Ace Schwarz, of Teaching Outside The Binary, recently published an amazing blog post about introducing pronouns to students at the beginning of the year. We asked for their permission to share an accompanying blog post on our page about what you could modify to make to do this work with elementary school students.
In the blog post, Ace makes a very important point: when we are asking about pronouns, we are not asking about someone's gender identity. You can explain and introduce pronouns to young children without having to explain the many dimensions of gender (yet).
When we do this work in with students in Kindergarten-fifth grade, a little background and build up is needed.
- First, you can ask for student's (and family member's) pronouns privately during home visits or 1:1 meetings before school begins. You can say something simple like "When you talk about me and use my name, you'll say 'Ms. _____ is my teacher.' When you're not saying my name, the little words you will use instead are 'she' and 'her'. So you might say 'She is my teacher, her hair is short.' When I'm not saying your name, what little words would you like me to use? Those are called your pronouns!"
- Next, you might consider having a class pet, stuffed animal, or mascot. You can intentionally introduce this item mentioning their pronouns explicitly: "This is our class puppy Sequoia. When we aren't saying Sequoia's name, we will use the little word 'they', like this 'They have light brown fur and dark brown ears.' We will also use the little word 'their', like this 'Their paws have spots on them! Sequoia's pronouns are they and them.'
- Then, you will want to follow up with read alouds that explicitly teach about pronouns or simply normalize the use of non-binary pronouns.
They, She, He, Me by Maya and Matthew
They, She, He, Me, Easy as ABC by Maya and Matthew
From The Stars In The Sky To The Fish in The Sea by Kai Cheng Thom
Peanut Goes For The Gold by Jonathan Van Ness
- Finally, you can work together to make a class pronoun book. Students can be invited to share their pronouns, but not required. In K-1 classrooms, this might look like each child drawing a picture of themself and writing their pronouns underneath. In 2nd-3rd grade classrooms, this might look like students interviewing each other and writing a page about their partner, like "This is Ava. They love to swim." In 4th/5th grade, this might look like students creating identity maps and choosing whether or not to share them with the teacher or the entire class.
This foundational work will set the stage for a year where students feel safe, seen and affirmed.