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Social and Cultural Literacy Resources for Classrooms

A best-of-the-best collection of resources for social justice- and equity-focused educators.

Tanner Higgin | January 10, 2020

Teaching and learning happen within cultural, political, and social circumstances. As much as we want to deny it, we all have biases based on our life experiences. Each of us -- teachers and students alike -- enter classrooms from different perspectives and points of view. We must learn to negotiate those differences to better understand each other and our worlds, and to advocate for a better, more equitable future. To do so, we need to build a set of social and cultural literacies via multicultural education, social justice education, and culturally responsive pedagogy that help us navigate difficult conversations, acknowledge and challenge bias and prejudice, create inclusive classroom spaces, and fight for social justice.

In this collection, you'll find hand-picked, regularly updated resources to help you better understand and practice these important social and cultural literacies. At the top, there are featured resources as well as more comprehensive curricula. Then you'll find lessons, videos, downloadables, and games organized by a few key topic areas like facilitating tough conversations, understanding bias and prejudice, and getting students civically engaged.

Jump down to a section

Social and Cultural Literacy Curricula
Challenging or Difficult Conversations
Bias and Prejudice
Civic Engagement, Activism, and Social Justice
Inclusive Communities
Research on Social and Cultural Literacy
Social and Cultural Literacy Organizations to Explore for More

 

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Social and Cultural Literacy Courses and Curricula

The providers below offer more comprehensive resources for media literacy, from courses (from just a few hours to weeks) to a curriculum linked to a scope and sequence and standards.

  • Black Lives Matter at School: These teaching materials, including an in-depth curriculum resource guide, will help you bring the principles and commitments of the Black Lives Matter movement into your classroom. 
  • Deep Dive: Educating for Democracy (by the Teaching Channel): Developed in partnership with UC Riverside's Civic Engagement Research Group, this series of videos (featuring real students and teachers) and associated lesson materials is backed by research and sure to inspire.
  • Digital Civics Toolkit (by the Civic Engagement Research Group): Created by the same researchers behind Deep Dive: Educating for Democracy, this toolkit offers easy-to-implement conversation starters (among other resources) for activating students' passion for civics and democracy. For more, check out our review.
  • Talking About Race (by the National Museum of African American History & Culture): This toolkit provides in-depth resources for caregivers, educators, and individuals to reflect on race, power, and privilege, all in the interest of having constructive, equity-oriented conversations.
  • The Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards: A Professional Development Facilitator Guide (by Teaching Tolerance): This downloadable not only features a set of social justice standards schools can use to make anti-bias education a priority in their communities, but also a great PD guide for getting your educators and administrators on board with weaving these practices into daily teaching and learning practice.

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Challenging or Difficult Conversations

Controversial and difficult conversations are unavoidable in classrooms, especially those grappling with important cultural, social, and political issues. Fortunately, these conversations are often a lot scarier in theory than in practice given the incredible research and resources available for handling them effectively.

Websites, articles, feeds, and newsletters

Lesson plans and activities

  • Building Classroom Community: Lessons for the First Day of School (by Facing History): Framed as a back-to-school toolkit, these five lessons will help prep classrooms to have meaningful, respectful conversations about identity and more.
  • Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education: Classroom Culture (by Teaching Tolerance): These PD activities and reflections for educators help teachers make their classrooms more open and respectful, leading to better discussions and outcomes for all students.
  • Identity Charts (by Facing History): This time-tested teaching strategy preps a classroom for conversations across differences by having each student map people's identities. Having students do this for themselves -- and share with others -- can be a great way to prime a classroom and form bonds among students. There's also a video of this strategy in action.
  • KQED Learn (by KQED): Get students to discuss high-interest issues in media, culture, politics, and more with other students around the country. For more, check out our review.
  • "Where I'm From" Poem (by Remix at the University of Notre Dame): Use this poetry lesson to get students reflecting on -- and sharing -- who they are. Along the way students also get some experience using Audacity, an audio recording and editing tool.

Videos

Handouts, infographics, and posters

Games, apps, and tools

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Bias and Prejudice

We all carry biases, and it's important to reflect on them and work to expand our perspectives, experiences, and communities so we act and think with less prejudice and take aim together at systems of oppression. 

 

Students outside of class on phones.

 

Websites, articles, feeds, and newsletters

  • 8 Ways Teachers Can Address White Supremacy in the Classroom (by Common Sense Education): Take these steps to make sure your classroom is actively anti-racist.
  •  Anti-Racism Resources for All Ages (by Nicole A. Cooke): An excellent collection of videos, books, articles, and lessons on anti-racism, activism, and critical race theory curated by Dr. Nicole A. Cooke of the University of South Carolina.
  • Anti-Racist Resources: This comprehensive, crowd-sourced Google doc (created in the wake of the Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist rally) is a must-bookmark resource for any educator committed to combating bias and bigotry in their classroom and community.
  • Critical Media Project: An indispensable collection of videos and activities focusing on how identity is represented and negotiated in media. For more, check out our review.
  • Five Ways to Reduce Racial Bias in Your Children (by Greater Good magazine): Trustworthy practical tips from UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center.
  • Research-Based Advice on Teaching Children Not to Be Racist (by the Atlantic): Two researchers offer proven and age-appropriate strategies for reducing bias and prejudice in the early grades.
  • Social Justice Books (by Teaching for Change): A highly recommended resource for preschool and elementary school educators, this list of books intersects with all kinds of important cultural and social issues and will help students build perspective.

