in control: the delivery boy gets help and the firemen come to the rescue. And it is the anchorman, who delivers the news to us... even if the anchorman is really an anchorwoman!)
  • Some of you might say to yourselves, 'but these are only words.' What are some problems with our hearing these terms over and over again in the media? (Terms like these become acceptable; people unconsciously absorb the underlying message and begin to think that women aren't equal; young kids learn these attitudes from the hearing these words.)
The broadcasting industry takes this problem very seriously. In response to public concern and demand, the CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has created a list of Gender Guidelines for its on-air personnel to follow.
  • Distribute Gender Guidelines and review these guidelines with students.
  • Have students write their own news stories using gender-specific language, and then have them trade with classmates to see who can spot the errors.
  • Have students go through newspapers and try to find examples of gender-specific language. (Smaller, local papers sometimes make better hunting grounds for this kind of exercise.)
  • Student's News Stories
  • Student's newspaper language searches

7.) Choosing Literature

Literature that offers culturally diverse protagonists who are learning to function in the United States mirrors the struggles and successes of students. It provides them with ideas about how to function in a new culture while preserving important ideals from their native culture.

Select literature representative of a variety of cultures, and of how those cultures function in the United States when possible. When students are presented literature representative of their culture and such literature is taught with respect and acceptance, the self-esteem of students is increased.(McGraw, 2005)

Jambo Means Hello - Muriel Feelings (novel)
Tar Beach - Faith Ringgold (novel)
She Come Bringing me that Little Baby Girl - Eloise Greenfield (novel)
Jess Was The Brave One - Jean Little
Best Friends for Frances - Russell Hoban
Freak the Mighty - W.R. Philbrick
Telephone Conversation - Wole Soyinka (poem)
Saide and Maude - Gwendolyn Brooks (poem)

The above reading suggestions are all different types of literature where the main idea or character does not revolve around one particular race or gender. The readings may have a heroine instead of a hero, they may have the story revolve around an African Canadian. These readings will give the students the opportunity or learn about different cultures and abilities. Having a diverse reading list will allow the students to realize that the hero in the story is not always going to be middle class anglo-canadian.

Related Readings 

Inclusive Language Guide

Multiethnic Literature


Jett-Simpson, M., & Masland, S. (1993). "Girls are not dodo birds! Exploring gender equity issues in the language arts classrooms." Language Arts, 70 (2), 104-108. [EJ 457 110].

Lawrence, B. (1995). "Teaching Ideas: Getting into gender issues." English Journal, 84 (3), 80-82. [EJ 502 751].

Temple, C. (1993). "What if ' Sleeping Beauty' had been ugly?" Reading against the grain of gender bias in children's books. Language Arts, 70 (2), 89-93. [EJ 457 108].
Wright, J. (2003). A Guide to Gender Inclusive Language Policy. <> McGraw-Hill.(2005). Building Respect in the Culturally Diverse Literature and Language Arts Classroom. Teaching Today. Glencoe.