- Key Words: Gender issues
- Learner English Level: Intermediate and above
- Learner Maturity Level: Junior High and above
- Preparation Time: Varies
- Activity Time: One semester
Information gap exercises, where the information necessary to complete a task is divided among two or more students, are a recognized way to get students talking in the EFL classroom. In my classes on gender and social inequality, I use them extensively to get students talking about received notions of social relations in Japanese society, exploring the ways sex and gender shape social inequalities in Japan today, and hopefully, have them leave the course with a little greater self-awareness of their place in society and alternatives to it.
The class starts with a discussion leading to a definition of inequality based on an individual's access to wealth, power, and prestige. We then discuss how society divides these resources depending on an individual's membership in groups based on age, social class, ethnicity or race, and, most importantly for this class sex and gender. This intellectual construction is not particularly complex. But, simple as it is, it is new to my students and provides a framework of ideas as they work their way into further discussions on the nature and practice of social inequality.
Following a couple of short readings on gender inequalities in American life, the students go to the movies. At this point I face a dilemma: I want the students to have some depth of analysis and discussion, and at the same time I want them exposed to a range of gender inequalities visible in American popular culture. To get around this, I have students divide into small teams, with three to five students per team. I assign each team a movie and its members are responsible for the deeper analysis of that film. Each team watches its movie outside of class (in the audio-visual library or at home using a rented video) and, using a viewing work sheet I distribute, analyzes the ways gender shapes the film's characters' access to wealth, power, and prestige (see Figure A). I collect the viewing work sheets (this keeps students from reading their analyses instead of giving interviews) and then have students share their work with other students using a version of information gap interviews: they use an interview work sheet I give them to get the analyses of two experts on the gender inequalities apparent in two other films (see Figure B). To a degree, this exercise gets around the dilemma described earlier: It gives the students some depth in analyzing a selected movie and some breadth as they share their analysis with other students and hear other students' analyses of other films.
In the second part of the term, students take their skills at analyzing gender inequalities in American society (and films) and use them on Japanese films. Students watch films about women in Japan, using worksheets to analyze the films in terms of gender inequalities of wealth, power, and prestige.
This is one way I have found to deal with the realities of teaching idea-based EFL classes at university in Japan; twelve 90-minute class meetings spread over four months, with little or no homework possible, and spotty attendance place strong limits on the art of the possible. To counter this, I use films. Students, in general like films and are predisposed to regard watching them as fun. Giving students responsibility for a specific film or two allows a certain amount of depth of analysis. The use of a structured set of ideas (about gender-based limits on access to wealth, power, and prestige, in this case) provides a frame in which students can approach the task with confidence. The information gap format gets students talking, and it provides a breadth of coverage of varied forrns of and responses to inequality that would be difficult otherwise.
American film viewing notes
Gender and inequality in the film:
Conclusions & comments
American film interview notes
Gender and inequality in the film
Gender and social rewards in the film
Comments & conclusions