By Afsaneh Moradian, author of Jamie and Bubbie: A Book About People’s Pronouns
Respecting the fact that many people use they/them/their as their personal pronouns does not mean that everyone is accustomed to or in the habit of using the singular they. The following activities are meant to help create environments where everyone’s pronouns are respected and where a culture is developed around using the singular they as a default pronoun.
Facilitating activities that encourage children to share their names and pronouns is key to creating safe, respectful spaces. It is easier to share important information about ourselves when everyone else is doing so too.
- When doing group introductions, go around in a circle and take turns saying, “Hi, my name is ________. My pronouns are ____/____.” The next person says, “It’s nice to meet you, _____,” and shares their name and pronouns. This continues until everyone has had a chance. If you are in a virtual setting, you can assign each student a number so they know the order ahead of time.
- Make desk plates with names and pronouns. By folding a piece of paper in thirds, children can create their own desk plates. In addition to writing their names and pronouns on the desk plates, children can decorate them in a way that expresses who they are and what they like. As an icebreaker activity, let children present their work to the class. You can do this virtually as well. Most platforms have a username at the bottom of each person’s image. Ask everyone to write the name they would like to be called followed by their pronouns in parentheses.
There are many stories we tell children that include characters with unspecified genders. These can be a useful gateway to using and discussing the singular they.
- Choose a story such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Read the story using the singular they for the baby bear. This enables children to hear how normal it is to use the singular they with characters and people when we are unsure of their gender. Ask questions related to the story such as, “How do you think Baby Bear felt when they saw that their porridge was eaten?” This type of question not only guides young children in using the singular they in their answer, but also fosters empathy.
- One fun activity for adults to do by themselves or with children is to see how many popular children’s stories have at least one character that can be referred with the singular they—such as The Ugly Duckling for example.
- Have children create their own stories (oral or written) that include the singular they. For older children, the stories can be written down, illustrated, or written as short plays and performed.
I hope these activities will inspire you to create many more activities, games, and learning assignments that value and celebrate students of all gender identities. When the singular they is used as the default pronoun, we can create spaces where all children and adults feel respected, valued, and loved for who they are, not who we assume they are or who we are tell them to be.
Afsaneh Moradian has loved writing stories, poetry, and plays since childhood. After receiving her master’s in education, she took her love of writing into the classroom where she began teaching children how to channel their creativity. Her passion for teaching has lasted for over fifteen years. Afsaneh now guides students and teachers (and her young daughter) in the art of writing. She lives in New York City.
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