top of page

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

As an ESOL educator, it is vital that the pedagogy be a part of the teaching process. Not only are we teaching content, but simultaneously teaching pedagogy for instruction. It is imperative that instruction and content be relatable to students whose culture may differ from American culture. Keeping those two points in mind will help to guide us in the right direction. When ESOL teachers are hired, they should receive the proper training (which has been accumulated throughout their studies) to relay information in meaningful dialogue. As the student body changes, ESOL educators need to become aware of the various cultures they may encounter in the classroom. Krashen’s theory of comprehensible input is at the foundation of ESOL instruction and the goal is to “achieve academic literacy...teachers need pedagogical language knowledge” (Freeman, 2014, p.2). By breaking down the content and train

ing ESOL educators to have the ability to teach the pedagogy of the content area, we can increase our non-native English speaker students’ ability to understand the concepts. When we couple this with culturally responsive pedagogy, we decrease the limitations in understanding the content that may exist due to the cultural differences. It is important to remember that “the cultural competence of the adults is intimately connected to achievement” for our CLD students (Howard, 2012).

Culturally Responsive Practice

Now that I have touched on what culturally responsive pedagogy is, let’s explore how we can achieve it through our classroom instruction. With a background knowledge of the various cultures that you will experience inside your classroom or within your greater community, you can prepare your lessons to include information that engages your CLD students. When students are engaged, they are motivated; “engagement is the physical outcome of motivation” (Wlodkowski, 1995). CLD students may experience culture shock, inhibition, or miscommunication upon entering a new classroom; it is our job as an ESOL educator to work to break down those barriers through culturally responsive pedagogy. Colorin’ Colorado, a popular resource for ESOL educators, lists six steps for getting to know your ELLs which directs teachers to ask themselves six questions: where is my student from? What brought my student and/or student’s family here? What should I know about my student’s family? What language(s) does my student speak? What kind of schooling has my student had? What are my student’s interests? (Getting to Know Your ELLs, 2013). After we have set up a framework, we must go beyond the initial relationship between student and teacher; ESOL educators must incorporate home visits or letters to parents, communication with the community, and representation as PTA meetings to support CLD student success. Background knowledge of linguistics can help ESOL educators to understand how their student may break down information or acquire another language. Research shows that “the order of acquisition is the same for both children and adults from different language backgrounds...this knowledge...should be part of a teacher’s pedagogical language knowledge” (Freeman, 2014, p.211). This will help teachers to manage expectations and thus guide their lesson planning and instructional methods.

Culturally Responsive Technology

Diversity inside an ESOL classroom should be limited to the student themselves, but also in the way they learn. Providing various means to acquire content, students are given opportunities to show their strengths. Including authentic materials is an invaluable tool for ESOL educators. This brings relevant and meaningful information into the classroom, it bridges a students background with the current content area. Relaying this information in an authentic way allows the student to develop a deeper understanding that will extend further than the present situation. For example, in a math class, a teacher could include a lesson about going to the market and bartering goods rather than presenting a situation at the grocery store where a customer is buying goods. Authentic materials like native music can aid in a students understanding of pitch and tone in a music class. Allowing students to develop blogs rather than take part in class discussions will help students who feel shy about their speech and/or pronunciation, but confident in their knowledge of the content provides CLD students a new means of communicating with their peers. In the video mentioned earlier, Howard talks about seven steps of being a culturally responsive teacher and this includes making your “classroom physically and culturally inviting” (Howard, 2012). Hanging authentic materials around the room can help ease new students into their new environment and be a starting point for discussion.

Culturally Responsive Leadership

As an ESOL educator, we have many roles: a content teacher, an advocate for our students’ and their families’ rights, a communicator, and a role model. Culturally responsive leadership for ESOL educators means representing the rights of your students inside and outside of the classroom. Nowadays it is imperative that we incorporate current discussions on the culture of discrimination. Throughout this course, we have learned that we need to be aware of biases that may exist in our school at all levels, not just among students. We must challenge the status quo and seek representation of minorities in areas of power. In the classroom, it can be as simple as assigning a leadership role to a CLD student, to encouraging another to seek a position on the student body government, to asking why the administration is not more diverse. Empathy and courage are both key characteristics of a culturally responsive ESOL leader. I practice this by promoting those characteristics each day with everyone I meet.


Freeman, David and Yvonne E. (2014). Essential Linguistics What Teachers Need to

Know to Teach: ESL, Reading, Spelling, Grammar (Second Edition). Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.

Getting to Know Your ELLs: Six Steps for Success. (2013). Colorín Colorado. Retrieved

11 December 2018, from

Howard, Gary. (2012 Dec. 12). Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher. [YouTube].

Retrieved from:

Wlodkowski, Raymond J. and Margery Ginsberg. (1995). A Framework for Culturally

Responsive Teaching. Education Leadership 53(1). Retrieved from:

bottom of page