Gendered participation: Addressing inequity in the Egyptian language classroom

Mariah J. Fairley

English Language Resource Center, Al-Azhar University, Cairo




Research has found that about one third of the students in a given classroom are silent, and that female students participate less than their male counterparts. While non-participation does not necessarily equate with disengagement, it does pose a serious problem for EFL professionals since oral practice is arguably the most important factor affecting SLA.  This article explores gendered participation in the Egyptian EFL college classroom, revisiting the issues of male conversational dominance and female silence. Based on the poststructuralist theory that individual differences such as willingness to communicate and introversion are not fixed psychological traits, but rather mediated by socially situated power relations, the use of pre-speaking interventions of input and group preparation to empower non-participating students to participate in whole class speaking contexts were investigated. A convenience sample of 51 students in five intact, mixed-gender sections of an Egyptian intensive English program was used. Results showed a pre-intervention gender imbalance in dominance and silence. Post-intervention findings suggest that the interventions investigated related not only to more equal participation, including that of silent female students, but also to longer turn taking. Student and teacher perceptions further suggest that participation may strongly relate to social and situational factors.


Key words: gender, participation, male conversational dominance, female silence, input, group preparation




The problem of unequal participation in the classroom has long plagued teachers in the ELT field. Indeed, some research has indicated that an average of one third of the students in any given classroom are silent, defined as those taking less than half the average number of student speaking turns during a classroom session (Jones & Gerig, 1994). In the words of MacIntyre (2007), many students are “’language learners’” but not ‘“language speakers’” (p. 573). Conversely, a number of studies have shown that in an average classroom, one or two students usually dominate, as defined as those taking more than twice the average number of student speaking turns (Kelly, 1988; Sunderland, 1998). Further, it has been found that more silent students tend to be female and more dominant students tend to be male (Jones & Wheatley, 1990; Jule, 2001; Kelly, 1988), suggesting that participation is at least partly linked to gender. In the Egyptian context, since it has been found that many believe that speaking in public should remain the domain of men only (Mensch, Ibrahim, Lee & El-Gibaly, 2003), it is possible that gendered participation in public speaking activities in the Egyptian classroom may be even more unequal than that found in other countries.

As collective research and accumulated experience have provided a push towards a more communicative language teaching approach in recent decades (Savignon, 2001), the problem of inequity in gendered participation has increased in importance, since oral practice has now become accepted as so crucial to the language learning process (e.g., Schmidt, 2001; Swain, 2005). If some female students are participating less than other students in speaking activities, then they are placed at a strong disadvantage compared to their more vocal counterparts. Might there be a solution to this problem?

In the past, unequal participation was often considered an unalterable, albeit undesirable, fact of classroom dynamics. Willingness to communicate in the classroom was linked to individual differences of introversion and extraversion, traits which for many years were generally viewed as primarily fixed (Dornyei, 2009; Ellis, 2008). It seemed logical to assume that an introvert would naturally participate less and an extravert more.  A number of researchers (Dornyei, 2009; Ellis, 2008;  Norton, 2010; Norton-Peirce, 1995 are increasingly viewing individual differences not as fixed psychological traits but rather as socially constructed and situation- dependent. Seen in this light, inequity in gendered participation might be strongly affected by manipulating situational factors in the classroom.

Since inequity in participation has been identified as a serious problem in the EFL classroom, and very few interventions have been researched to date, identifying possible solutions to the problem is urgently required, and could provide an important contribution to EFL research. Since little research had been conducted on inequity in gendered participation in the Egyptian context, it was the purpose of the present study to first investigate gender and its relationship to unequal participation in the Egyptian EFL college classroom, drawing on both observable behavior and student and teacher perceptions about participation, and second to identify and explore possible interventions.


Literature Review


Some Characteristics of Gendered Participation


In the early decades of the emergent field of language and gender, studies were primarily concerned with documenting the extent and describing the characteristics of inequity in gendered participation in the general, mixed-gender classroom. A large number of studies, mainly conducted in western countries in the 1980s, overwhelmingly showed that male students tended to dominate in the classroom, through more and longer turn taking, interruption, topic control, and even resource and physical space hogging (e.g., Kelly, 1988; Sadker & Sadker, 1985; Whyte, 1984). A similar phenomenon was subsequently documented in countries outside the Western world (e.g. Rahimpour & Yaghoubi-Notash, 2007; She, 2000; Tsouroufli, 2002) and also specifically in the language learning classroom (e.g. Alcon, 1994; Jule, 2001). Further, a number of these studies also found that more non-participating or silent students tended to be female (e.g., Jones & Wheatley, 1990; Jule, 2001). When looking at the two extremes of male dominance and female silence together, a clear pattern of gendered participation emerged.

