Culturally Responsive Teaching – What is it?

Our culture is central to our learning. Take a minute to think of a lesson or unit that you have taught over the years. Make a list of the parts of the lesson/unit that are examples of your culture embedded in it. For a math lesson, it might be the actual process that you teach to solve a problem. Even the way you communicate the instructions to the students will be based in culture. Examples used to help students understand a concept are probably based in your culture. Books used throughout the curriculum are usually predominantly written by authors from the culture where the school resides. When we realize the different ways that we can adapt how we teach to include aspects from the cultures in the class/school, how much richer the learning and how it shapes the thinking processes of all the students, giving them something to which they can relate.

So, what do we mean by Culturally Responsive Instruction? In a classroom which has culturally responsive instruction, the content in the curriculum will reflect the diversity of nationalities represented in the class. When this happens, students from different backgrounds will see themselves and their experiences in the curriculum. Any good teacher will build on their students’ prior knowledge, but in culturally responsive instruction, this will include their culture and language. There is strong evidence that cultural practices shape thinking processes so culture needs to be central to the curriculum and student learning.

There aren’t a lot of helps out there to know now to integrate culture into your classroom, but it is mostly developing an attitude.

Suggestions for integrating culture into your instruction:

  1. Remember that doing something differently doesn’t mean it is doing it wrong.
  2. Try to use examples from different countries, rather than just your home country. This means you might have to do some reading up on the countries represented in your classroom. You can also ask students for examples. The host country is always a good country to use since all of the students are living in that country.
  3. Find out what incidences may be embarrassing for that child (ex. looking him or her in the eye.)
  4. Ask the parents of non-North American students how they grade in their home country. Ask them what types of subjects or what level of learning they deem is important.
  5. Recognize that there are different spellings and meanings of commonly used British and American English words. (Check to see what your school’s policy is in regards to spelling.)
  6. Use books and resources available in the language of the classroom (usually English) that come from a variety of English speaking countries.

You need to understand that teaching is only part of the picture here. You need to be ready to learn new ways, learn what you can about the various cultures represented in your classroom.


The examples come from teachers teaching in schools away from their home country.

  • “When we were joining Unifix cubes, I said we were going to make trains, and most kids didn’t know what trains were.”
  • “It has been difficult in math teaching estimation of size. Most kids in my class had never seen an elephant length and didn’t know what a city block is.”
  • “Many terms in the math book are very American.”
  • “The whole report card thing. Before coming, I had no idea of the broad DIFFERENCE between grades and their meanings amongst the various cultures represented here.”

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