Strategies to talk about race in class is the topic of our post today!

In today’s increasingly diverse and interconnected world, conversations about race, diversity, and inclusion have become essential components of education. As teachers and educators, we bear the responsibility of facilitating these critical discussions with our students.

Inspired by my recent reading of the insightful book “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo, I’ve compiled a set of strategies that align with the principles laid out in the text. I’ve also tapped into the collective wisdom of fellow teachers, educators, and researchers (see references) to expand upon these initial ideas, providing a well-rounded approach that can be tailored to various educational contexts.

I invite you to read my full review of “So You Want to Talk About Race” for an in-depth exploration of this important work. Moreover, I encourage you to check out other related posts I’ve published, including a curated list of diversity and inclusion books for kids, as well as a specialized selection of diversity and inclusion books for teachers. These resources are designed to support and enhance our collective efforts to create more inclusive and empathetic learning environments.

Strategies to Talk about Race in Class

Here are some practical tips and strategies to talk about race in class:

1. Create a Safe Space

Encourage an environment where all students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. Establish ground rules that promote respect and empathy.

Example: Before initiating a conversation about race, discuss and agree on classroom rules such as not interrupting others, using respectful language, and keeping shared information confidential.

Practical Steps: Create a poster with these ground rules and refer back to them as needed. Encourage students to hold each other accountable, and ensure that every student has a chance to speak.

2. Educate Yourself First

Understand the terms and concepts related to race, privilege, intersectionality, and systemic racism. Be ready to explain these concepts in age-appropriate ways.

Example: Before teaching a lesson on the civil rights movement, take time to learn about various perspectives, historical contexts, and the language used to discuss race.

Practical Steps: Attend workshops, read diverse authors, or consult with experts in the field to ensure that you understand the complexities of race and can present them in an age-appropriate manner.

3. Use Open-Ended Questions

One of the ways to engage students in thoughtful conversation about complex topics like race is by asking open-ended questions. These questions don’t simply require a “yes” or “no” answer; they provoke deeper thinking and encourage students to articulate their thoughts and feelings. By moving away from black-and-white questions and embracing more nuanced inquiries, educators can foster a more inclusive and reflective classroom environment.

Example: Instead of asking, “Was segregation wrong?” ask, “What are your thoughts on segregation, and how do you think it affected different communities?”

Practical Steps: Prepare a list of open-ended questions that require more than a simple yes/no answer. Encourage students to elaborate on their responses, ask follow-up questions, and engage in discussion with their peers.

4. Share Personal Experiences and Stories

When appropriate, sharing personal stories or anecdotes can make the topic more relatable. Encourage students to do the same.

Example: Share an anecdote about a time you witnessed or experienced racial bias and how it made you feel.

Practical Steps: Encourage students to write or talk about their own experiences, ensuring that they feel safe and respected in doing so.

5. Incorporate Diverse Perspectives

Use materials, books, and resources that represent various racial and cultural backgrounds. Show that all voices are valued.

Example: Use literature, art, and history from diverse racial backgrounds in your curriculum.

Practical Steps: Curate a diverse reading list, invite guest speakers from various backgrounds, and encourage students to explore different cultural traditions.

6. Acknowledge Mistakes and Learn from Them

If you realize you’ve made a mistake or a statement that might have been offensive, acknowledge it and learn from it. Model this behavior for your students.

Example: If a student points out that your choice of words was insensitive, acknowledge it openly and discuss why it was problematic.

Practical Steps: Model humility and a willingness to learn. Create an environment where students feel empowered to correct one another respectfully.

7. Encourage Ongoing Dialogue

Make conversations about race an ongoing practice rather than a one-time event. Continue to explore, reflect, and grow together.

Example: Have regular classroom meetings to discuss current events related to race, diversity, and inclusion.

Practical Steps: Dedicate time in the curriculum for these discussions and encourage students to bring topics or questions they want to explore.

8. Action Beyond Conversation

Encourage students to think about how they can contribute positively to racial equality in their community. Discuss ways they might support diversity and inclusion beyond the classroom.

Example: Organize a community service project that emphasizes diversity and inclusion.

Practical Steps: Encourage students to take the lead in these projects, support their efforts, and connect them with community organizations that focus on racial equality.

9. Reflect on Your Own Biases

In the pursuit of fostering a more inclusive classroom, reflecting on one’s own biases is crucial. Teachers may unknowingly harbor biases that can subtly affect their interactions with students. By engaging in self-reflection or professional development, teachers can uncover and understand their unconscious biases.

Example: Engage in self-reflection or professional development to understand your own unconscious biases.

Practical Steps: Consider using tools like Harvard’s Implicit Association Test to explore unconscious biases, and actively seek to challenge them in your teaching.

10. Set Clear Expectations and Consequences for Inappropriate Behavior

Creating a respectful and inclusive environment begins with setting clear expectations for what constitutes appropriate behavior. This not only helps maintain a positive classroom atmosphere but also ensures that all students feel respected and valued.

Example: Make it clear what constitutes inappropriate language or behavior in the classroom.

Practical Steps: Include clear guidelines in your syllabus, and discuss them openly with students. Be consistent in enforcing these rules.

11. Use Media and Technology Thoughtfully

In the age of technology, media can be a powerful tool in educating students about diversity and inclusion. By carefully selecting age-appropriate media that aligns with learning objectives, teachers can provide diverse perspectives on race and foster thoughtful discussions.

Example: Use films, websites, or apps that provide diverse perspectives on race.