A number of theories were proposed in the early years to explain male conversational dominance and female silence, as summarized by Coates (2004). While these models partially explained aspects of the inequity, they tended to view gender as binary and behavior as fixed, and as such failed to satisfactorily explain numerous findings that did not fit with these theories, such as those found in the following examples. Sunderland (1998) found that dominance could often be attributed to only a small number of male students, not all male students, which suggested that gender was not the only factor in determining a student’s participation level. Aukrust (2008) found that male dominance increased significantly with age, which suggested that inequity in gendered participation was a product of socialization. In Townsend’s (1998) qualitative study of three students, she found that silent students  were not silent all the time, and that several factors affected their participation levels, including fear of peer judgment, which suggested that social factors, not psychological factors, were influencing their decision to participate. Because of such findings, gendered participation could no longer be viewed as purely binary or psychologically fixed. A new framework was needed, and the sociologically grounded poststructuralist framework began to rapidly fill this gap.

Distinct from the psychological models described and rejected by Coates (2004), she went on to propose a dynamic model, which sees participation as strongly linked to identity. According to Norton (2010), identity is primarily socially constructed through conversation, and by nature is constantly changing, depending on social and situational variables. This model provides a better explanation as to why in one case a student might speak more, or dominate, and in another, speak not at all, or very little. In this model, socially constructed identity, real or perceived, becomes the primary variable influencing participation levels, rather than gender alone. From this theory emerged a clear need to investigate some of the social and situational factors affecting gendered participation in the classroom.


Findings viewed through the eyes of the dynamic model


In revisiting older studies, evidence to support the dynamic model clearly emerged in looking at the behavior of parents, teachers and male students, and also at traditional views of the acceptability of female talk. Esposito (1979) found that parents tend to interrupt their daughters twice as often as they interrupt their sons. A number of other studies found that most teachers also tend to favor male students with more attention, including with more calls, more gaze, and even more praise (e.g. Allan & Madden, 2006; Jones & Dindia, 2004; Kelly, 1988), and that some teachers discourage unsolicited call-outs from female students but not from male students (e.g., French & French, 1984; Kelly, 1988; Townsend, 1998). Several studies looking at Hall and Sandler’s concept of a “chilly classroom climate” (1982, as cited in Allan & Madden, 2006) found that male students tend to interrupt female students more than they do other male students, by as much as 90% more (Brooks, 1982); even more disturbing are the documented incidences of female students being heckled, ridiculed, or insulted at their attempts to participate, by male students in the classroom (e.g., Baxter, 2002; Hirst, 2007; Madhok, 1992). This documented behavior of parents, teachers, and male students all suggests that female students may be discouraged by society from speaking.

In order to better understand this negative behavior towards female students, it is necessary to look at societal beliefs. Traditionally, women have long been discouraged from speaking (Chambers, 1992; Coates, 2004; Romaine, 1999). While this view may no longer be consciously held by many in the present day, it may still be manifested in their unconscious behavior, such as in some of the aforementioned examples. Indeed, there is some evidence to suggest that this behavior is largely unconscious, since several studies have found that teachers do not perceive unequal participation by gender in their classrooms, nor their own male differential bias (e.g., Sunderland, 2000; Whyte, 1984). However, in Middle Eastern culture, some of these views are still consciously adhered to, as documented by Al-Mahadin (2004), and Joseph and Slymovics (2001), among others. In the Egyptian context, Mensch et al., (2003) found that of a randomly selected group of 660 Egyptian adolescents aged 16 to 19, taken from a larger group of 9128 adolescents from a cross-section of Egyptian society participating in a larger study on gender roles, the majority still believe that women are less important than men, that they should adopt the role of dependence, submission, and deference to men, and that the public domain should be reserved for men. It is perhaps these findings which have prompted Hijab (2001) to state that the “invisibility of women in the Arab world appears to be more serious than that of women in the rest of the world” (p. 41). This research suggests that the silencing of Egyptian female students is possibly more pronounced than in western countries, or at least indicates that further research on this subject is warranted.

