Author: GLE Team | Published on 1 October 2023


Language reveals a lot about how educators feel, think and believe including unintentional and unconscious biases. Its extremely important language used in the classroom is gender responsive as this can make all learners feel respected and valued. Gender responsive language contributes to a learning environment that is conducive to learning and inclusivity, where all learners express themselves freely.

Stage 1: Use more gender-neutral language 

Do you use he or man to refer to an unknown person in different circumstances? Educators often use 'he' and 'his' when referring to both a male and a female common noun. Try and use a balance of male and female pronouns or even better be even more inclusive and use they or them. This may be confusing at first to learners unfamiliar, but it helps you also have a conversation about this with them. 

Example: 'If a student works hard, he will be successful.' This can be changed to 'If a student works hard, they will be successful'. 

The word 'man' is often used to indicate a human being’s achievements, failures, successes, positions. Where possible remove this and replace it with more gender-neutral nouns such as 'chairperson', 'humankind', 'first year', 'police officer', 'refuse collector'   

Stage 2: Avoid gender stereotyping language 

Frequently language communicates stereotypes about individuals and groups. For example, female names and pronouns are frequently used as examples in cases of food preparation, household activities, and supporting roles, whereas male names and pronouns are used to refer to leadership, out-of-home activities, and other high-level office work. This is also the same if you use learning materials which include professional titles such as Professor, Doctor, Scientist, Manager, Engineer ensure that these titles are paired with a balance of genders. 

When giving examples or creating tasks the language used should remove stereotyping language by interchangeably using different gender expressions for different positions and activities.

Stage 3: Avoid sayings, jokes and proverbs that stereotype or are harmful or in any way offensive

Jokes, sayings or proverbs that negatively refer to individuals or groups with specific identity features such as gender in a harmful way should not be used in the classroom unless they are used as a discussion point to promote positive change and highlight challenges. For example, the expression 'like a girl' is often used in a negative way. Teaching languages often involves exploration of these ways to use language, but any harmful stereotypes, depictions or norms should be removed. 

Stage 4: Observe Language Used

You can film yourself in a lesson and listen back to the language used and examples evaluating the language against what has been shared in the previous stages. You can also share with your learners that you would like to use more gender-responsive language in your classroom and encourage them to support you and each other by offering gentle corrections and feedback.  You may also want to observe the language used amongst your learners so you can address sexist and gender bias language. 

Stage 5: Reflect and Plan 

Evaluate the observations you have made about the language used in the classroom and pick out something that you have noticed is challenging for you. Plan how you can address this. Do you need support from other colleagues or your learners? Do you need to create a poster as a reminder in your classroom? Do you need to highlight the gender-neutral words in a lesson plan that sits on your desk to remind you to use them? Does the language used between your learners need to be highlighted and addressed? Select easy, achievable goals and find ways to remind you of them frequently so you can keep practicing and including gender-responsive language. 


Gender Neutrality: The idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people's sex or gender 

Want to know more about the GLE Team?

In a groundbreaking initiative, the British Council, under the English Connects programme, undertook a transformative mission to champion gender-inclusive practices in Sub-Saharan Africa with a cohort of 41 dedicated teacher educators and teachers from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Sudan. This dynamic group referred to as the GLE Team worked together to design this resource.

Read about our Creating Gender Pedagogy Resources for Teachers project: