How to Create Guiding Principles for Culturally Responsive Teaching

10 principles for culturally responsive teaching


Estimated reading time: 13 minutes

Are you on a quest to create a culturally-sensitive and inclusive learning environment for all students? Look no further!

Explore my 10 invaluable guiding principles for culturally responsive teaching and effective language instruction. By embracing these principles, educators enrich the learning experience and ensure that English Language Learners (ELLs) thrive in their classrooms.

Discover how these principles seamlessly weave together to foster engagement and meaning in the curriculum, making it accessible and impactful for ELLs. Transform your teaching approach and watch your students flourish in a culturally rich, inclusive setting.


Culturally responsive teaching emphasizes the principle that learning is student-centered.

This means instruction is tailored to the needs and interests of each learner.

Creating a positive learning environment is the foundation of this approach. Including encouraging home languages and building connections between academic language and real-world contexts.

Assessment must also be relevant, providing meaningful feedback to learners.

My rationale for using guiding principles is based on more than two decades of practical teaching experience.

More specifically, teaching Chinese learners 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.
esl students with Suzanne Marie

Guiding Principle 1: Meaningful and Engaging Curriculum

Relevant curriculum to engage the student in creating meaning with real-world examples are relatable and cognitively engaging.

Lessons designed with clear learning outcomes and assessments measure learning outcomes with high expectations for the learner to achieve.

My Rationale 

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 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 group discussions, they 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 include examples and synonyms for ‘showoff’ (p.16).

Some examples include meeting someone 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. 

Guiding Principle 2: Facilitating a Learner-Centered Classroom

Learners taking ownership of their learning experience during classes helps them retain the memory of the lesson content.

Active learning helps students use a variety of learning styles to comprehend the content from various perspectives. 

Examples include:

  • discussions
  • research
  • translation to Chinese
  • games
  • interpretation of videos
  • worksheets

My Rationale

Clear classroom norms about expected behavior for activities help set the tone for my students to take ownership of their learning experience.

One example is when we learn 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 discussions, students are asked about real-world examples from their experiences, media, popular music, and sports heroes.

Using the vocabulary discussed with synonyms and antonyms, students must discuss their examples and write about them in their journals.

On day one in my classes, we discuss student interests, favorite 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 favorite topics.

We will also use games like Scrabble to reinforce learning about vocabulary.

Guiding Principle 3: Provide Models for Thinking

Learners practice reflecting on how they come to conclusions about their learning experience.

Thinking about their learning process helps students become more efficient and have feedback loops to reinforce learning.

My Rationale

Reflection and modeling are two key elements of my lessons in writing class.

To accomplish this, we work on note-taking and mind-mapping models to help students develop effective thinking strategies. These strategies help students prepare to write about their topics.

I provide my students with three examples of note-taking and three examples of mind maps.

Students 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 prepare students for writing by providing them with a model to use to organize their thoughts and ideas in a way that suits 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 identify the main idea and three supporting ideas to write about. 

Guiding Principle 4: Strategically Integrate Mother-Tongue Language

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

My Rationale

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 managing 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.

Additionally, they provided examples of how they use their dominant conflict management style when faced with a difficult situation. 

Guiding Principle 5: Conducting Performance-Based Assessment

Formative checks for learning throughout the lesson and, in the end, provide opportunities for the teacher to adjust instruction.

In addition, they give timely feedback to learners.

By conducting performance-based assessments during each lesson, students have the ability to assess their own learning, ask questions, and adjust as needed.

My Rationale

My lessons all include an assessment of the learning outcomes.

By using learning outcomes with action verbs, students are aware of what they will be able to perform at the end of the lesson.

We check the learning outcomes during the lesson to ensure we are on track with their discussions and learning goals.

At the end of the lesson, we do a short review with an 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, we discussed real-world examples of conflict management styles after completing the questionnaire.

Then, we did a class poll for the five conflict management styles, mapped them out on the board, and 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 behaviors associated with each of the five styles to assess their understanding of the concepts.

This activity also demonstrated students’ ability to explain the concepts proficiently.

Lastly, in summary, we discussed what style we would like to choose for our next conflict interaction to see if the outcome would be different. 

Guiding Principle 6: 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. 

My Rationale

Using examples from 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 develop comprehension of the language introduced in the lessons. 

Guiding Principle 7: Offer Explicit and Culturally Relevant Instruction

Students’ background knowledge and culture make their instruction culturally relevant.

By choosing instructional strategies to connect with the students and challenge them to expand their knowledge, teachers support students with the growing edges of their learning. 

My Rationale

In my classes, we integrate Chinese culture with the lessons.

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.

Guiding Principle 8: 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 normalize the newly learned words with flexibility and in the appropriate context.

My Rationale

I will encourage students to use the vocabulary we have covered in previous lessons during 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 used them.

Guiding Principle 9: Use Models for Oral and Written English

Providing strong oral and written language models for students to follow helps cultivate their ability to use oral English.

Additionally, this method creates opportunities for students to engage in speaking activities like discussions, presentations, and debates.

My Rationale

During writing class, I am explicitly clear about using conversational language and writing for academic purposes.

My students understand this concept, and they can identify what style of writing they have used.

We discuss informal and formal English language for writing and speaking, and students can differentiate between the two applications.

Students 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 including an introduction, main idea (1, 2, 3), supporting ideas, transitions, and conclusion.

They then evolve to using the headings in free writing form.   

Guiding Principle 10: 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.

My Rationale

In reading class, students read a novel, listen to an audiobook, discuss the chapter questions, and write responses in reading journals.

An example is ‘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.


Culturally responsive teaching provides guiding principles to facilitate meaningful and engaging lessons for English language learners.

By creating a learner-centered environment, students are given models of thinking to help them bridge their home language and English.

Additionally, assessments provide necessary feedback to ensure understanding, while real-world examples build context.

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,


Related Topics

Further Reading

Principles of Effective English Language Learner Pedgagoy

6 Principles for Effective Language Teaching



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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