All of these evidences of male preferential treatment and encouragement of female silence suggest that the identity of ‘female students as silent’ is being influenced by the forces of socialization. In other words, individual differences are not purely natural, but may rather be at least partly a product of identity construction. Indeed, it has been shown that willingness to communicate in the classroom is strongly predicted by anxiety (Peng, 2007; Woodrow, 2006), which has been found to be at higher levels in female students than male (Holmes, 1995; Mills, 2006), including in the Middle Eastern context (Alansari, 2006). This anxiety can be caused by prior negative experiences with peer or teacher judgment, which have been documented to be more prevalent for female students than male (e.g., Baxter, 2002; Madhok, 1992). This anxiety may in turn lead to reduced participation (Cao & Philps, 2006).


The need for social and situation- based solutions


Poststructuralist researchers look at the conditions under which people speak. Borrowing Bourdieu’s (1991) concept of cultural capital, which views participation as dependent on how much “right” a person has to speak in a given context, and on how much “power” that person has to “impose reception” (p. 76) in that given context, Norton (2010) focuses on the need to increase the cultural capital of a non-participating student in order to empower this person to speak. Since every individual has multiple identities, some stronger and some weaker, it should be the goal of the teacher to help students find and assume those stronger identities that will allow them to speak. By manipulating social and situational factors, a teacher should in theory be able to create conditions under which female students and other marginalized identities can speak (Pennycook, 1999). Norton Peirce (1995) asserts that these social and situational factors can best be identified through classroom-based research. It was within this poststructuralist framework and classroom-based research context that the methodology for the present study was developed.




Several techniques have been suggested in the literature to create conditions under which silent students might choose to speak. The first relates to topic choice. A good topic is one that is interesting and relevant to students (Brown, 2001; Dornyei, 2005). It may be that controversial topics generate more participation, because they can incite enough emotion to make students “forget” to be silent (Fairley, 2009; Chi, 2008; Johnson & Johnson, 1985). In other words, the identity of ‘defender of a particular stand’ might take ascendancy over that of gender. Topics of a human, social, or cultural nature have been shown to generate most interest from females (Bjerrum Nielsen & Davies, 1997; Shehadeh, 1999). Based on this research, controversial topics relating to marriage were chosen for the study.

Pre-speaking activities have been shown to generate more participation. Video clips and reading texts used input have been shown to help learners access their prior knowledge and provide new information about a topic, thus generating ideas for them to speak about (Cao & Philps, 2006; Tomitch, 1990). When a student focuses on new information in English, the gender identity might possibly be overshadowed enough for that student to speak out.

The provision of planning and preparation time before speaking has been shown to generate more participation, because it allows students to organize their thoughts and prepare themselves to speak, in addition to possibly reducing their speaking anxiety (Baxter, 1999; Ellis, 2005; Ortega, 2005; Townsend, 1998). Additionally, it appears that guided and structured planning time is more effective than unguided time (Foster & Skehan, 1999). The use of worksheets may be an effective means to achieve this organization and preparation of thoughts (Sangarun, 2005; Townsend, 1998). Finally, a number of researchers have found that cooperative group pre-speaking activities can help to encourage participation in the main speaking activities, because they can promote security and reduce anxiety (Dornyei, 2001; Johnson & Johnson, 1985; Kagan, 1994; Slavin, 1996). Additionally, they might strengthen a speaker’s “right to speak” and “power to impose reception” (Bourdieu, 1991, p. 76), since the speaker speaks on behalf of the group, not the individual. Therefore, assuming the more powerful identity of ‘spokesperson for the group’ may take ascendancy over the weaker identity of gender.

            Since little research had been conducted on the identification of social and situational factors that might be manipulated to help silent students take their linguistic space, especially in the Middle Eastern context, it was the aim of the present study to begin to fill this research gap. It was hoped that by documenting the extent of observable inequity in gendered participation, and comparing it to participation levels during class sessions where social and situational factors were manipulated, possible solutions might be identified to reduce the inequity. An investigation into non-observable data in the form of teacher and student perceptions about participation aimed to explore some of the dynamics of gendered participation in the Egyptian EFL classroom, which in turn might provide possible directions for future research.



Research Questions


In the Egyptian EFL college classroom:

1.         What are the rates of silence and dominance by gender in whole class discussion (WCD)?

2.         How do the rates of silence and dominance by gender in WCD compare to those found in WCD and Team Debate (TD) that use the pre-speaking techniques of input and preparation?

3.         What are some student self-perceptions about factors relating to their participation?

4.          What are some teacher perceptions about factors relating to student








Since little research had been conducted on addressing inequity in gendered participation in the Egyptian EFL classroom, the study took an exploratory approach, using a convenience sample of five intact, mixed-gender  EFL study skills classes from the Intensive English Program at an English-medium university in Egypt during the Spring of 2010. The program encourages its instructors to use a communicative language teaching approach, and follows no prescribed textbook. All Egyptian in nationality, except one Kenyan female, the 51 students participating in the study, 28 female and 23 male, ranged in age from 16 to 22 years. The five classes consisted of three at the advanced level, of 12 students each, and two at the intermediate level, of 7 and 8 students each. Each class was divided almost equally by gender (see Table 1). The classes were taught by five different instructors; three American females, one Egyptian female, and one American male. The four female teachers were MA teachers in training, while the male teacher was a recent graduate of the same program.


Table 1

Class make-up by gender

Class Section

1 (advanced)

2 (advanced)

3 (advanced)

4 (intermediate)

5 (intermediate)

# Female Sts

# Male Sts

Total # Sts
















# = number; sts = students.


Instruments and Materials


Data were collected through 25 video recordings taken over a period of about three weeks of classroom sessions; and student and teacher questionnaires (Appendix A). Materials included: a video clip about women’s right to choose a marriage partner, shown to students as input (The Qatar Foundation, n.d.); two group worksheets for planning and preparation to speak (Appendix B); and two teacher lesson plans (Appendix C).




Informed written consent was first obtained from all of the participants. Prior to implementation of the interventions, two video recordings of 15 minutes each were made of separate whole class discussion sessions in each class, to determine the extent, if any, of inequity in gendered participation. Teachers were then individually trained in the implementation of two lesson plans that would introduce the interventions  of input and group preparation into the two whole class speaking contexts of whole class discussion and team debate. The first lesson consisted of watching a video clip of a team debate on women’s right to choose a marriage partner (The Qatar Foundation, n.d.). This helped learners access their prior knowledge and provided new information about a topic, as noted by Cao & Philps (2006) and Tomitch (1990). This was followed by small group planning sessions using a worksheet to help students prepare to speak during a whole class discussion on the topic of the video clip. The second lesson again consisted of small group planning sessions to prepare students, which was meant to encourage participation by promoting security and reducing anxiety. The students then participated in team debates on the topics of “Couples should date before marriage,” and “Early marriage is a good idea,” both topics that related to the general marriage topic of the video clip they had viewed in the previous lesson. Students followed the structured style of a team debate, in which each speaker was allowed to speak for one minute, followed by answering one question each, and then a general free rebuttal session. Video recordings were made of the two intervention lessons taught in each of the five classes, in order to determine the extent, if any, to which participation prior to the interventions contrasted with a change in participation levels following the interventions. Finally, a student questionnaire and a teacher questionnaire were administered to investigate participant and instructor perceptions of factors that might affect participation.


Data Analysis


The video recorded data were analyzed using a simple tally chart to count the number and length, whether long (six words or more) or short (five words or less), of contributions by each individual student (Appendix D). The choice of five words or less as a short turn was based on the finding that the average sentence of an English language learner is five words (English online: Why intonation matters, 2010), and that an average turn for a typical English speaker is nine words (Yuan, Liberman & Cieri,2006). Half of this average, or five words, was therefore labeled a short turn. A second rater repeated the process for one recording of each class, which determined an inter-rater reliability of 0.93. Counts of participation prior to interventions were then compared to counts of participation for each session that used interventions, and analyzed by gender. The questionnaire data were analyzed. Closed-ended questions from the student questionnaires were tallied, including by gender, and open-ended questions were organized by theme and analyzed by gender. The data from the teacher questionnaires were compared to actual behavior recorded from the videos. Questionnaire analyses aimed to provide insight and a possible explanation for the results of the video recorded data analysis.


Results and Discussion


Based on the analysis of the video recorded data collected prior to interventions, it was determined that participation was not equal in any of the five classes. Overall, 16% of the students were dominant, and 35% were silent (See Figure 1). In other words, roughly half of the students were not participating equally. In addition, 22% of the students were classified as severely silent, as defined as those taking less than a quarter of the average number of student turns.



Figure 1
. Identification of dominant and silent students (Sts.) across all 5 classes.

Note. Silent = taking fewer than half the average number of turns; dominant = taking more than twice the average number of turns.


