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Section 5. Considering Gender in Discussions

It is important to consider the different ways in which females and males talk to each other in discussions. While gender will impact discussion, it is cognizant to remember it is only one variable that influences the manner in which we interact and carry on conversations. Race, class, personality, culture and age are all important factors which influence who will speak, when, how long and how valued the contributions will have in any given discussion. To begin, here are a few gendered patterns of speech which have been mentioned in the literature (keep in mind these are generalizations):

  • Men tend to talk more often in public situations (classrooms).
  • Women tend to talk more in private situations.
  • Men frequently assume or are appointed to roles of small group reporters.
  • Women are more likely to preface their remarks with a self-deprecatory statement, such as 'this is just my opinion'.
  • Women may be more likely to add a 'tag' question such as "isn't it?"  or "don't you think?"
  • Women may present statements in a more hesitant, indirect and polite manner or use intonations that turn a statement into a question.
  • Women are more likely to show feelings when they speak although anger may  be a feeling comfortably expressed by males.
  • Men may be inclined to include more sarcastic comments.
  • Women tend to comment more frequently with give praise, affirm values, and express gratitude.
(adapted from Brookfield and Preskill; and Teaching for Inclusion: Diversity in the Classroom )

Demonstrate inclusive ways of talking
Incorporate various activities to stimulate discussion
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Demonstrate inclusive ways of talking.

  • Build trust by beginning with personal disclosure. If women are drawn to relational talk, which is often the case, it will be important for students to get to know each other as well as the professor.
  • Develop a safe atmosphere. Involve students in setting ground rules and include the concept that it is OK to stumble and they do not need to be anxious, worrying about saying their piece perfectly. This can encourage risk taking.
  • Include connected learning, specifically by asking students to connect examples and incidents to support or negate the day's topic.
  • Treat students as individuals and not representatives of their genders.
  • Model non-sexist language.
  • Jokes on stereotypes, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and similar situations should not be allowed. If they occur, silence implies that it is acceptable. Use this as a teachable moment.
  • Be sensitive to how traditional phrases of politeness might belittle women or men (i.e., "We have a lovely group of ladies this semester or I need some help from a big strong man").

(adapted from Brookfield and Preskill; and Gender Fair Teaching Website)

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Incorporate various activities to stimulate discussion.

  • A good activity for the beginning of the semester is to have students develop an identity wheel. Have students introduce themselves to others sharing something about their identity and how it may influence their perspective on class content or influence the manner in which they will enter discussions. You may use these examples or there could be some other categories for your academic content. For example, I also include athlete as a category in my sociology of sport. This part of a student's identity may be influential in how they relate to others. (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 2nd Ed, Routledge, 2007)

Identity Wheel

  • Consider if a single gender conversation will engage more students, facilitate a deeper dialogue or create a safe atmosphere for students to say something which they may not say in a mixed discussion.


  • If so, a class may be divided into male and female only groups. After reporting on the content, de-briefing the reasons for similarities and differences should be discussed; or,
  • A female only group could observe a male only group discuss a topic and then switch roles. The class should examine how the conversations may differ when only one gender is involved. The observations from the class could be incorporated into ground rules for class discussions.


  • A beginning exercise for discussion where gender may play a role is to have students write definitions or key descriptors for a content topic. These ideas can be shared by gender only groups and then as a class.


  • Ask what ideas cut across gender lines and which seem gender specific and why. An example of this activity which I use in a Sociology of Sport class has the class divided by gender.


  • The two groups (or more if needed) are asked to define "athlete" and give characteristics of a good athlete.
  • Next, the groups are asked to define femininity and masculinity and give characteristics of what these terms mean in our culture. Gender only groups usually bring out less inhibited discussion and groups tend to quickly bond over some common thoughts.
  • The groups will share their results by writing their comments on a white board and are allowed to defend their comments and ask questions to the other group. The discussion then can lead into deeper issues of gender roles and sport & physical activity.

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Brookfield, S.D. and S. Preskill. Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco: Josey-Bass, 1999.

Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, Pat Griffin (Editors), Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 2nd ed Routledge, 2007.

Teaching for Inclusion: Diversity in the Classroom, UNC Center for Teaching & Learning

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