Five Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies for Your AP® Classroom

Illustration of diverse hands raised in unity, symbolizing diversity, participation, and collective action in a multicultural society.

Picture a classroom where every student feels seen, understood, and motivated—a place where the curriculum isn’t just about covering material but about connecting it to the lives, experiences, and cultures of the students. This is the heart of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), a dynamic approach to education that recognizes and honors students’ cultural strengths and uses them as tools for better instruction and deeper learning.

In our increasingly diverse society, Culturally Responsive Teaching strategies aren’t just nice to have; they’re a must-have, especially in AP® classrooms. It’s about ensuring that all students, regardless of their cultural backgrounds, have equal access to high-level academic success and the ability to see themselves reflected and respected in the curriculum.

What Exactly Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching isn’t just a teaching method; it’s a mindset. Coined by researcher Geneva Gay in 2000, CRT is about using students’ customs, characteristics, experiences, and perspectives as assets in the classroom.1 It’s about making academic knowledge and skills more personally meaningful and easier to learn by situating them within the students’ lived experiences and frames of reference.

“Culturally responsive teaching is defined as using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively.” — Geneva Gay, “Culturally Responsive Teaching”

In simple terms, culturally responsive teaching strategies help all students, especially those of color, see themselves and their communities as integral and valued parts of academic spaces, boosting their engagement and success. 

What Does CRT Look Like?

According to Gay’s research, CRT encompasses:2

  1. A Strong Knowledge Base About Cultural Diversity: 
    Teachers should understand and incorporate the cultural values, traditions, and contributions of different racial and ethnic groups into their culturally responsive instruction.
  2. Culturally Relevant Curricula: 
    Culturally responsive instruction should include multiple perspectives and represent a wide range of diversity, contextualizing issues within race, class, ethnicity, and gender.
  3. High Expectations for All Students: 
    Teachers should foster academic success while validating students’ cultural identities.
  4. An Appreciation for Different Communication Styles:
    Understanding and adapting to various communication styles to enhance classroom interactions is crucial.
  5. Use of Multicultural Instructional Examples:
    Connecting students’ prior knowledge and cultural experiences with new knowledge is essential.

Why is CRT Important?

Consider the demographics of U.S. public schools in 2021: minority student populations exceed the white student population, and in places like Texas, Hispanic students are the majority.3 Yet, the curriculum often remains predominantly European or white-centered. With 80% of public school teachers being white, there’s a disconnect between the educators’ experiences and those of their students.3 This gap matters because students learn faster and better when they can relate culturally responsive classroom materials to their personal experiences and prior knowledge.

Research has shown that culturally affirming practices across subjects lead to increased understanding, engagement, and perception of students as capable learners. CRT helps make school relevant, supporting students’ success both in terms of measurable outcomes like test scores and more qualitative aspects like becoming life-long learners.

Five Actionable CRT Strategies For AP Instruction

As AP teachers and administrators, how do we translate the theory of CRT into tangible, actionable strategies that resonate with our students? Let’s explore five practical approaches.

1: Survey Classroom Demographics

Start by understanding who your students are. Getting to know your students is the cornerstone of creating a culturally responsive classroom. Begin by understanding who your students are, not just in terms of their academic abilities but as unique individuals with diverse backgrounds. Use activities (e.g. UWorld’s AP English “Who am I?” activity) to delve into their perspectives on community, family, and respect. This foundational relationship-building allows you to tailor your instruction to reflect the cultural beliefs and values of your AP students.

Building a strong foundational relationship with your students is key, and assessing what matters to them is crucial. This is where the “Who am I?” activity becomes instrumental. By starting with broad and general questions, students can express themselves through the lens they are most comfortable with. Gradually transitioning to more specific questions about values, family, and traditions can then help you gain a deeper understanding of your students’ cultural beliefs. This approach not only informs your teaching strategies but also fosters a classroom environment where every student feels valued and understood.

2: Embrace Discomfort

Adopting new teaching methods and materials can be daunting. Education is a journey of continuous learning and sometimes unlearning, which inherently involves stepping out of comfort zones. It’s okay to acknowledge this discomfort and be prepared to learn from mistakes… You should do this! Your willingness to adapt and learn alongside your students doesn’t just strengthen the educational experience; it models the very resilience and open-mindedness you’re aiming to instill in them.

The second strategy, embracing discomfort, is about recognizing that venturing into new educational terrain can be unsettling. As educators, we’re often reminded that student learning can be uncomfortable, and it’s essential for us, too, to be willing to endure that same discomfort. We’re bound to make mistakes as we try new approaches, but these missteps aren’t failures; they’re invaluable learning opportunities. It’s important to maintain a secure mindset, one that acknowledges errors and seeks to learn from them. Lean on the foundational relationships you’ve built with your students to navigate this journey together. They can offer unique insights and support as you collectively strive for a more inclusive and effective learning environment.

3: Pair Classic Teaching Styles With New Perspectives

Incorporating various perspectives is about enriching the curriculum with diverse viewpoints without overshadowing existing narratives. This approach means adding cultural relevance by integrating more perspectives, not removing or silencing the ones already present. The aim is to create a more inclusive and comprehensive educational experience.

