Biography work – 5 Exercises on Gender

Biography work: deep analysis,
own experience, socialisation,
questioning stereotypes

Biography work is ideal for an in-depth analysis of the theme of gender. Make sure that the participants engage with the topic from their own experience.  

The following five exercises should support participants when dealing with their own biography and help them to critically reflect on gender roles, socialisation and language.  

Since the exercise looks into personal experiences, which may include previous trauma or distress, this approach requires special care when dealing with the boundaries of the participants. Due to this, the group dynamic must be carefully monitored. Especially in mixed groups, a strong level of situational awareness is required in order to avoid the mixing of collective attributions and individual views. In light of this, it can be useful to have gender-separated groups.  

Trainers must be aware that their own biography is included in the exercise and that they are always involved through their own gender roles. (Source: Salto, Rolle, Pflicht und Kür. Gender Manual II, Verlag Pestalozzianum 2001, S 20). 


1.) What did I notice? 

** Goal: to become aware of individual and collective experiences  ** Duration: 20-40 minutes 

Individual work – task:

„Think briefly and answer spontaneously: Which words and principles shaped you in your youth? Which do you still remember? “ 

  • Write the sentences or words on cards – women and men in different colours 
  • Walk around the room and say your sentences and words out loud to yourself repeatedly 
  • Listen to what the others are saying 

Exchange between two participants:

  • Exchange what you have heard. What feelings did the sentences and words trigger? 
  • Pin the cards on a pinboard (sorted by colour)  

Whole group plenary – exchange based on cards 

  • Exchange the similarities and differences between the cards of the men and women  
  • Another option could be placing the cards on a poster so that they can be referred to at a later point in time. For example, have participants feelings changed?  

Source: Salto, Rolle, Pflicht und Kür. Gender Manual II, Verlag Pestalozzianum 2001, S 23


2.) I am a girl, I am a boy 

** Goal: To become aware of your own experiences  ** Duration: 30-50 minutes 

The task for individual work in plenary:

  • Try to remember:   When did you realise that you were a boy or a girl?  
  • When you think of that time, what do you feel?  
  • Has there ever been a time when you would have rather been a boy or a girl? What happened? How did you feel?  

Small groups: Women / Men: 

  • Exchange ideas and discuss how you could answer the questions. 

Exchange in plenary: 

  • Feedback from the small groups and discussions 

Source: Salto, Rolle, Pflicht und Kür. Gender Manual II, Verlag Pestalozzianum 2001, S 21


3.) My Life as a Woman / Man 

** Goal: To compare the experiences of women and men ** Duration: 90 Minutes 

Small groups separated into men and women – task:

Discuss these questions:  

  • How has my gender affected my life and work?  
  • How did I imagine my life? Was it planned?  
  • What changes would help me make full use of my opportunities?  

Small groups, mixed – exchange of experiences 

Source: Salto, Rolle, Pflicht und Kür. Gender Manual II, Verlag Pestalozzianum 2001, S 24 


4.) Spin your life further

** Goal: Establishing a connection to your personal future as an important biographical perspective. Learn to distinguish between desired images and reality. Take a look at consequences for current life.  ** Duration: 90 minutes 

Plenary- individual work task: 

  • Pick up a pen and some paper 
  • Imagine it is the year 2033 
  • Split the page into two columns. On the left write “dreams”  as a title, and on the right write “reality”. 
  • On the left, you put what you would wish for. Feel free to dream and allow Utopias too. On the right, you describe what will happen if you realistically assess developments.   

Small groups – Evaluation:

  • Tell each other your stories 
  • Explain the stories as if it were the year 2033 
  • In the first-person form, for example, “I work as… I have two children… I have just completed my…” 
  • Listeners should pay special attention to what is not told 

Plenary – individual work task:  

Write down notes for the following questions: 

  • Have I considered and included political developments?  
  • What do I absolutely need? (financial situation, relationships work) 
  • What is the relationship between dream and reality for me personally? 
  • Why is it that the dream will probably not come true? 
  • What feelings do I have when I think about my future? 
  • Which areas in my future can I see clearly and which will remain blurry? 

Source: Salto, Rolle, Pflicht und Kür. Gender Manual II, Verlag Pestalozzianum 2001, S 30


5.) Spoken Biography

** Goal: to reflect on your own conversation behaviour  ** Duration: 60 minutes 

Let the following questions inspire you to discover your own conversation behaviour. Write your thoughts on a separate sheet. This is followed by the evaluation and discussion of the questions in the plenum. 

List of questions for individual work task: 

  • What was the conversation like in my family?  
  • Who was talking? Father? Mother? Siblings? Me? 
  • Did the conversation change when guests were visiting? 
  • How was conversation held in different situations? E.g. when returning from school, during tensions, etc. 
  • Was it discussed? Did anyone have monologues? Was it chatted about? Explained? Commanded? Forbidden? 
  • Was I encouraged to speak as a child? Or was I asked to remain silent? Or both? On what occasions? 
  • Did my views get attention? 
  • How did I talk at school? In the classroom? At break time? 
  • How did I learn to talk at school? Did I have to speak in  „whole sentences“? Was I allowed to speak the way I thought and felt? 
  • How was my conversation behaviour assessed? What was rewarded? What was punished? 
  • Who were and are my role models when it comes to speeches? 
  • Whose speech scares me? 

Source: Salto, Rolle, Pflicht und Kür. Gender Manual II, Verlag Pestalozzianum 2001, S 35

Translation: Fred Taucher

Read original article in German

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