Practical Steps: Carefully select media that is age-appropriate and aligns with learning objectives. Engage in discussion afterward to ensure understanding and reflection.

12. Collaborate with Families and Communities

Engaging families and the broader community in conversations about race can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for students. Collaboration extends the learning experience beyond the classroom walls and builds partnerships that enrich the educational journey.

Example: Reach out to families and local community members to engage them in conversations about race.

Practical Steps: Host community forums, invite families to participate in classroom activities, or develop partnerships with community organizations focusing on racial equity.

13. Provide Opportunities for Student-Led Initiatives

Empowering students to lead projects or clubs that focus on racial diversity and inclusion encourages ownership and engagement. By providing resources and support for student-led initiatives, schools can foster a sense of agency and responsibility in young learners.

Example: Encourage students to create projects or clubs that focus on racial diversity and inclusion.

Practical Steps: Provide resources, mentorship, and support for student-led initiatives. Showcase their work within the school community.

14. Encourage Critical Consumption of Media

In today’s media-saturated world, teaching students to critically evaluate representations of race is more important than ever. By facilitating discussions and encouraging critical analysis, educators can equip students with the tools they need to navigate media thoughtfully and responsibly.

Example: Teach students how to critically evaluate media representations of race.

Practical Steps: Use current events or media examples to facilitate critical discussions. Encourage students to analyze and question what they see.

Final thoughts

In navigating the complexities of race, diversity, and inclusion, we find ourselves on a journey that requires both empathy and courage. The strategies and insights shared here, drawn from “So You Want to Talk About Race” and the collective wisdom of the research community, offer practical steps to foster open and honest conversations with students.

These are more than mere tactics; they are a pathway to building understanding, compassion, and social awareness. Let’s embrace this challenge as an opportunity to grow, learn, and create classrooms where every voice is heard and valued. If you found this guide helpful, explore the accompanying posts on diversity and inclusion books for both teachers and children, as together we continue to enrich our educational practices.


Talking to your kids about racism, UNICEF

10 Principles for Talking About Race in School, National Education Association

9 tips teachers can use when talking about racism, The Conversation

10 Tips on Talking to Kids About Race and Racism, PBS

Let’s Talk: Discussing Race, Racism and Other Difficult Topics with Students, Teaching Tolerance

Diversity and inclusion books for kids, Selected Reads

Diversity and inclusion books for teachers, Selected Reads

Anti-racism education books, Educators Technology

What is critical race theory: A guide for teachers and parents, Educators Technology

Research articles on race in education

Anagnostopoulos, D., Everett, S., & Carey, C. (2013). “Of course we’re supposed to move on, but then you still got people who are not over those historical wounds”: Cultural memory and US youth’s race talk. Discourse & Society, 24(2), 163–185.

Bernal, D. D. (2002). Critical Race Theory, Latino Critical Theory, and Critical Raced-Gendered Epistemologies: Recognizing Students of Color as Holders and Creators of Knowledge. Qualitative Inquiry, 8(1), 105–126.

Brown, A. F., Bloome, D., Morris, J. E., Power-Carter, S., & Willis, A. I. (2017). Classroom Conversations in the Study of Race and the Disruption of Social and Educational Inequalities: A Review of Research. Review of Research in Education, 41(1), 453–476.

Buchanan, L. B. (2015). “We Make It Controversial”: Elementary Preservice Teachers’ Beliefs about Race. Teacher Education Quarterly, 42(1), 3–26.

Jane Bolgatz. (2007). More Than Rosa Parks: Critical Multicultural Social Studies in a Fourth-Grade Class. Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, 18(1), 39–51.

Johnston-Guerrero, M. P. (2016). The Meanings of Race Matter: College Students Learning About Race in a Not-so-Postracial Era. American Educational Research Journal, 53(4), 819–849.

Johnson, M. M., & Mason, P. B. (2017). “Just Talking about Life”: Using Oral Histories of the Civil Rights Movement to Encourage Classroom Dialogue on Race. Teaching Sociology, 45(3), 279–289.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2004). Landing on the Wrong Note: The Price We Paid for Brown. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 3–13.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2000). Fighting for Our Lives: Preparing Teachers to Teach African American Students. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 206–214.

Lightfoot, J. (2010). Classroom “Race” Talk. Race, Gender & Class, 17(1/2), 148–153.

Pollock, M. (2004). Race Wrestling: Struggling Strategically with Race in Educational Practice and Research. American Journal of Education, 111(1), 25–67.

Hollingworth, L. (2009). Complicated Conversations: Exploring Race and Ideology in an Elementary Classroom. Urban Education, 44(1), 30–58.

Sosa, T. (2020). “That Sure is Racist”: Classroom Race Talk as Resistance. Education and Urban Society, 52(7), 1039–1065.

Tatum, B. D. (1994). Teaching White Students about Racism: The Search for White Allies and the Restoration of Hope. Teachers College Record, 95(4), 462–476.

Thomas, E. E. (2015). “We Always Talk About Race”: Navigating Race Talk Dilemmas in the Teaching of Literature. Research in the Teaching of English, 50(2), 154–175.

Roberts, R. A., Bell, L. A., & Murphy, B. (2008). Flipping the Script: Analyzing Youth Talk about Race and Racism. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39(3), 334–354.

Trainor, J. S. (2005). “My Ancestors Didn’t Own Slaves”: Understanding White Talk about Race. Research in the Teaching of English, 40(2), 140–167.

Tuszynska, A. (2017). Who Needs Race Talk, Anyway?: Teaching African American Literature to Students of Color in Anxious Times. MELUS, 42(4), 164–191.

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