Posted: 12/12/17

Guide to Teaching Multicultural Students


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Long hailed as a melting pot of cultures, America is home to millions of immigrants – whether their ancestors sailed across on the Mayflower or they moved to the country last week. Research by the National Center for Educational Statistics found that one-third of U.S. students are considered racial or ethnic minorities, a number that is set to increase to more than half by 2050. In this changing educational landscape, teachers are challenged with creating inclusive classrooms where students of all backgrounds feel represented and welcomed. The following guide explores how teachers can build inclusive multicultural learning environments.

Quiz for Teachers: How Well Do You Know Your Students?

For teachers with a classroom full of students of different backgrounds, the responsibility to connect with them goes beyond simply knowing where they’re from, or what their favorite subjects are. These teachers must strive to understand their students in a more holistic way, incorporating their cultural traditions into lessons and activities, so students feel understood, comfortable, and focused on learning. The following quiz helps teachers see how well they know their students and their cultural backgrounds.

Finding a Place for Culture in the Classroom

What is Culture?

Culture is a broad term, and one that is not easily summed up. In her book Culture Learning: The Fifth Dimension on the Language Classroom, author Louise Damen defined culture as the “learned and shared human patterns or models for living; day-to-day living patterns [that] pervade all aspects of human social interaction. Culture is mankind’s primary adaptive mechanism.” Individuals from varied nationalities, ethnicities, and races all bring cultural traditions to their interactions, and it’s up to teachers to recognize, celebrate and share these different perspectives. The following graphic displays some of the many ways that culture affects learning, both inside and outside the classroom:

What is Multicultural Education?

Multicultural education is not a task to be done or even an end goal to be accomplished. Instead, it is an approach to education that aims to include all students, promote learning of other cultures, and teach healthy social skills in a multicultural setting. “It is the present and future of education,” according to Shilpa Bhouraskar, who runs a business offering online courses to students worldwide. “Multicultural classrooms are a melting pot of learning,” she says. “Rather than a passive, one-way flow of learning from teacher to student, there is a brainstorming of ideas, stories, and experiences that enrich the educational experience in ways that are impossible in monocultural classes.”

Classroom Resources for Multicultural Education

Using different activities and games in multicultural classrooms is an excellent way to foster inclusivity and encourage students to share their heritage. It’s also a beneficial way for teachers to involve students in different styles of study to immerse them in their learning. Sharing about oneself within the confines of an activity is often much easier than being asked open-ended questions and put “on the spot.” These activities can then provide a safe space for dialogue and serve as an entryway into more in-depth interactions. The following section outlines some examples of activities and games appropriate for different age groups.

Classroom Activities

Support and Resources for Teachers

Educating the future generation is a challenging job on its own, but for educators committed to culturally responsive teaching, the task can feel overwhelming at times. Fortunately, they don’t have to go it alone—there are numerous resources both within schools and online. Some of the top places that teachers can turn to for support include:

Top 10 Books for Multicultural Learning

Reading aloud is an important teaching tool no matter the classroom, and books featuring children from different cultures can play a vital role in bringing all students together. Teachers can set the stage by reading aloud during class, or by having students take turns. For independent reading, students can be encouraged to choose books that allow them to step outside their culture. Below are some good examples of books that explore themes across varied cultures.

Teacher Resources for ESL Students & Families

ESL, an acronym for English as a Second Language, is a study program for students who are nonnative English speakers. Ideally, ESL teachers can use their students’ cultural traditions and customs to help them learn about one another and find topics of conversation in English, although it will take creativity and forethought to effectively incorporate the experiences of students from many different cultural backgrounds. Some of the best resources for multicultural integration and ESL learning are given below.

For Parents & Guardians: 
Strengthening Multicultural Education 

Parents, guardians and other family members are a crucial component in educating the future generation. They serve as role models, advocates for their children, and links between their children and society as a whole. As active participants in their children’s learning, they can help ease the tension, confusion, or frustration that may arise when children are trying to navigate cultural and language differences. The following section highlights some of the ways parents, guardians and other family members can help their children receive the best education possible.

Promoting Inclusion: Solutions to Common Challenges

A classroom attuned to the individual histories and backgrounds of its students is best positioned to be an inviting and stimulating space for all students. Unfortunately, there are still many that fail to embrace and educate students on the beauty of difference. Some of the most common problems of non-inclusive classroom environments along with their solutions are listed below


Spotlight: Advice for Teaching English Abroad

According to a recent report on international education, the number of international schools has risen by 153 percent in the last 12 years, with more than 529,000 qualified teachers expected to be employed overseas by 2022. Teachers who want to be truly immersed in multicultural classrooms are drawn to these positions, which often pay similar salaries as positions in America. Some of the top tips for succeeding in an international school system include:

Q&A: Advice from a Multiculturalism Expert


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