Cultural diversity should play an important role in classrooms of all grade levels. A successful classroom should not simply prioritize academic performance but should also ensure that all students feel confident and accepted every single day. In order to create a welcoming environment, it is crucial for teachers to recognize and honor the diversity of their students.
When we talk about diversity in the classroom, we are referring to the practice of incorporating viewpoints from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds, as well as from different genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic status, religious affiliations, or political beliefs.
Not only does an emphasis on diversity create a more positive environment for all students, but it also develops deeper levels of empathy while improving problem-solving skills. According to Scientific American, “Diversity enhances creativity. It encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making” (Scientific American). Students sharper better thinkers when they are exposed to perspectives and experiences different from their own.
Thankfully, there are a plethora of ways to celebrate cultural diversity in the classroom and promote multicultural teaching. Below are some resources to help you develop a multicultural school community.
1. Provide materials that reflect a range of cultures and experiences
- In order to incorporate cultural diversity into the classroom every day, it is important to provide students with materials that will educate them on a variety of experiences. Multicultural lesson plans work to incorporate the histories, texts, values, beliefs, and perspectives of people from different cultural backgrounds.
- You might work to expand your social studies or history units to areas of the globe not typically explored in your curriculum, if your school allows. Students can then learn about countries and cultures they might be less familiar with. For some social studies resources, check out our Social Studies Workbooks.
- For example, if your third graders are exploring the continents, you might assign students to each pick a country within a certain continent to research. Rather than just memorizing generalities about Asia or Africa or Europe, students will come away with an understanding of Indonesia or Botswana or Belgium!
- For an eighth-grade classroom, you might help students plan a trip around the world, asking them to report on which countries they would visit and what attractions or monuments they would seek out while there. Students will have to research currency, customs, landmarks, and geography in order to properly navigate their chosen country.
- Books should reflect a wide variety of languages, experiences, themes, and people. Stories should explore different family structures, religions, abilities, and social classes. By diversifying your library, you will not only provide all students with a story they can connect to, but you will also be exposing your students to different ways of life.
2. Allow students to share their culture with the class
- Of course, a major part of celebrating diversity is allowing students to bring their cultures into the school. Designating specific days where students can share food, clothing, and music from their heritage creates a space in which they can feel proud of their backgrounds. You might set up booths around the classroom for a day or schedule a series of presentations throughout the week where any student can volunteer to share.
- Holidays make for effective cultural lessons that you can easily weave into your lesson plans. ELA or Guided Reading texts can center around Chinese New Year, Eid al-Fitr, Passover, Bodhi Day, Easter etc. Holidays are also a time for students in your class to share their own experiences and celebrate these important days.
- By learning about the specific traditions, populations and art forms of a place, students will develop an appreciation for its culture and feel confident sharing that information with their peers. You can also repurpose these facts in spelling quizzes, word problems, creative writing prompts, or grammar tests.
3. Get to know your students
- Though it may seem obvious, forming close relationships with your students is essential for multicultural learning to feel genuine and helpful rather than like an arbitrary addition to the curriculum. Students will feel more comfortable sharing their experiences with the classroom when they feel valued in it.
- For starters, make sure that you can correctly pronounce all students’ names and that you call them by the names they prefer. You also want to make sure to encourage students to continue appreciating their home culture as much as they do the schools’. For example, allowing for code-switching, or the combined use of one’s native language and English, ensures that students know that their own language is just as important as the grammar rules they learn in the classroom.
- Meeting with students individually in small groups during lunch or free periods can help strengthen a personal bond built on trust and support. By taking the time to get to know your students, you will start to discern which learning styles work best for them. Students will also feel more comfortable participating in activities about their backgrounds or experiences if they feel understood and appreciated.
4. Involve families
- There is no better way than to promote inclusion and awareness of different cultures in the classroom than to involve family members. The rich experiences of your students’ parents, guardians, or siblings make for incredibly valuable lessons that the whole class can benefit from.
- You might invite a weekly or monthly adult to share a bit about their background. Students will then have met an expert on a culture and have heard first-hand what it is like to be a part of a certain religion or nationality. Particularly for students who are more reserved, having their parents help explain their culture will make the process of sharing feel safe and exciting for all involved.
5. Incorporate different learning styles
- Diversity doesn’t have to only apply to social studies or English lessons. Demonstrating different learning styles in math or science will expose students to new methods of problem-solving. Additionally, incorporating music, visual art, culinary lessons, and hands-on experiments might help students better absorb the material than if they only see it presented in the same few formats.
- All students bring with them unique learning styles and histories. Thinking about how you can better accommodate your materials for English Language Learners (ELLs) will force you and your students to get creative when working through challenging subjects. Allow for flexibility with how your students can participate in lessons, particularly for ELLs who may be less comfortable speaking the dominant classroom language.
Designing a multicultural can easily transform the way your students learn. You will certainly better prepare your class for life outside of school. Adults collaborate with people from all backgrounds every day in the workplace and beyond. Exposure to cultural diversity better prepares students for these future interactions and helps them to become better citizens of the world.
By systematically integrating a variety of cultural experiences into your curriculum, you will familiarize your students with perspectives that differ from their own. Doing so will encourage them to complexify and expand their understanding of the world around them!