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This post will make you gay (or your mats anyway)

The invisibility of LGBTQIA2 (LGBT+Queer+Intersex+Asexual+2Spirited) themes within traditionally published ELT materials has been adequately highlighted through both popular and scholarly texts (see Thornbury 1999, Gray 2013, even me in 2012, to start), as well as a handful of past conference talks that have focused on our community. While some materials writers and publishers themselves recognise the desire for increased inclusivity and diversity, the self-imposed limitation of producing materials that appeal to the widest array of markets tends to create an ‘our hands are tied’ reaction to change. As a result, we can easily stagnate at problematisation. In lieu, many teachers themselves have created well-intentioned lessons that aim to be inclusive, but sometimes without being aware of or addressing potential problem areas in their methodology or content (see LGBTQ in debates). My talks at IATEFL2019 and BCTEAL19 aimed to move the discussion forward by first defining inclusive materials writing, then exemplifying two approaches to doing so appropriately: usualisation* and disruption, terms I have not created, but adapted from Queer Pedagogy for an ELT materials-writing audience. In this post, I explain and share an example of an ELT LGBTQIA2 inclusive coursebook unit based on a usualisation* approach.

*There is discussion involving the terms used to refer to this approach. The main criticism is with regard to the value-judgment of ‘normal’. With ‘normal’ there is by default an ‘abnormal’. While we could embrace our abnormal-ness, to normalise does inherently suggest that we aren’t. As the main focus of my use of this approach is to increase representation with frequency, individualism, and focus on target language not characteristics, I therefore choose to shift from ‘normalisation’ to the frequency-focused ‘usualisation’ (not my term and imho, still imperfect because of its default opposite ‘unusual’, but we have to call it something 😊), though they’ll be used interchangeably in this post for the time being. We are all learners in this space.

First, it helps to situate a few principles on LGBTQIA2S inclusivity by contrasting them with their opposite, othering.

Othering suggests LGBTQIA2 … Inclusivity suggests LGBTQIA2 …
are completely missing or underrepresented are represented with regularity alongside other narratives
are isolated into a specialised single unit
narratives are fabricated without consultationauthentic voices are consulted and ideally used
are generalised into one representative or as a collective wholeare represented as individuals
use spotlights LGBTQIA2 learners or teachers without consentlearners and teachers can interact within their comfort level

Pt 1: Usualisation* approach

One ‘soft’ yet effective mode for creating inclusive materials is to increase the frequency with which LGBTQIA2 narratives appear through related imagery, stories, and language without overtly focusing on the uniqueness of the community above other groups represented in the materials. In other words, the goal is to include LGBTQIA2 as just one section within society and thus represented as such.

For example, take the theme of work/life balance where the language focus is compare/contrast (e.g. however, but, even though, etc.). In a listening task, learners hear a number of people describe life pressures contrasted with activities that make them happy. Learners take notes about these in a chart where speaker names (Christie and Jorge / Jen and Lee / Sam and Suzanne / Javad and Leila, etc.) are arranged by row with blank spaces for their pressures and activities by column. As each person on the audio uses the target language, they also refer to each other using relevant pronouns. Some, like Jen and Lee, reveal LGBTQIA2 narratives by using she and her when referring to how each other copes with money issues. Another includes Sam’s mum (Suzanne) talking about academic pressures Sam faces at university and refers to Sam with non-binary they and them pronouns. While learners focus on completing the chart, these pronouns are used alongside cisgender, heterosexual counterparts, without being the target language. On the next page, images of these speakers appear in random order for learners to match with their notes. Following this, they collaborate on meaning from their charts by identifying and using compare/contrast target language.

In this brief example of normalising LGBTQIA2S narratives, what’s emphasised is not the specialness (which when purposely compared to a heteronormative default implies strangeness), but the language tasks. LBTQIA2S narratives are by-products of the diverse society represented within the materials.


Normalisation can be criticised because the focus is not on the LGBTQIA2-ness itself and therefore an inexperience writer (or perhaps one who has been given a teensy bit of leeway from a publisher) may (intentionally) wish to normalise LGBTQIA2 more literally than intended. By this I mean including trying to make the narratives the most ‘normal’ to how the majority population defines it. This can result in breaking the principle of being ‘represented as individuals’ whereby we are portrayed as just one type of LGBTQIA2 likely in the most heteronormative possible light. This too can misrepresent and other many members of our community since they only see one version of LGBTQIA2 (quite often the clean-cut, white version…) and one which they may not identify with.

So this should be considered carefully by writers as well. In the coursebook unit example described above and linked below, we see same-sex romantic relationships, a drag queen, and a non-binary person’s familial relationship, but across our materials, we must also be cognisant of realistically representing a wider variety of LGBTQIA2 people’s lives (e.g. different and mixed races, troubled youth, older people, differently abled people, etc.) as we should (and more often do) with other members of society.

Sample coursebook unit

Here, after long last, I’d like to share a sample mock-up coursebook unit I’ve put together based on these principles. It’s important to first note that its creation primarily centres on characteristics of usualised* inclusion, and secondarily the language content.

As this unit is not commissioned by a publisher, it has not been restricted to particular vocabulary lists, specific rubrics for activities, approach, or topics and narratives to avoid. Having said that, the widest diversity cannot be accomplished authentically within its confines alone. It should be viewed as part of a larger whole.

The general level of this unit is aimed at intermediate range and main language point used throughout is contrasts. Part 1 (p. 52-57) focuses on contrast words and phrases. Part 2 (58-63) focuses on using clauses to show contrast. I do note the irony of exemplifying inclusion on a unit centring on contrasts. Looks like you can do both /clears throat/. 😏 These language points in use are purposely not exhaustive in variety nor used in every imaginable way. These are situated through the backdrop of discussing work/life balance.

Despite the fact that it is meant to mimic a coursebook unit, the focus here is inclusion and not so heavily on the detailed instruction. Not surprisingly then, I’ve chosen not to write out a full teacher’s accompaniment or spell out exactly what learners should do on all pages themselves (see linked teacher’s notes below for a little guidance though). Beyond this caveat, I hope that this small contribution adequately demonstrates the normalisation approach through a coursebook platform in a way that makes sense alongside this relatively long blog post about it. If not, maybe you might come to my talk at some point. 😇

The unit itself
–> View the flip-book version as it would look published in book format (ideal).
–> Download the full PDF of the entire unit.
–> Read through a few teacher notes that will help explain some of the rationale as well as suggestions on use. This is NOT a full teacher’s book by any means.
–> To simply view a couple representative pages, see preview below.

A 8-point set of my own learnings from this process

* This post and related talks led to the publication of How to Write Inclusive Materials (2021) via ELT Teacher 2 Writer. In it, the expanded exploration of this unit’s approach, as well as the complementary more Disruptive approach, are defined, critiqued, and exemplified. You can purchase it here.

*If you’d like to read about a few other considerations I made outside of LGBTQIA2 inclusion, check out this Twitter thread.

* A companion website has now been set up that includes extra commentary about inclusive materials, links to talks and interviews about it, and some resources. It’s!

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Kath B

I love what you’ve done here and I’ve got lots of thoughts that I’ll share later but what strikes me immediately is what a brilliant idea it is to mock up a unit in this way. Besides the obvious fact that it demonstrates what can be done if there is a will, the exercise itself is a perfect way to engage in reflection on ‘how’ it should (and shouldn’t) be done. It could be a valuable teacher development project, don’t you think? Teachers working together on a unit (or spread) would be forced to consider so many aspects. It would be a great way of highlighting the importance of a need for much more visibility and meaningful inclusion. Thank you for giving me lots of food for thought.

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