Culturally Responsive Teaching

10 principles for culturally responsive teaching

These are my top 10 principles for culturally responsive teaching and effective language instruction. My rationale is based on practical teaching experience with Chinese learners who are learning English reading, writing, speaking, and listening. 

What are the principles of culturally responsive teaching?

  1. Meaningful and Engaging Curriculum
  2. Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom
  3. Providing Models for Thinking
  4. Integrating Mother-Tongue Strategically
  5. Conducting Performance-Based Assessment
  6. Design Accessible, Authentic, and Culturally Relevant Academic Content
  7. Offer Explicit and Culturally Relevant Instruction
  8. Teach Vocabulary Within Multiple Contexts
  9. Use Models for Oral and Written English
  10. Integrate Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Skills.

Meaningful and Engaging Curriculum

Relevant curriculum to engage the student in creating meaning with real-world examples that are relatable and cognitively engaging. Lessons are designed with clear learning outcomes and assessments measure learning outcomes with high expectations for the learner to achieve.


In my classes my high school students respond to higher expectations with fun and engaging lessons. My content includes real-world examples with clear contrasts between the English language and Chinese to help my learners make sense of the concepts explored. One example is with reading novels like ‘The Little Prince’ (De, An. , 1943). Students are required to extract vocabulary in addition to the vocabulary I have chosen and translate it into Chinese. Then, in discussion, they are required to provide examples from their own experiences about the meaning of the vocabulary. Experiences of the Little Prince like when he met the ‘Showoff’ (p.16) are relatable to my students and they provided examples and synonyms for ‘showoff’ (p.16) like when they met someone who was proud of their achievements, or when they felt like sharing their accomplishments with others. At the end of our novel study of the ‘Little Prince’ (1943) we worked on an artistic expression of each of the planets in the book. 

Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom

Learners taking ownership of their learning experience during classes helps them to retain memory with the lesson content. Active learning with discussions, research, translation to Chinese, games, interpretation of videos as it relates to the content, and worksheets help student to use a variety of different instructional styles to comprehend the content from a variety of perspectives. 


With clear classroom norms about expected behaviour for activities helps set the tone for my students to take ownership of their learning experience. One example is when we are learning vocabulary, we start with reciting chosen words for correct pronunciation. Then, we work on the definitions of the words. Next, we explore synonyms, antonyms, and homonyms to provide context and relate the new words to words they already know. In discussion, students are asked questions about real-world examples from their own experiences, media, and popular music and sports heros. Using the vocabulary discussed with synonyms and antonyms, students are then required to talk about their examples and write about them in their journals. Day one in my classes includes discussions about my students’ interest, favourite movies, music stars, songs, television shows, foods, hobbies, and video games. I use this list to include in my lesson planning so students have opportunities to lead discussions about their favourite topics. We will also use games like Scrabble to reinforce learning about vocabulary.

Provide Models for Thinking

Learners practice reflecting about how they come to conclusions about their learning experience. Thinking about their learning process helps students to become more efficient about learning and have feedback loops to reinforce learning.


Reflection and modelling are two key elements of my lessons in writing class. We work on note-taking and mind-mapping models to help students develop effective thinking strategies when they are preparing to write about their topics. I provide my students with three examples of note-taking and three examples of mind-maps. We work through them with one sample topic in a class discussion. Then, students work through the one they choose with a topic of their choice and share their ideas, notes, and maps with the class. This helps to prepare students for writing by providing them with a model to use to organize their thoughts and ideas in a way that is suitable to their learning style. For example, the artists in my classes like to draw out mindmaps with diagrams and images about their topics. This process helps them to make sense of the topic and clearly identify the main idea and three supporting ideas to write about. 

Integrating Mother-Tongue Strategically

When introducing difficult concepts, using the students’ mother-tongue language strategically helps with learning difficult concepts.


We recently discussed conflict management in one of our personal development lessons. After translating the five conflict management styles into Chinese, my students completed a questionnaire about how they manage conflict in one relationship. The results of this questionnaire provided them with their dominant conflict management style. By translating the five conflict management styles into Chinese while explaining them, my students were prepared to respond to the questions on the questionnaire and then were able to provide examples of how they use their dominant conflict management style when faced with a difficult situation. 

Conducting Performance-Based Assessment

Formative checks for learning throughout the lesson and at the end of the lesson provide opportunities for the teacher to adjust instruction and give timely feedback to learners. By conducting performance-based assessments during each lesson, the students have the ability to assess their own learning, ask questions, and adjust as needed.