Gendered Participation Rates – Pre-Intervention


In looking more closely at silence, it was found that 30% of the male students were silent as compared to 39% of the female students, which, although only marginally more, is consistent with past research that has found that more silent students tend to be female than male (Jones & Wheatley, 1990; Jule, 2001; Sunderland, 1998). In terms of turn length, however, it was found that 61% of the female students took less than half the average number of long student turns, as defined as contributions consisting of six or more words each. In contrast, only 35% of the male students took less than half the average number of long turns. This constitutes a much wider gap, and is perhaps of more significance to the issue of participation in the language learning context, since research suggests that it is the longer turns that more strongly affect SLA (e.g., Schmidt, 2001; Swain, 2005). While the implications of this finding should not be underestimated, it is also important to note that not all the female students were silent, and in fact, there was one female student who dominated in one of the advanced classes. Further, while it was determined that male students took more turns in all but one of the ten recorded sessions taken prior to interventions, in one session the female students took more turns. Interestingly, in this one session, the class consisted of 5 female students and due to absence, only 1 male student, which was the only session with such a gender imbalance. In addition, in this particular session, more turns were taken overall by the students than in any of the other pre-intervention sessions, by an average ratio of about two to one. These findings support the theory that gender is a complex construct, in that gender alone cannot predict an individual student’s silence, and that the situation, in this case the gender ratio, might affect participation levels of silent female students. In other words, silent female students are not necessarily silent all the time (Townsend, 1998).

A startling, and even disturbing finding was that silent female students were almost three times more likely to be absent than any other students during the recorded lessons, including silent male students. Since it was unanticipated, no data were specifically gathered that might provide an explanation, although some theorists have described absence as an extreme form of silence (Morita, 2004; Opuda, 2009; Pellegrini, 2007). There is some evidence to suggest that absence can be predicted by fear of peer judgment, or a negative classroom environment (Ashton-Hay, 1996; Wilkins, 2008). Although the finding on silent female absence could be explained by coincidence, the theory of absence as an extreme form of silence, combined with the findings on the lack of long female turn-taking, could imply that female silence is not only more prevalent than male silence, but also that it is more pronounced.

Another unanticipated finding related to female silence and dress. It was found that 7 of the silent female students were wearing headscarves, a result that seemed noteworthy since only 9 of the total 28 female participants wore headscarves. In other words, 78% of the female students wearing headscarves were categorized as silent. Again, no data were collected that might provide an explanation as to why these students were so much more likely to be silent than other female students. It could relate to a number of other factors, such as socioeconomic background, or societal or religious belief systems, such as those found by Mensch et. al. (2003).


Comparison with Participation in the Intervention Lessons


In comparing the data collected prior to interventions to those collected during the intervention lessons, overall it was determined that in both intervention lessons equal participation increased (see Figure 2). That is to say, incidences of both silence and dominance decreased. In one class, however, the opposite occurred. This instructor was found to rely more heavily on the technique of calling on students directly by name in the sessions prior to interventions, a technique that was not allowed during the interventions. Perhaps students in this class had been conditioned to speak only when called upon, suggesting that the social or situational factor of teacher behavior may greatly affect the conditions under which students speak, a conclusion supported by Norton (2010).


Figure 2. Changes in participation with interventions.

WCD - = WCD without techniques; WCD+ = WCD with techniques; TD + = TD with techniques (structure & preparation) used to equalize participation; Sts. = students; Dom. = dominant; Sil. = silent; Avg. = average.


In comparing the two sessions that used interventions, it was found that participation was more equal in the team debate context than in that of whole class discussion. This could relate to the difference in level of structure in the two speaking contexts, since structure has been shown to generate more equal participation (Foster & Skehan, 1999; Howe, 1997; Ur, 1981). The team debate context is more structured than that of whole class discussion because it follows a strict order of timed turns. This might only provide a partial explanation, however, since a breakdown by gender revealed that silent female students increased their participation to almost the same degree for both speaking contexts, to close to 70% of the average number of turns. In contrast, silent male students increased their participation to almost the average number of turns during the team debate, while during the whole class discussion, they increased their participation to only just one half the average number of student turns (see Figure 3). It would appear, therefore, that structure alone cannot fully explain the difference in participation levels in the two speaking contexts.



Figure 3. Silent student (Sts.) participation by gender, as a percentage of the average number of turns taken by all students.

WCD- =WCD without techniques; WCD+ = WCD with techniques; TD+ = TD with techniques to equalize participation; 100% = average number of total student turns taken.


