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January 2007 - Issue No. #63 (p. 15 - 18)

Teaching Gender Issues Today

by Jane Joritz-Nakagawa

Aichi University of Education, Japan

Background and Description

In the spring of 2005, I had the pleasure of coordinating a textbook project for an EFL book geared for intermediate level English students in Japan. The book was designed with a course called Gender and Society (ジェンダーと社会) in mind, one of many I teach to undergraduates at Aichi University of Education, although I believed the text could be of interest to other teachers in Japan as well.

Many EFL teachers in Japan, and a few formerly based in Japan, helped write the readings for the text. The first edition, completed in 2005, has 16 readings arranged in 16 chapters. Because the book is intended as an introduction to gender issues, the first two chapters describe what "gender" is and what "gender socialization" means. Subsequent chapters address topics such as gender and language, gender stereotypes, heterosexism, reproductive rights, domestic violence, gender and work, sex work, gender and health, gender and the environment, and men's movements.

Each chapter has the following format:

  1. A list of key words from the unit reading
  2. A short reading, usually 1 - 2 pages long
  3. A set of 3 to 6 comprehension questions
  4. A discussion activity which typically gives a few sample open-ended discussion questions, and then invites the learners to create more of their own questions, intended for pair or small group in-class discussion
  5. Additional activities that can be done at home or in class including learner-initiated formal or informal research tasks, and writing tasks incorporating varied genres (reports, dialogues, poems, stories, comics...)

One unusual feature of the text is that it incorporates all seven multiple intelligences (MI) identified by Harvard University's Howard Gardner (linguistic, logical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, visual-spatial), and all of the learning style preferences associated with the Jungian psychology-based test known as the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) [see the bibliography to learn more about MI or MBTI].

Since in every classroom a teacher may expect a learner group diverse in natural talents and learning styles, activities which incorporate a broad spectrum of these would, we thought, result in a book appealing to and useful for many kinds of learners, as well as lead to a lively, varied style of instruction/learning.

My experience using the book

I have been using the text for two years in a one semester (15 week) undergraduate course open to 2nd to 4th year students. Most students are majoring in intercultural studies.

Students' weekly homework assignment is to read one chapter in the textbook, answer the comprehension questions, check the meanings of the unit's key words and choose freely one of the unit's additional activities, writing (or in some cases drawing) up to one A4 sized page in response to that activity.

The following week, we review the meaning (and pronunciation) of the key words together as well as check the answers to the comprehension questions. Students swap the writings (or in a few cases drawings) they prepared for homework in response to the textbook activity they chose. Students in pairs then read and write comments on and/or discuss each other's work. After this exchange, I randomly choose students to tell the class something (ie to summarize or select something they found of interest) about the classmate's work that they read. In a few cases, when students have prepared drawings, their partner may present the drawing in front of the class. In some cases, two students act out a skit that another student prepared, recite a poem or story, or deliver a speech that their classmate wrote. After this sharing session, I collect the student work so that I can review it myself later. In some cases, I utilize copies of student work in later lessons.

The next in-class activity is typically a small group discussion (usually 3 students in a group) about the chapter theme. Students themselves create the questions they wish to discuss, although example questions generally appear in each chapter from which they are free to choose if they wish. After a discussion of 15 minutes or so, randomly chosen spokespersons give a summary of or highlights from the discussion for the benefit of the whole class. The way I choose spokespeople is by seating assignment which is randomly assigned.

Every week, I make discussion groups by shuffling student-made name cards which I place on table tops before the class begins. The name cards are actually blank postcards I buy from the 100 yen shop which students fold into a tent-like shape and write their names and other information on. Students typically sit 3 across at a table. Usually, the person sitting in the middle, who received that seat randomly via the way I placed name cards that day, serves as the note-taker and group reporter. In this way, the spokespersons are randomly chosen, in the interests of rotating this role in a fair and equal manner.