My lessons all include assessment of the learning outcomes. By using learning outcomes with action verbs, students are aware of what they will be able to preform at the end of the lesson. During the lesson, we check into the learning outcomes to ensure we are on track with their discussions and learning goals. At the end of the lesson, we do a short review with assessment and summary of their key takeaway from the lesson. For example, during our lesson about conflict management, because the concepts were difficult for my students, after completing the questionnaire we discussed real-world examples of the conflict management styles, took a poll in the class for the five conflict management styles and mapped them out on the board, then reinforced the learning by sharing real-world examples. I asked the students if we were going to order lunch, and knowing the map data of the conflict management styles in the room, how likely is it we will successfully order lunch in time? What would those of you with the avoiding style, collaborating style, accommodating style, competing style, and compromising style say when we are deciding what we will have for lunch? At the end of the class, I asked for examples of behaviours associated with each of the five styles to asses their understanding of the concepts and ability to explain the concepts proficiently. Then, in summary we discussed what style we would like to choose for our next conflict interaction to see if the outcome would be different. 

Design Accessible, Authentic, and Culturally Relevant Academic Content

Including background knowledge and culture for both Chinese and English helps to provide culturally relevant instruction for both the mother-tongue language and English. Authentic content includes relevant information to create meaning for the students, thus making the content accessible. 


Using examples from day one with my students interests we discuss the contrast between cultures and the language explored in our lessons. For example, a number of my students enjoy watching American basketball. We discuss the Chinese professional basketball games and the American NBA games and the contrast between the two cultures of the basketball game and sport. Making these contrasts and links helps the students to develop comprehension about the language being introduced in the lessons. 

Offer Explicit and Culturally Relevant Instruction

Students’ background knowledge and culture and make their instruction culturally relevant. By using instructional strategies to connect with the students and challenge them to expand their knowledge teachers can support students with the growing edges of their learning. 


In my classes we integrate Chinese culture with the lessons I am delivering. For example, when reading a book and coming across an idiom in English, I will ask students if there is a similar idiom in the Chinese language and when and how it is used. We will discuss when the idiom was first developed and the context of the situation in how it came to be. Then, we will research the same information for the English idiom.

Teach Vocabulary Within Multiple Contexts

Providing a breadth and depth and association of vocabulary learning to help students create real-world meaning of the vocabulary learned in lessons. Using the vocabulary frequently in class helps to normalize the use of the newly learned words with flexibility and in the appropriate context.


During lessons I will encourage students to use vocabulary we have covered in previous lessons. Vocabulary learning also includes synonyms and antonyms so during lessons I will also use the synonyms and antonyms and recall the context in which we have used them previously.

Use Models for Oral and Written English

Providing strong oral and written language models for students to follow helps to cultivate students’ ability to use oral English and create opportunities for them to use it. 


During writing class I am explicitly clear about  writing like we talk by using conversational language and writing for academic purposes. This concept is understood by my students and they are able to identify what style of writing they have used. We discuss informal and formal English language for writing and speaking and students are able to differentiate between the two applications. We achieved this understanding by discussing the multiple contexts of the vocabulary we have covered in lessons. We also covered models for writing beyond using note-taking and mindmaps to organize their ideas. My lessons in writing include using an outline in a form to stat that has introduction, main idea (1, 2, 3), supporting ideas, transitions, and conclusion. They then evolve to using the headings in free writing form.   

Integrate Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening Skills.

Teach students to simultaneously develop four language skills with academic English by creating lessons using all four domains of language learning.


In reading class we will read a novel, listen to the audiobook, discuss the chapter question, and write responses in their reading journals. An example is when we were reading ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (Baum, L. Frank. , 1919) we would read one chapter in class, then listen to the chapter on the audiobook.. I would then post the chapter questions for comprehension on the board for students to discuss. Once we completed our discussion about the chapter questions and vocabulary  development students would write their responses to the chapter questions in their writing journals for grading.

Further Reading

Principles of Effective English Language Learner Pedgagoy

6 Principles for Effective Language Teaching

The SIOP Model


Teaching With the SIOP Model


If you are an educator, parent, or grandparent and looking for practical strategies to use with children, concepts to understand, and ideas that can be easily implemented about how to create space for self and others, you have landed in the right spot.

Start Here

Children learn how to solve problems the same way they learn how to read, write, and add. Like reading, writing, and adding, there are three specific components to solving problems. These are teachable skills children can learn at any age.



Li, J. (n.d.). Principles of Effective English Language Learner Pedagogy

6 Principles for Effective Language Teaching & Learning. (n.d.). ASD WORLD LANGUAGES. Retrieved June 22, 2021, from

Baum, L. F. (n.d.). The Wonderful Wizard of Oz [Review of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz]. (Original work published 1919)

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