Building Culturally Responsive Classrooms

Culturally responsive classroom

As our communities become more diverse, there is a greater need for culturally responsive classrooms. Here, we share tips for building culturally responsive classrooms. Additionally, we take a look at some key components of culturally responsive teaching, and why it’s key to enhancing the educational experience of all students. 

Increasingly Diverse Communities & Classrooms

About 27 percent of the US population is made up of immigrants and their U.S. born children. While the majority of immigrants speak English proficiently, about half of the foreign-born population is considered Limited English Proficient (LEP). Schools across the US are working hard to support these bilingual families and their children.

This increase in diversity has unfortunately been accompanied by a rise in nationalism and empowered anti-immigrant groups. In recent years, we have seen more incidents of discrimination, racism, and hate crimes.

There’s an urgent need to mitigate the negative effects that racism can have on the educational experiences of immigrant students. At the same time, we want all children to grow up to become better global citizens, by instilling an appreciation and respect for diverse cultures and languages. Building culturally responsive classrooms can do this. 

What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Children reading books in a classroom

Culturally Responsive Teaching recognizes the importance of including a diverse range of cultures in all aspects of learning. A classroom that utilizes Culturally Responsive Teaching feels like a close-knit community that is welcoming to students of all backgrounds. Diversity is not just accepted but celebrated. Students feel safe, valued, and respected in their classrooms. 

Some key components of a Culturally Responsive Classroom are: 

  • Celebrate and value diverse cultures and languages
  • Learning within the context of culture
  • Student-centered instruction
  • Culturally mediated instruction

Components of a Balanced Approach

A Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report offers a number of strategies that schools can use to create a more culturally responsive environment for all students. Over the years, we have discussed each of these strategies on our blog posts as well.

A Balanced Approach

It’s best to consider a balanced approach towards the diverse cultures represented in the classroom. While negative assumptions about immigrant families or cultures are clearly detrimental, it is equally important not to be “colorblind” and assume that all people are the same. Instead, try to get to know the immigrant families and the issues that are important to their cultures. The goal is to accept differences and highlight diversity without judgment.

Be Patient

Make an extra effort to be patient with immigrant children and parents that do not speak English well. It is extremely beneficial if the teacher can find out more about the cultures represented in the class and learn some words from their students’ home languages.

Welcome Parents Into the Classroom

A culturally responsive classroom makes parents feel welcome. Parents are the experts on both their cultures and their children, and they can play important roles in enhancing learning in both the classroom and at home. Teachers can involve an immigrant parent or relative in activities that educate all the children in the classroom while demonstrating the value of diversity. They can also encourage reading in the home language with the use of lending libraries.

Incorporate Cultures & Heritage

Incorporate the community’s diverse cultures and linguistic heritage in instruction. This can be done through lesson plans, games, and crafts. Teachers can also emphasize the value of speaking other languages and maintaining a connection to one’s traditions. This encourages children to be proud of their heritage and their families, making them more likely to engage in classroom discussions.

Working in Groups

Encourage students from diverse cultures and with different language skills to work in groups on projects or games. The learning experiences should allow immigrant children to use examples from home and their culture to show their skills and knowledge. By working together, children will experience different ways of thinking and varied approaches to problem solving and communication while learning more about their diverse peers.

A New Resource for Culturally Responsive Teaching

We’ve written before about the value that bilingual books and multicultural resources can bring to diverse classrooms. A new book, Building Bridges with Bilingual Books and Multicultural Resources: A Practical Manual of Lesson Plans, Literacy Games, and Fun Activities from Around the World to Celebrate Diversity in the Classroom and at Home, gives educators the tools to build a culturally responsive classroom environment.

In it, educators and parents will find actionable, easy-to-use resources that teach children about other languages and cultures, while supporting literacy development and multiculturalism.

Building Bridges offers comprehensive multicultural lesson plans, diversity activities, games, and other resources that educators can use to:

  • Build inclusive and welcoming classrooms,
  • Develop self-esteem among minority children,
  • Promote an overall understanding of and respect for diversity, and
  • Support literacy development in multiple languages.

We sincerely hope that the lessons and activities in the book will help educators support dual-language children and incorporate diversity in their teaching.

We’d love to hear your feedback and suggestions for building culturally inclusive classrooms. Comment and share your thoughts below!

Related Posts

Is Your Classroom Ready for Bilingual Students?

Diversity in the Classroom: Why We Need To Go Deeper

Nurturing a Multicultural Classroom: Embracing Our Own Diversity

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Anneke Forzani founded Language Lizard ( to provide educators, librarians, and parents with resources that develop literacy skills among English Language Learners, build inclusive classrooms, and celebrate cultural diversity. Language Lizard offers bilingual books in over 50 languages, multilingual audio resources, multicultural posters, and free lesson plans to support multicultural classrooms. The company also runs a blog ( for parents and teachers working with language learners and culturally diverse students. Anneke is the author of Building Bridges with Bilingual Books and Multicultural Resources (a manual to support culturally responsive teaching) and With Flying Colors: Color Idioms (a multicultural idiom book).

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