How to talk to students about race and diversity

With Black Lives Matter protests still going strong not just in the US but around the world, many kids see the news and are curious about what is going on. However, in some countries, this is a sensitive topic which you need to tackle by encouraging critical thinking and fostering a positive classroom environment. This post, which suggests ways to talk about race and diversity, is not only intended for schools in Europe or the US, but anywhere in the world.

If you don’t know where to start, here are some suggestions for resources and ready-made lesson plans. The articles below have a great collection of clearly labelled links to many useful pages.


  1. New York Times 2018-2019 Year-End Roundup
  2. Teaching Critical Thinking in English Class
  3. A Thematic Collection of Times Articles, Essays, Maps and More About Creating Community



Be prepared


Be ready to listen and identify the best time to speak about race and racial diversity. It may be because you’ve noticed something in your students’ behaviour which needs addressing, something in the news, or comments which you hear and need to respond to. Make sure the topic/materials/pictures are age appropriate and thus make sense when talking about them. Students will ask you about your opinion on the matter. Ensure you have a clear answer if you wish to express your opinion at all and use facts as much as possible.

Foster a safe/ supportive classroom environment


Ensure that students understand vocabulary beforehand (especially if this is an ESL class) and how to use it. Discuss what is the generalise and what words we should use when we want to generalise or not. Teach them how to take turns and interruption techniques as well as listening skills. State clear ground rules for mutual respect.


Employ techniques to encourage dialogue


In order to have as many students speaking as possible, you might want to conduct group discussions, one-minute conversation circles and then you change partners, fish bowls, impersonal discussion by using a movie or a clip and talking about the characters in that scene rather than the society your students live in.


Be sensitive to  your students’ culture


This is a tricky point because your culture might be quite different than your students’ culture and their beliefs might be clearly opposing your beliefs. In certain countries, you might need to have permission to teach anything related to issues considered sensitive or simply unspoken about in their schools. As a teacher, you’d like to widen their horizons and educate, however, there are situations when you’ll just have to measure the benefits and the pitfalls of going into such discussions.


Leverage International Week/Diversity Week


A lot of international schools around the world have a week when students carry their country’s flag, parents cook typical dishes and teachers have lessons on culture/race/diversity and how important is to appreciate each other. However, there are schools which do not have enough students from other countries to get the community involved. Even so, you can still celebrate by choosing a country for each classroom, having lessons around their culture, learn how to cook a typical dish, learn a dance and perform in front of the school, or maybe invite the country’s ambassador to speak about their home country.


Teach them about how to vet sources


If your students are at an age when they can understand sources of information, teach them the difference between information and opinion. Social media, mainstream media and organizations all have different slants on various matters. Have students investigate how the same matter is being reported on different platforms and draw pertinent conclusions.


Use home connections


This can be a nice project to practise their listening, communication, and writing skills. Ask them to interview a family member/neighbour on the subject and present their findings to the class.



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