People-First Language

a project on Relative Clauses

If you’re unfamiliar with WebQuests, read this introduction first.

While disabilities and disorders aren’t commonly discussed, a considerable portion of people have or have had some sort of disorder/disability. Some are severe and noticeable, while others are more manageable and might be subtle or even hidden. Some psychological disorders are temporary. So chances are, you know multiple people who have (or had) some sort of disorder/disability.
Many groups that support persons with disabilities advocate for people-first language. For example, it’s better to say “a child with autism” than “an autistic child”. The idea is that the later expression seems to state an identity (‘autistic’ is a defining modifier), while the former expression conveys that autism is merely a condition that the child has (‘with autism’ is a describing modifier). People-first language takes the focus away from the disorder/disability and on the person, who has more traits than just this condition; they have talents, aspirations, relationships, interests, and so forth.
People-first language means that the modifier should come after the noun, which means that modifier is less likely to be an adjective word and more likely to be an adjective phrase (prepositional phrase) or an adjective clause, also known as a Relative Clause. While adjective phrases starting with ‘with’ are probably more common in this context, we’re going to take the opportunity to practice Relative Clauses.


Choose a Disorder/Disability to Learn About

First, have your students select a disorder/disability. They may choose to learn more about a condition that’s relevant to them; maybe they or their friend or a family member has a condition they’d like to learn about.

Here’s a list of ones to consider (although there are certainly more):

    • ADD/ADHD
    • Alcoholism
    • Autism Spectrum
    • Depression & Anxiety
    • Down Syndrome
    • Dyslexia
    • Hearing Disorders (e.g. Deafness)
    • Paralysis
    • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    • Visual Impairment (e.g. Blindness)


Do the Research

Take to the internet in search for answers to these questions:

  1. What are the defining characteristics of this disability/disorder?

  2. What percentage of the population (of you can find it, the population of your specific country) have this condition?

  3. Do people with this condition tend to form a community with other people with the same condition? If so, what are those communities like?

  4. What challenges do people with this disability/disorder face on a regular basis that they likely wouldn’t have to face otherwise?

  5. What are some positive ways to cope with this condition?

  6. What are some common misconceptions that the greater public holds about this disorder/disability?

  7. How are some ways that friends and family members can support persons with this disability/disorder?


Interview Someone (optional)

If your students know someone who has the disorder/disability they’re learning about, they can ask that person if they wouldn’t mind talking about their condition. If they’d like to, students could ask a few questions, but perhaps a better approach would be for that person to share whatever they’d like to share. This may be an opportunity for them to share their own thoughts and feelings instead of simply receiving whatever expectations other people sometimes place on them.


Present Your Findings

Students can now share what they’ve learned with the class, using Relative Clauses where it makes sense. As usual, you the teacher may choose for them to write a small report, or create a poster, or give a 3-minute talk, or whatever other presentation mode you like. In addition to hitting the points, students should also share the thing they’ve learned that surprised them the most.


Students should keep in mind that these can be sensitive topics for some people. One goal of this project is to raise students’ awareness and help them be mindful of these things, but before they begin they should know to choose their words carefully and consider the feelings of others. Also, keep in mind that the situations that people with disorders are in are a lot more complex than what your students can see.

Furthermore, some groups or individuals choose not to use people-first language. The deaf community as a whole, for instance, prefers the terms ‘deaf person’ or ‘hard of hearing person’. As you and your students interact with disabled persons (or ‘people with disabilities’), it may be a good idea to ask what terminology they prefer, or at least pay attention to which terminology they themselves use.

Finally, while disorders/disabilities are generally viewed in a negative light, some of them are considered to have a positive side by people who have them, or by their loved ones. Depending on who you talk to, this doesn’t have to be a somber topic!

Check out Insights’s Modifier Clauses Series to view our videos on Relative Clauses and related topics.  In these videos, we share innovative teaching methods to make it easier for students to understand and remember grammar points.

Go beyond the videos with printouts, slideshows, bonus notes, and much more by joining with Insider Access or by downloading a Grammar Guidebook.  Visit our About Insider Access page to learn more!

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