Eggs: Not That Kind

 In Blog, Diana Maliszewski, Elementary, Lessons and Ideas

Eggs – Not That Kind by Diana Maliszewski

Today’s blog post has appeared on my personal blog (Monday Molly Musings) as well as the Association for Media Literacy website.

I am crafting this reflection on the Easter weekend. On Animal Crossing New Horizons, virtual me has been busy collecting eggs of all types in preparation for the game’s “Bunny Day” celebration.



But that’s not the type of egg I want to discuss here.

My Grade 5s and 6s are studying the Human Development and Sexual Health portion of the health curriculum right now. Often, this is a topic that is not greeted with enthusiasm by the students. There are many reasons for this reluctance: the topic is seen as “gross,” “awkward,” and uncomfortable to discuss in a classroom. I’m not usually the type of teacher who turns to pre-generated lesson plans, but OPHEA (Ontario Physical and Health Education Association) has readily-available, very thorough and age-appropriate resources. I downloaded them, reviewed them, and began to follow them.

There are certain recommendations provided as part of these lesson plans. The tips are very helpful and inclusive (e.g. using non-gendered language). For instance, OPHEA suggests that these units are taught in mixed-gender classrooms. As the lesson plans state,

Teaching puberty in an all-gender environment allows students to:

● learn to talk comfortably and respectfully with each other

● understand that they need to learn about others

● understand that many changes are the same for everyone

● learn that they are more alike than different.

Despite these wonderful materials, my students began to complain about their weekly health lessons. They’d joke about being excused to go to the bathroom – for 40 minutes. I even heard through their parents that they were not happy about learning about this content – until Fred and Annabelle came.

Fred and Annabelle are the names given to two Giant Microbe stuffed toys that I own. The students named them almost immediately after I first brought them into the classroom. Fred is a sperm. Annabelle is an ova or egg. Suddenly, the concepts became less icky and more concrete when the sex cells became personified. Students were comfortable noting the “homes” that Fred and Annabelle resided in, and the “roads” they used to get to their “destinations.”

We were very conscientious about not substituting common objects as stand-ins for organs of the reproductive system. My student-teacher even commented on how relieved she was not to see any “bananas-as-penises” references during my initial lessons, unlike her own cringe-worthy middle school health class experiences.

We directly addressed the common euphemisms employed to discuss topics like menstruation so that students would be able to make connections between “classroom language” and “society language.” I also learned, thanks to my own children, that these terms change with each generation. I knew about

  • a visit from Aunt Flo
  • being on the rag
  • that time of the month

but I didn’t know that nowadays, some people call it

  • Japan (for the big red dot on their flag)

There are a few fascinating articles that list some of the 5 000 code terms for periods, as well as the different terms based on languages spoken.  Speaking of periods, we also had the chance to destigmatize periods by distributing menstrual pads for everyone in Grade 5-6 to examine.

There are a lot of great potential media literacy lessons that can be linked to this topic.
Ones I’ve directly addressed with my students are:
1) Why is it easier to talk about spermatogenesis and menstruation when we have Fred and Annabelle?
2) Why do some people give “code names” for body parts?
Why do we use the scientific terms in class?
Other potential questions and activities that lend themselves well to an integrated media literacy/health discussion include:
1) After reading the article called “Top Euphemisms for ‘Period’ by Language,” what similarities and differences do you notice?
2) Watch or look at advertisements for “female sanitary products.” What colours are used most and least? Why?
3) What words are used to describe periods and period-related products? (e.g. sanitary, hygiene) How might the word choice influence what we think about menstruation?
4) Examine and redesign packages for menstrual products, especially for younger users. What images, words and packaging would you use?
5) Make a YouTube video that explains how the menstruation industry has or has not addressed the needs of their target audience.
6) Compare and contrast “period talk” videos on YouTube (e.g. Adita Gupta, American Girl). Which do a good job? Which do not? Why?
7) How do social media platforms (i.e. Tik Tok, Instagram) represent sexuality in images and language? Which representations makes you feel more or less comfortable? (This is definitely for older students)
8) Why might so few dolls have genitals? Why might this matter?
Big thanks to Carol Arcus for helping me compile this more-extensive list of “period possibilities.”
If you are looking for other media texts to supplement this instructional topic, AML board members recommend:
  • Neil Andersen

    This is a very important topic for students. It’s wonderful that this lesson presents ways that the ideas can be discussed more comfortably.

    Personification is a great device for making the ideas accessible. One extension might be to ask students to reflect on other lessons they recall that use personification, or ads or political messages. Then they could assess the effectiveness of those uses and compare them to the use of Fred and Annabelle.

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