Almost all of the individual silent students increased their participation in both speaking contexts. However, due to absence, data was unavailable for several silent students. Only two silent students showed no marked change. In reviewing the video recordings to focus on these two silent students, it was discovered that one of them faced several incidences of negative reactions from her peers at her attempts to contribute, including laughter and snickering, at which point she abandoned her turns. This suggests that a negative classroom climate may indeed relate to decreased participation levels, as found by a number of past studies (Allan & Madden, 2006; Baxter, 2002; Fassinger, 1995; Madhok, 1992).

Another important finding from the study relates to turn length. It was found that in the sessions prior to interventions, about two thirds of the contributions were short. In clear contrast, during the intervention sessions, there were more long contributions, especially during the team debate, where about two thirds of the contributions were long (see Figure 4). These findings suggest that not only might the pre-speaking interventions of input and group preparation relate to more equal participation levels, but that they may have the added benefit of resulting in more longer speaking turns.


Figure 4. Ratio of long to short turns for all classes prior to and during interventions.

Note. Long turn is defined as 6 words or more; short turn is defined as 5 words or fewer.

WCD - = WCD without techniques; WCD + = WCD with techniques; TD + = TD with techniques to equalize participation.


Student Perceptions of Participation


Of the 51 students that participated in the study, 42 responded to the student questionnaire (see Appendix A); 19 males and 23 females. Findings from the student questionnaire analysis revealed that more male students reported that they felt very comfortable speaking to the whole class in English than did female students, findings consistent with studies on anxiety referred to in the literature review (see Figure 5). Most male students stated a preference for the team debate context over that of whole class discussion, a preference which was less pronounced for female students (see Figure 6).




Figure 5. Comfort level by gender in speaking to the whole class in English.

Sts. = students; 5 = very comfortable; 1 = very uncomfortable


Figure 6. Preference by gender for type of whole class speaking activity.

WCD = Whole Class Discussion; TD = Team Debate.               

            Responses to what caused students not to participate varied widely, but could be categorized under several themes (see Table 2). Common themes included those related to the topic being boring or irrelevant; the student’s physical condition, such as being tired; or not having enough information or language to express themselves on the speaking topic. However, the most common theme related to social and emotional factors, such as shyness or fear of peer laughter.  More female students mentioned these factors than did male students, which supports the theory that the classroom climate is chillier for female students. If female students are more worried about peer judgment than male students, then perhaps it is because they are more likely to encounter negative peer judgment than their male counterparts, which is consistent with past research (e.g. Allen & Madden, 2006; Baxter, 2002; Madhok, 1992). Finally, female students provided 30 responses to this question while male students provided only 18, suggesting that non-participation may be more of a concern for female students than male, since they had more to say about the topic.


Table 2
Reported factors for not participating in whole class speaking activities






Embarrassed, fear mistakes, etc.

Due to others’ behavior e.g.   interruption, lack of respect etc.




















Physical Condition

e.g. tired, unwell, bad mood, etc.












Boring, unimportant etc.











Lack Knowledge/Skills

English not good enough

Lacks information, unprepared etc.
















Convinced of own opinion

Likes to listen to others

Wants to give others a chance






















Teacher Perceptions about Participation


When asked about their perceptions in regard to participation and gender in their classrooms, the American male instructor and two American female instructors felt that there was no difference, and the Egyptian female instructor felt that her female students participated more. This perception clearly contrasts with the findings of the video recorded data, which found that male students participated more in almost all of the sessions. In the class of the instructor who felt that her female students dominated over her male students, the video recorded data showed that in fact only one of her female students dominated, that three participated equally and that three were silent. These findings suggest that a lack of teacher awareness may exist in regard to male conversational dominance and female silence, and confirms findings from previous studies that have looked at this issue (Stroud & Wee, 2006; Sunderland, 2000; Whyte, 1984). 

Another interesting finding emerged in the analysis of teacher behavior during the study. It was found that overall, instructors called on silent students almost three times less often than they called on other students (see Figure 7). Additionally, three of the instructors called on male students more often than on female students, suggesting that a teacher bias may exist, as documented by a number of studies on classroom conversational dominance (e.g. Kelly, 1988). Only one instructor called on female students more. Interestingly, this was the same instructor who felt that her female students dominated, possibly suggesting that instructors tend to call more on those students they perceive as dominating.



Figure 7. Average number of teacher calls and silent (Sil.) students (Sts.).

Avg. = averagely participating; Dom. = dominant.


Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research


The dynamic of the two smaller classes might be likened more to that of a small group than that of a traditional large class size. This could explain why there was less unequal participation in these classes as compared to the larger classes. Further, these two classes were also of a lower English proficiency level, which could be a variable affecting the extent of inequity in participation. Instructor variables such as gender, nationality, experience, and classroom management style may well have affected participation. This could explain why one class showed a decrease in equal participation during the intervention sessions. A statistical analysis of the quantitative data might provide information on the significance of the inequity in gendered participation found. This is an area which could be the basis of further analysis and generalization to other Egyptian EFL contexts. Unfortunately, some demographic information which might have helped to explain the relationship between silent female students, absence, and dress, was not collected. There is a clear need for further investigation into these findings. Promising areas to begin this investigation may include looking at student demographic information and interviewing silent female students and their parents on their beliefs. Finally, an investigation into the quality of student contributions, and more qualitative analysis of discourse and student behavior during speaking activities, could provide more insight into the nature of student silence, especially in relation to a chilly classroom climate, which could in turn, contribute further to the identification of effective interventions to equalize participation in the EFL classroom.




Implications and Conclusion


The findings of this study support those of past studies on inequity in gendered participation in the classroom. In addition, they show that female silence may be more pronounced in degree than that of males, as evidenced by the high number of female students who took very few or no long turns, and in the high rate of female absence, which may be viewed as an extreme form of silence. These findings imply that strong interventions may be required to help combat female silence, perhaps in the form of awareness-raising of both students and teachers, and in manipulation of social and situational factors that discourage female student participation. The pre-speaking interventions of input and group preparation appear to relate to an increase in equal participation as well as to longer turn taking, and, further, suggest that silent female students may differ from silent male students in the contexts that are most effective in increasing their participation. These findings imply that manipulation of social and situational factors in the classroom may strongly affect participation levels, and that further investigation into these factors could help identify those interventions that might best help to increase participation levels of silent female students. The findings of this study also provide support for the theory that willingness to communicate is not a fixed trait, and that it can instead relate to external factors such as social and situational conditions in the language learning classroom. These findings further imply that by addressing inequity in gendered participation in the EFL classroom through the manipulation of social and situational factors, teachers and researchers might identify effective solutions to a very important problem that continues to thwart many EFL professionals, a problem for which few interventions have hitherto been found.





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Appendix A : Student and Teacher Questionnaires

Student Questionnaire

Sex (Circle):                      m         f

1.      On a scale of 1 (least) to 5 (most) how confident do you feel about speaking in English to the whole class? (Circle)

1          2          3          4          5

2.      a. Which type of videoed public speaking context did you enjoy most? (Circle)

1. Whole class discussion (Doha Debate lesson)        2. Team debate

b. Why?___________________________________________________________

3.      a. In which did you feel most comfortable speaking out?

1. Whole class discussion                                2. Team debate

b. Why?___________________________________________________________

4.      If you do not participate in class at times, why do you choose not to do so?



5.      What makes you most want to participate in class?



6.      Did any of the following help you to feel more comfortable to speak out in class? (Tick all that apply)

a.       Having time to plan and prepare                                             ____

b.      Reading or watching something about the topic first             ____

c.       Working in a group before having to speak                            ____

d.      Being told I had to speak (like giving debate speech)            ____

e.       Other:  ________________________________________________________

7.      Which, if any, helped most?___________________________________________

8.      Other comments about class participation: _______________________________


Teacher Questionnaire

Name: _________________________

1.      Who are the least participating students in your class? List all:


2.      Why do you think they do not participate? Comment on each less-participating student in detail if possible. (Use back if needed)


3.      a.   Did either of the two sessions help the less-participating students speak out? (Circle all that apply)

1. Whole class discussion (Lesson 1)  2. Team debate (Lesson 2)

b.   Did one of the two help more? Which? _______________________________

c.   Was there a difference by gender in the participation of the less-participating students within the two lessons? Explain. __________________________________________________________________


4.      What do you think made the most difference, if any, in helping these students to speak out? (Tick up to 3)

a.       Providing more structure to activities                                                 ____

b.      Using worksheets to prepare                                                               ____

c.       Watching or reading something about the topic first                         ____

d.      Having a chance to discuss the topic in smaller groups first              ____

e.       Requiring that everyone speak (e.g. one minute in debate speech)    ____

f.       The controversial nature of the topics                                                 ____

g.      The type of public speaking context (class discussion vs debate)      ____

h.      Other:________________________________________________

5.      Other comments on the issue of class participation during the sessions?











Appendix B: Group Worksheets

Group worksheet 1

Together summarize the main arguments of the two speakers you listened to. Take turns to be the secretary so that every person has a chance to write.

