Implementing Multicultural Education Across Grade Levels

What is Multicultural Education? 

Multicultural education hasn’t always been what it is today. In fact, it’s grown a lot through the years. It has a pretty extensive and surprising history that most people know nothing about.  

The start of multicultural education was not multicultural education itself, but, instead, it started with ethnic studies. Ethnic studies were the outcome of the Civil Rights Movement. After the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans wanted their American history reflected in textbooks and school curricula. Then, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, Puerto Ricans in the U.S., and Asian Americans all demanded the same. Needless to say, ethnic studies were growing rapidly.


After ethnic studies were implemented into classrooms, multiethnic studies came next. Schools saw that ethnic studies were not expansive enough and that much more needed to be covered. Through multiethnic studies, all variables in school environments and how these variables influenced the cultural lives of students were touched upon. Still, more needed to be covered, so multicultural education was created.


Multicultural education encompasses everything multiethnic education teaches, but it is much more expansive. Multicultural education now includes teaching about exceptionality, gender, and social class. These are all important factors when discussing any topic, and multicultural education recognizes this.  

Multicultural education is constantly being seen in more schools throughout the world. It is constantly expanding and constantly growing. We expect great things to come from multicultural education in the future.  


Why Do We Need Multicultural Education?

Over the years, diversity in the American school system has been increasing. As more people immigrate to or seek refuge in the United States of America, the schools become increasingly more diverse. However, despite the student population becoming more diverse, the school curriculum is not inclusive of diverse groups of people. As schools are becoming more diverse, the achievement gap between caucasian students and students of other ethnic backgrounds is widening. Students who immigrated from different countries may have difficulty finding relevance in the United States’ curriculum, and the absence of ethnic groups in the curriculum makes it difficult for those students to find areas to connect. Students learn best when they can make personal connections to the content, which further exemplifies the need for a curriculum that addresses all cultures and ethnicities. The implementation of multicultural education in schools can lead to academic success for students of diverse ethnic backgrounds as well as teach all students to value diversity and work together in an increasingly diverse society.

"Children are aware at a very young age that color, language, gender, and physical ability differences are connected with privilege and power."

- Janney and Snell, 2006 


Diversity in the American School System and the Achievement Gap

We have selected three school districts in Illinois that serve students from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Here is a graphic representation of the diversity in each school district as well as achievement gaps between races across the state.



 Chicago Public School District is an urban school district in northern Illinois











Waukegan School District is a suburban school district in northern Illinois.










Egyptian School District is a rural school district in southern Illinois. 











Statewide, Illinois is seeing a significant achievement gap between white and students of other racial backgrounds.







This is a common trend across the country, where schools may be very diverse, but the curriculum is not being geared towards multicultural education. In order to be successful, students need to be able to connect to the curriculum. 
















Implementing Multicultural Education: Strategies

Classroom Conversations

Grade Levels: All

Description: Classroom conversations are a planned time to share stories about different cultures. These conversations can only occur once the students are comfortable and feel safe in their classroom environment. These conversations are meant for everyone to share, not for anyone to be singled out. Additionally, parents or community members may be invited or students can bring in important items from their home to share with the class. The teacher needs to be sure to model respectful behavior, clarify student misconceptions, and introduce differences using literature (especially in the younger grades).


Multicultural Literature

Grade Levels: All

Description: Literature allows students to interact with and build connections to another culture. Through multicultural literature, students are able to connect to the character, find similarities or differences, and learn about their culture and perspective. Teachers should pick books that are positive and accurate portrayals of another culture. Students should interact with the literature and characters in more than just reading. Activities where they are taking on characters’ roles (such as drawing or writing) better help students connect to and understand the other culture.


Assign Culturally Diverse Groups

Grade Levels: All

Description: Teachers should assign students to groups or seats where they are with students who are from a different background. Not only will each student bring a different perspective to the class that their peers can learn from, students may be able to connect with other students that they would not have otherwise.


Multicultural Play Props

Grade Levels: Early Childhood

Description: When children are engaged in pretend play, it is important to include props that are representative of different cultures. This can include pretend food, dolls, music, and games. These props introduce children to other cultures and provide the teacher an opportunity to teach children about the cultures from which the props originated.


Respect Activity

Grade Levels: Middle School 

Description: Pair students off and have them discuss what respect means to them. Discuss these ideas as a class after giving students some time to talk as pairs. Then discuss the similarities and differences mentioned in regards to respect and how the concept of respect differs from culture to culture. Discuss if it is still necessary to show respect to someone disrespectful. This conversation will allow students to see how something as well known as respect can differ from culture to culture.


Slang Dictionary

Grade Levels: High School

Description: Students will create a dictionary of slang words they are aware of. Having students create their own slang dictionary allows them to share their culture with other students along with creating their own culture.


 Common Misconceptions: Debunked 

Misconception One: There are too many strategies to implement to reach every student.

Debunked: A lot of cultures have similar learning styles, so there are not as many strategies as you may think. Teachers are already differentiating to meet student needs and using different learning styles to do so.


Misconception Two: Multicultural education is only important in cities or other places with significant minority populations.

Debunked: No matter what the student make up is of a particular district or school, every student in American schools is growing up in a society that is becoming increasingly diverse. In order to be an effective, respectful citizen of their society, all students need to be introduced to other cultures than just their own. If students are in a school that is not diverse, it is just as important to introduce them to different cultures because they will not have the ability to learn firsthand. All students will benefit from learning a different perspective and culture.





Multicultural education is important to ensure that students in an increasingly diverse society are being exposed to diverse cultures in the classroom. All students need to be prepared for being a part of a diverse society, and students who come from different backgrounds deserve to have an education that supports their needs and experiences.








  More Information


1.  Teaching Tolerance - Diversity, Equity and Justice 


2. History on Multicultural Education


3. Connecting Theory to Practice



Works Cited

Doucet, F., & Keys Adair, J. (2013). Addressing race and inequity in the classroom. YC: Young Children, 68(5), 88-97. Retrieved from



Gay, G. (2003). The importance of multicultural education. Educational Leadership, 61(4), 30-35. Retrieved from


Gorski, P. Getting Started: Respect Activity (Introductory Level). Retrieved from


Klefstad, J. M., & Martinez, K. C. (2013). Promoting Young Children's Cultural Awareness and Appreciation Through Multicultural Books. YC: Young Children, 68(5), 74-81. Retrieved from


Miller, A. (2011). Seven Ideas for Revitalizing Multicultural Education. Retrieved from


Ogletree, Q., & Larke, P. J. (2011). Implementing multicultural practices in early childhood education. National Forum Of Multicultural Issues Journal, 9(1), 1-9. Retrieved from


Pang, V. O., & Colvin, C. (1992). Beyond chopsticks and dragons: Selecting Asian-American literature for children. Reading Teacher, 46(3), 216. Retrieved from