Dec 2

Using More Inclusive Family Vocabulary in Your Classroom

a practical teaching idea...

More inclusive... a classroom activity

Most learners (and teachers) don't have simple families (mother, father, sister, brother) but a lot of coursebooks make it look like this. If you want to know why this is a problem and get a great activity to include more inclusive language, this is for you!

Video transcript

Do you have a unit in your coursebook that talks about ‘family’? Does it have a picture that looks like this? Let’s talk about that…

I’m Jo Gakonga, I’ve been teaching English for over 30 years and training teachers on CELTA and MA TESOL courses since 2000 … if you think I’m talking sense, give this a like, subscribe to my channel and go visit my website at

So, if this is what your coursebook looks like, then the vocabulary that’s probably included is mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin. But families are very often not that simple – mine certainly isn’t – and if learners don’t know the words to describe their own families there’s a problem for two reasons:
  1. They can’t tell people about their own families
  2. There’s an underlying assumption that if your family doesn’t fit the nuclear ideal, you shouldn’t be talking about it.

Well, I think you should!

So how about this. You don’t have to make a big deal about it- just make sure that your family descriptions are a bit more inclusive: here’s an idea….

Ask your learners to listen and remember the relationships.

Show Cuisenaire rods to represent people….

Here’s my Mum and Dad on their wedding day. They got divorced a long time ago, and I grew up with my Dad and my step mum.

This is my step-sister Jenny. My Dad married her Mum so we’re not related but we grew up together so I usually just say she’s my sister.

This is my half brother Ken. We’ve got the same Mum, but we’ve got different Dads. I usually see my mum on alternate weekends.

This is Sally, my older sister. She’s a single mum with twins – John and Paul – they’re my nephews.

This is my aunt Sarah. When I was young, I called her Auntie Sarah, but now she’s just Sarah. That’s her wife, Michelle.

Now get your learners to tell each other about what they remember and go through the new vocabulary. You could tell them that one of these is true about your family and ask them to guess which one to add a bit more interest. Then, of course, they can describe their families (as much as they feel comfortable to).

What do you think? Are you going to try it in your class? Let me know how you get on.

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