Students will read and respond to the YES! Magazine article, “‘They’ and the Emotional Weight of Words.”
In this article, Cole, founder of the Brown Boi Project, welcomes the expanding list of gender pronouns. Pronouns can help us all learn to see and respect each other’s identity. Instead of cultivating fear, shame, and embarrassment around not knowing the right thing to say, Cole encourages us to create new approaches to language so we feel freer and more open with each other.
YES! Magazine Article and Writing Prompt
Read the YES! Magazine article by Cole, “‘They’ and the Emotional Weight of Words.”
Society is shifting from a binary “he-she” world to a more fluid spectrum of gender identities. As the story’s author Cole points out, pronouns can be the basis from which all of us learn to see and respect each other’s identity. Some people feel awkward or uncomfortable with this transition, asking questions like, “What’s with this ‘they’ thing?” Others find it freeing.
Students, please respond to the writing prompt below with an up-to-700-word letter to the author:
Is there anyone in your life—you included—who is not comfortable being referred to as “he” or “she”? Write a letter to Cole on how you feel about this expansion of gender pronoun language. How do you deal with this cultural change?
The writing guidelines below are intended to be just that—a guide. Please adapt to fit your curriculum.
- Provide an original essay title
- Reference the article
- Limit the essay to no more than 700 words
- Pay attention to grammar and organization
- Be original. provide personal examples and insights
- Demonstrate clarity of content and ideas
- This writing exercise meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W. 9-10.3 and W. 9-10.14 for Writing, and RI. 9-10 and RI. 9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text.*
*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an examples.
The essays below were selected as winners for the Spring 2017 Student Writing Competition. Please use them as sample essays or mentor text. The ideas, structure, and writing style of these essays may provide inspiration for your own students’ writing—and an excellent platform for analysis and discussion.
“A New Design for Language,” by Alex Gerber, grade 8. Read Alex’s essay about the social and grammatical limits of gender-neutral pronouns—and how to get beyond them.
“The Jintas of Conservative Korean Culture,” by Joanne Yang, grade 8. Read Joanne’s essay about how words should never be allowed to limit who we are.
“Language is a Many-Gendered Thing,” by Ella Martinez, grade 9. Read Ella’s essay about the challenges of using gender-neutral pronouns in a Puerto Rican American family.
“The Right to Be a Little Bit Rude,” by Madeleine Wise, grade 9. Read Madeleine’s essay about overcoming the discomfort of correcting people who use the wrong gender pronouns.
“The Thoughts and Struggle of a Two Spirit,” by Toby Greybear, grade 9. Read Toby’s essay, about embracing a new gender identity—and rediscovering a tradition.
“Existing Openly is Half the Battle,” by Avery Hunt, university. Read Avery’s essay about being the token nonbinary person at college while still learning about their own gender.
We Want to Hear From You!
How do you see this lesson fitting in your curriculum? Already tried it? Tell us—and other teachers—how the lesson worked for you and your students
Please leave your comments below, including what grade you teach.