Arguments For

Arguments Against




Group opinions about women’s right to choose a marriage partner

Discuss what you think about women’s right to choose a marriage partner. Write your ideas in note form here.

Arguments For

Arguments Against




Group’s Final Consensus?


Group Worksheet 2

Debate proposition: ____________________________________________________

For or Against: ________________________

Brainstorm your arguments for and against. Write all ideas without judging now, in note form.






Now sort through your arguments, choosing what you will include, and organize them in logical sequence here. Add more as needed. Then divide up the points by speaker.1.






Next, go through the possible arguments the opposing team might use, as listed in your chart above. What will you say to each argument?  Now prepare your individual speeches.


Appendix C: Teacher Lesson Plans

Instructions for Lesson 1

Listening and Whole Class Discussion


What to do


Materials / Notes


a.    Briefly explain students will watch a debate on women’s right to choose a marriage partner. Allow them 2 min. to write down what they think the speakers might say – have them try to think of 2 points for and 2 against.

b.   Make a 2-column chart on the board of “For” and “Against” and invite students to share their ideas of what the speakers might say. This will be video-recorded. Call only on students who raise their hands. Try to look at all the students and give pauses to wait for students to raise hands. Write their suggestions in note form under the 2 columns.

10 min.

White board and board marker


*Video Recording*


a.   Have students watch the video-clip of the first 2 speakers of the debate. Ask them to take notes in chart form of points for and against the motion, as you did on the board.

10 min.

Student note books / pieces of paper


a.   Organize students into groups of 3 or 4, trying to ensure a mix by gender, and hand out the group worksheet. Have each student in the group use a different color pen or pencil.

b.   Explain that they are to work together to summarize the main points of the debate. Students take turns being the secretary, each student writing one point with help from their group and then giving the worksheet to the next student to write. This is a round table cooperative learning structure.

c.   Next, the group should discuss their own opinions about the motion, trying to reach a conclusion.

15 min.

Group worksheet and copy of Doha debate video clip


a.   This will be video recorded. Explain that each group is to present opinions of their group. Add their points to the board. Once all the points are written on the board, explain that they will now discuss the motion, based on the opinions each group had. Try to have each group contribute, but only call on hand raisers, and do not put any one individual on the spot.

10 min.

White board and board marker


*Video Recording*



Instructions for Lesson 2

Team Debate


What to do


Materials / Notes


a.   Explain that students are going to debate two motions. Divide students into 4 groups, trying to ensure a mix by gender. Two groups will debate one motion and two groups the other. Hand out group worksheets. Assign each group “For” or “Against” one of the motions. The motions are “Couples should date before marriage” and “Early marriage is a good idea.” Make sure they understand the motion and what they need to argue. Explain that each student will have to give a one-minute speech for their team, similar to the debate they watched. They will also have a chance for free rebuttal after the speeches are all completed.

b.   Have each group brainstorm their ideas for their argument, using the worksheet to record. Then have them organize the points they want to argue, and divide up the arguments among the team.

c.    They should also try to think of the counter-arguments and what they might say to refute these, using the worksheet to record their ideas.

d.   Allow students 2-3 minutes to prepare for their speeches.

15 min.

Group worksheet


a.   Set up the desks to run the debates. You will play the moderator role. Assign someone from the audience to be time-keeper. Inform the audience that they should make notes on the arguments for and against.

b.   Begin the first debate. This will be video-recorded. Allow each student 1 min. for their speech. They may go over by a maximum of 10 seconds. After each speech, ask the speaker one clarifying question.

c.   Once all the speeches are completed, allow free rebuttal – i.e. any speaker may ask any speaker from the opposing team a question, or voice a concern. The total debate should not go over 18 min.

20 min.

*Video Recording*


a.   Repeat the process for the second debate. This will be video-recorded.

20 min.

*Video Recording*


a.   Optionally, have students write up their opinion about the debate they watched, using their notes to help them. This is a homework assignment.






Appendix D: Tally Chart for Counting Student Participation


# of turns

Short turns

Long turns

Speech time

















































































Mariah J. Fairley is an instructor at Al-Azhar University. She is interested in collaborative and constructivist learning, and research on social factors affecting learning in the EFL classroom. She can be reached at