Lesson plans and activities

Videos

Handouts, infographics, and posters

Games, apps, and tools

  • PenPal Schools: One of the best ways to battle bias is to expand one's worldview and to make connections with people from different backgrounds. PenPal Schools offers students opportunities to collaborate on projects with other young people from around the world. For more, check out our review.
  • StoryCorps: These absorbing and emotional short podcasts featuring conversations between all kinds of people demonstrate that we're all connected by our common struggles and triumphs. For more, check out our review.

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Civic Engagement, Activism, and Social Justice

When studying tough topics like injustice and oppression, it's important to connect people -- especially young people -- to outlets for their frustration, rage, and political goals. This is where activism comes in: It can channel these feelings toward meaningful ways to build community and create social change.

Websites, articles, feeds, and newsletters

  • 10 Organizations That Empower Latinxs in America (by Cultura Collectiva): A good overview of Latinx-focused organizations for students looking to advocate for the rights and futures of Latinx people worldwide.
  • 10 Ways Youth Can Engage in Activism (by ADL): Share these methods with students to give them an outlet for their political passions.
  • 28 Organizations That Empower Black Communities (by the Huffington Post): While this is far from comprehensive, this list has a lot of great organizations for Black activists, and some are led by young people.
  • International Indigenous Youth Council: Started during the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, this organization fights to protect the natural world and indigenous culture while encouraging young people to become leaders in their communities.
  • March for Our Lives: Formed in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, March for Our Lives has mobilized young people to end the epidemic of gun violence.
  • National LGBT-Supportive Organizations (U.S.) (by LGBT Youth Allies): An excellent roundup of LGBTQ organizations, usefully broken into those that focus on young people and those that have broader missions.
  • Sunrise Movement: This youth-led climate change organization has been making headlines the past two years, most notably for being behind the push for a Green New Deal.

Lesson plans and activities

  • Activism Online (by Teaching Tolerance): A great introduction to both the possibilities and limitations of online activism.
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement (by Facing History): There are dozens of lessons -- across all grade levels -- available at Facing History that help students understand past struggles for justice and encourage them to imagine possible futures.
  • Social Media for Social Action (by Teaching Tolerance): Get students thinking more deeply about how social media can be leveraged for activism and change, but also about the negative effects inherent in the medium.
  • Transformational action through Art Build (by NEA EdJustice): This article shows how several school communities brought their schools and communities together to create and showcase activist art. There's also checklist of tasks you can use to organize your own Art Build event.

Videos

  • Stepping Up (by KQED): These four videos feature the stories of youth activists and how they got started. There's also a handout students can use to take notes while they watch.

Handouts, infographics, and posters

Games, apps, and tools

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Inclusive Communities

To be good citizens -- and digital citizens -- we must actively work against toxic ideas and communities rife with conspiratorial thinking, cynicism, and hate. Instead, we must create spaces where everyone is welcome and ideas and points of view are discussed constructively.

Websites, articles, feeds, and newsletters

Lesson plans and activities

  • Awareness Activities (by the Critical Multicultural Pavilion): These icebreakers and reflective activities help classrooms map and discuss their identities, differences, and commonalities.
  • Constructively Engaging in Digital Communities (by Teaching Tolerance): An in-depth lesson that ends with students developing classroom guidelines for effective community participation.
  • Countering Hate Speech Online (by Common Sense Education): Get students to explore the relationship between hate speech and xenophobia and how they can combat it in digital spaces.
  • Part of a Community Online (by Teaching Tolerance): Introduce young kids to the idea of emotionally supportive and empathic community-building.
  • Participating in Digital Communities (by Teaching Tolerance): Get students to make a commitment to creating inclusive communities and to practicing how to respond to bias and prejudice.
  • Responding to Online Hate Speech (by Common Sense Education): Help middle schoolers learn techniques to deal with hate speech when they see it or experience it.
  • Should Online Hate Speech Be Censored? (by Common Sense Education): Is hate speech free speech? Use this lesson to get your high school students to explore this quandary and offer an informed perspective.

Videos

Handouts, infographics, and posters

Games, apps, and tools

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Research on Social and Cultural Literacy

Below you'll find some researchers and research organizations that focus on social and cultural literacy. We've also highlighted a few key pieces of their work.

  • Biased (by Jennifer L. Eberhardt): Dr. Eberhardt provides a highly readable mapping of the landscape of research into bias, bias's impact on our world, and ways forward.
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain (by Zaretta Hammond): This book and study guide offers an important perspective on how to create inclusive but challenging classroom environments that are equally attuned to the way our brains work and how culture affects the way we engage with each other and the world.
  • Equity Literacy Institute (by Paul Gorski and others): Dig into this extensive list of equity-focused books and articles published by longtime educator and social justice advocate Paul Gorski and his collaborators.
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed (by Paulo Freire): Dense but foundational book focused on how to upend top-down approaches to pedagogy and restore the revolutionary potential of education.

Social and Cultural Literacy Organizations to Explore for More