Although I shuffle and reshuffle the cards each week to make random groups, I use a color-coded card system to quickly identify female and male students in order to make gender-balanced groups in mixed gender classes (without having to read names on the cards). Following the reports of small group discussions, I sometimes give a short lecture, building on what students have said in class.

Songs on Gender Issues

For the last few minutes of class, I distribute lyrics for a rock/pop song with content related to the weekly theme, and then play the song. In cases where I have several songs on the same theme, I bring them all and students vote for the one they wish to hear. Sometimes we have a very short additional discussion before/after the playing of the song if time allows. Musical artists have included Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman, John Lennon, PJ Harvey, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Everclear, No Doubt, Ana Johnsson and others. Teachers interested in songs with gender issues themes can contact me if they wish for a bibliography of such songs I have compiled that I can share electronically.

Final Project

As a final end-of-term project, students are asked to choose any gender issue, but with each student choosing a different one. Students can choose an issue that appears in the textbook or does not appear, as they wish. I ask students to research the issue they choose further and then give a short (2-3 minute) speech to the class explaining what they learned, for the benefit of the other students. This gives students an opportunity to conduct more in-depth research on a topic that interests them, and be teachers for the other students. Students also prepare a handout for the class related to their research topic, to distribute on their speech day, as a way of making their speeches easier to follow and of disseminating more information on their topics. The handouts they create have included such things as outlines, key word lists, statistics in graph or chart form, photos and drawings. Students are responsible for creating and copying handouts themselves. Following the speeches is a question and answer period. In this year's course, I also specified that a written report be submitted on the research topic on the last day of the course.

Half of each student's grade is the grade they receive on their final project. All learners in the course evaluate each speech given by all classmates as well as their own work. The other half is a participation grade based on weekly participation, classroom behavior, and weekly written homework assignments.

Because the text is not used on the first day of class and since the final class is used for preparing final projects, giving speeches, self-evaluation and course evaluation questionnaires, we have time to do together as a class about a dozen of the 16 chapters of the textbook. I have students either vote for the last chapter we do together, or, I let each student choose any remaining chapter to write a summary and analysis for the last pre-project class meeting.


Student final grades have been high because student attendance has been excellent, they participate enthusiastically during the weekly class meetings, submit homework regularly as requested, and prepare thoroughly for the final project.

Last year, one difficulty with some final speeches was that some students spoke too rapidly, making it hard for everyone to catch what they were saying, even though the student-prepared handouts helped make speeches easier to follow for the listeners. I have discussed that problem with this year's class in order to rectify this.

Students have displayed great enthusiasm towards the material. I am very pleased with their efforts and enjoy hearing and reading the insights they express in the weekly discussions, writings and in the final projects.

Based on replies given in anonymous course questionnaires, students rate this course very highly. 100% of this year's and last year's class expressed satisfaction with the textbook, saying the content is interesting and useful, and the level of the book challenging but not overly so. All recommended that the book be re-adopted for the following year. Students also commented that the visual format (plain in the interests of saving paper and money) is easy to read (for example, the book has a large font size which students seem to like).


I am grateful to the many people who helped write Gender Issues Today. Having this helped make my course on Gender and Society a success. All students report satisfaction with the book, saying they enjoy it and find it useful.

My own preparation for the course is minimal, amounting only to finding the music CD I wish to play at the end of class and copying the lyrics for that. Indeed, using music is optional though my students and I find it an enjoyable way to conclude each lesson. A friend currently using the text confided to me that she and her class also are very satisfied with the book; she noted further that she is pleased the book includes multiple intelligence activities and that using the textbook requires little outside-of-class preparation on her part.

Textbook Details and Ordering Information

This textbook is available exclusively from Tokyo Shuppan Service Center. It is not available in any bookstore. It is a thin A4 sized book containing 55 pages without illustrations. The reading level is intermediate. Teachers wanting to order single or multiple copies should contact Mr. Kawamura at Tokyo Shuppan Service Center. Authors and editors of the textbook, most of them members of JALT, worked on a volunteer basis without royalties.

An online review of the textbook by an EFL teacher based in Thailand is available at:


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