How to Create a Culturally Responsive Classroom

Here are four pathways to a culturally responsive classroom that teachers need to take: from Judie Haynes

1) Get to know your ELs. Children from backgrounds where the culture and language in school are different from that of the majority culture may be at a disadvantage in academic learning. These children often become marginalized in the classrooms. Teachers need to consider what schema ELs bring to the classroom and to link instruction to the students’ personal, cultural, and world experiences. Teachers should also strive to make the information relevant to ELs and to understand how culture impacts the learning of their students. ELs will bring a wealth of experiences from their families, homes, neighborhoods, and communities to school. Children with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds have stories and experiences that are unique. Teachers should use these experiences to help children begin to understand other cultures. They should build on the knowledge their students and families have of the countries they come from and the cultures they represent.  Here is an excellent article by Xiao-lin Yin-Croft on “Working with Chinese ELLs and their Families” on the Colorin Colorado website.

2) Build relationships with the families of ELs. When families of ELs are actively engaged in the education of their children, those children will attend school more regularly, be less likely to drop out, and be more successful academically. Many classroom teachers do not know how to communicate with parents who do not speak English and who are not familiar with U.S. school practices (Haynes, 2015). Teachers need to recognize and appreciate the legitimacy of the cultural heritages of different ethnic groups. There is no “right” or “wrong” when looking at the cultural beliefs of the families of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Here are 6 Tips for Communicating with Families of ELs.

3) Provide a welcoming classroom environment for your ELs. Teachers can alleviate many fears experienced by beginning ELs by creating a welcoming environment in their classes. A nurturing teacher and welcoming classmates can greatly help beginning ELs cope with the challenges they face. The more comfortable new arrivals feel in your classroom, the more quickly they will be able to learn. The more anxiety students experience, the less language they will comprehend. Learn a few words of the languages of your ELs and have them teach a few words to their classmates. Display pictures and artifacts from your students’ home counties. Have newcomers write in a home-language diary, read books in their home language, draw pictures of people and places in their home countries, and share music from their culture.

4) Make academic information accessible to ELs. Scaffolding academic learning
so that ELs are full participants in your classroom is essential to their academic success. Teachers need to find culturally relevant ways to support the learning of our students. When teachers scaffold lessons, they break down the language into manageable pieces or chunks. This way, students can be given the necessary support to understand the information provided in the lesson.  Lecture-style teaching excludes ELs from the learning in a classroom so they benefit from cooperative learning strategies.We don’t want to relegate ELs to the fringes of the classroom, doing a separate lesson with a classroom aide or ESL teacher. Working in small groups gives ELs  an authentic reason to use academic vocabulary and real reasons to discuss key concepts.

Here are two other excellent resources:

– See more at:

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Closing the Achievement Gap for ELLs

From the National Education Association (NEA):

  • Engage English language learners (ELLs) students in academic learning and English language development.
  • Recognize and build on cultural and equity assumptions and culturally relevant instruction.
  • Create classroom and school environments that facilitate language learning.
  • Absorb, understand and capitalize on language acquisition theory.
  • Recognize language development stages and promising instructional practices for teaching in the classroom and school.
  • Identify appropriate ELL instructional strategies aligned and differentiated to lessons and objectives and goals.
  • Find innovative ways to motivate ELLs to practice academic language skills that are carefully structured and require students to demonstrate growing proficiency.

For more information, contact: Luis-Gustavo Martinez, Human and Civil Rights, at (202) 822-7396 or

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Challenges Latino ELLs face, and the Achievement Gap

quoted from the American Federation of Teachers:

Challenges to Closing the Achievement Gap

Most Latinos face multiple barriers to improving academic achievement, high school completion, and postsecondary attainment. Research by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the National Research Council (NRC), the Urban Institute, and others identify the key challenges jeopardizing Latino students’ chances to excel academically and later in life:

  • Disproportionate attendance at resource-poor schools;
  • Lack of access to fully qualified teachers;
  • Lack of participation in rigorous, college-preparatory coursework;
  • Parents with low-household incomes and low levels of formal education;
  • English language learners and English language learners with disabilities, both with unmet instructional needs;
  • High mobility of students whose families are migrant farm workers; and
  • Students who are undocumented who cannot attend college or work legally after attaining a college degree.

read the full article from HERE.

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English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities

If you are concerned that an ELL in your classroom may have a learning disability, begin by learning about this topic from Dr. Elsa Cárdenas-Hagan in the webcast from“> 

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Does the ELL in my classroom need a referral to Special Education?

from Kristina Robinson, as posted on

“It can be tricky to determine if an ELL student is struggling with language barriers or if he/she has special needs because many of the behaviors displayed are the same. For example, if a teacher has a student who refuses to answer questions, makes inappropriate comments, has poor recall, comprehension and vocabulary, and struggles when sequencing ideas, the teacher might be concerned that the child needs special education support. While that may be the case, it’s also important to remember that an ELL student may display any of these behaviors due to language difficulties.”

Read more HERE, if you have concern that an ELL in your classroom may also suffer from a learning disability.

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How can I communicate with a new ELL student, who is just beginning to learn English?

If you do not speak the newcomer’s home language, supporting them in your classroom can be a great challenge…but you can do it!  Here are a few tips on how to make input comprehensible for your new ELL.

  • Use gestures.  Total Physical Response can be a great way to interact. Learn about TPR HERE.
  • Use pictures.  Create or use picture dictionaries to build meaning. Oxford Picture Dictionary for Kids is a great resource!
  • Seek out bilingual support.  This may come from other school personnel, parent volunteers, community volunteers, or even sometimes other students.
  • Use technology.  There are many apps that can help translate or interpret.
  • Partner the newcomer with a friendly classmate who is comfortable modeling and using gestures to guide the ELL in actions needed to complete your directions.
  • Be patient. Focus first on daily routines, and school “survival” basics.
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Strategies to Increase Listening and Speaking Skills for ELLs

Active listening and speaking skills need to be nourished and supported within the classroom. Below are a few highly effective strategies to engage all learners in developing  these key skills.

  • Reader’s Theater, or similar classroom-read scripts or mini-plays
  • Think-Pair-Share, Circle Chats, and many other Kagan strategies that require all group members to listen and speak during the activity
  • Cooperative Learning–project or performance based learning where all group members have a critical role in contributing to a shared final production
  • Use Total Physical Response (TPR) to facilitate oral language development in beginning ELLs.

Tips and information cited from Read more HERE.

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