This third strategy, pairing classic teaching styles with new perspectives, emphasizes the importance of adding cultural relevance to your curriculum. It’s about embracing a broader spectrum of viewpoints and integrating varying perspectives into lessons. For instance, in AP Literature, consider pairing traditional literary works like “The Great Gatsby” with novels such as “Passing” by Nella Larsen, offering a contrasting cultural viewpoint during the same historical period. Similarly, in history classes, supplement the dominant narratives with minority perspectives and stories. This approach not only provides a richer understanding of the subject matter but also validates the diverse experiences and histories of all students. Maya Angelou once envisioned a future where all segments of U.S. history are taught from one inclusive book. Strive to bring that vision into your classroom by weaving a tapestry of narratives that respects and reflects the diversity of our world.

“Won’t it be wonderful when black history and Native American history and Jewish history and all of U.S. history is taught from one book. Just U.S. history.” — Maya Angelou

4: Allowing for Choice With Projects and Readings

Empower your students by offering them choices in their reading and projects. By allowing them to explore topics that genuinely interest them, you’re not only promoting a deeper engagement with the material but also honoring their unique cultural and personal backgrounds. However, it’s crucial to set clear parameters for these projects to ensure that students understand what they are permitted to research and are able to approach it from several informed perspectives.

To effectively implement this strategy, curate book lists and topics that appeal to different aspects of your students’ lives and identities. Consider utilizing literature circles with a selection of choice novels, allowing students to delve into discussions that resonate with them. For history projects, encourage students to research different angles of a single event, offering them a chance to explore the subject from multiple viewpoints. By adding choice projects and readings, you’re not just teaching content; you’re nurturing critical thinkers and respectful, informed citizens. Remember, the key is to know your students well—this knowledge will guide you in providing options that are meaningful and engaging for them.

5: Provide Accurate Cultural Representations

In your AP classroom, strive for strong and positive cultural representation. It’s crucial to move beyond simplistic stereotypes and delve into the rich, complex realities of different cultures. By acknowledging both the struggles and strengths of various cultural groups, you create an environment where every student’s background is respected and valued. This approach doesn’t just benefit the individuals represented; it enriches the entire classroom, breaking down barriers and expanding everyone’s understanding of what is “normal.”

To achieve this, it’s essential to research and educate yourself continuously about the cultures represented in your classroom. Encourage and welcome your students to share their stories and perspectives. This not only provides diverse viewpoints but also empowers students, allowing them to see themselves as an integral part of the learning community.

Incorporate texts and materials that reflect the students’ cultures and families with depth and complexity. When students see themselves and their communities accurately represented, they become more engaged and are likely to contribute their unique insights. This, in turn, allows all students to learn from each other, fostering a more inclusive and dynamic educational experience. As film programmer and curator Yasmina Tawil noted, better representation benefits everyone by expanding our understanding and appreciation of the diverse world we live in.6 As an AP teacher, your commitment to accurate cultural representation is a powerful step towards creating a more empathetic, informed, and cohesive society.

An Academically Diverse World With UWorld

In the quest for creating a culturally responsive classroom, one of the biggest challenges for AP teachers is the time and effort required to find appropriate teaching resources that reflect a diverse range of perspectives. This is where UWorld becomes an invaluable asset. With its steadfast commitment to diversity and academic excellence, UWorld offers resources that are meticulously vetted by a team of experienced AP professionals from various cultural backgrounds. This diversity in the content development process is a significant advantage, helping teachers reduce preparation time while ensuring that the curriculum resonates with all students.

UWorld’s College Readiness content team comprises former teachers, tutors, AP readers, Table Leaders, and administrators, all dedicated to creating high-quality, inclusive content.4 This team actively works to ensure that all student populations are appropriately represented, eliminating bias and fostering inclusiveness. Their rigorous content review process is focused on maintaining alignment with AP courses and exams while incorporating a substantial variety of perspectives in their source materials and original content.

For example, in UWorld’s math courses, diversity is reflected even in the details like the names used in questions. In their English Language Arts products, 42% of prose and poetry selections are authored by women, and the content also includes works by LGBTQ+ authors such as Oscar Wilde, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and Willa Cather.4 Moreover, their illustration team is specially trained to promote diversity, ensuring that all demographics are represented in their visual materials.

UWorld’s approach to inclusivity is not just about adding diverse names and faces; it’s about integrating these elements into the fabric of their educational content. This holistic approach ensures that AP teachers can provide an academically rich and culturally responsive learning experience with less time spent on searching for diverse resources. With UWorld, teachers are equipped to prepare students for their AP exams while also fostering an environment that values and reflects the diversity of the world around them.

Key Takeaways

Creating a culturally responsive AP classroom is about recognizing and leveraging the cultural strengths and experiences of all students. It’s about commitment, adaptability, and continuous learning. With the right mindset and resources like UWorld’s Courses for AP, you can transform your AP classroom into a vibrant, inclusive space where every student has the opportunity to thrive academically and personally. As we embrace these strategies, we’re not just teaching content; we’re nurturing a generation of learners who feel valued, understood, and empowered to succeed.


  1. Sawyer, M. (2022, April). “Culturally Responsive Teaching: What You Need to Know.” Education Week. Retrieved from
  2. “What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?” (n.d.). Understood. Retrieved from
  3. “Public High School Graduation Rates.” (2020). National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
  4. “Culturally Responsive Teaching Material.” (n.d.). Retrieved from
  5. Gay, Geneva. “Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice.” Teachers College Press, 2000.
  6. Arab Film Institute. (n.d.). What exactly is media representation anyway? Retrieved from
  7. Who am I? – UWorld AP English Activity
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