George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Children's books with multicultural settings and characters can transport us on a global adventure, dispelling negative stereotypes, teaching tolerance and respect, encouraging pride in kids' cultural heritage, and showcasing universal human emotions and feelings. When paired with extension activities, quality multicultural literature teaches kids about the world beyond our communities while sharpening their critical thinking skills.

Here are five concrete ways that teachers can use literature to get their kids excited about reading as they learn about the world.

1. See How Far Books Can Take You

Combine geography and ELA in a classroom display. Hang up a world map, and map the settings of the books that you read as a class during the year. Purposefully choose books that represent many geographic areas, and include both fiction and nonfiction. This graphic wall organizer will help you recognize regions of the world that have been overlooked.

2. Join a Worldwide Book Club

Join the Global Read Aloud and connect with students in New Zealand, India, and the U.K. in a virtual book discussion. Using Twitter, Skype, Edmodo, Kidblog, and other #edtech tools to make connections during a six-week period, classes from kindergarten through high school participate in this growing collaborative project.

3. Compare Fairy Tales Across Cultures

Finding similarities and differences when reading fairy tales, folklore and fables from around the world encourages kids to focus on the details and hone their critical thinking skills. The Common Core includes this "Reading Literature" standard (RL.2.9):

Compare and contrast two or more versions of the same story (e.g., Cinderella stories) by different authors or from different cultures.

Other examples that kids enjoy are The Gingerbread Man and Trickster Tales, whose clever and silly antics appear in many cultures around the world. Though the storylines are diverse, characters have a common need for hope, security, and love from family and friends. Stories also show universal feelings of happiness, anger and pride. When reading the diverse fairy tales, notice how the cultures portray and deal with these emotions, and compare them to how the students, their family and their friends would show the same feelings.

4. Teach Tolerance, Empathy and Respect

It is crucial that we expose our students to those who come from a different background, with diverse struggles and triumphs, who have distinct experiences. After reading such stories and understanding the backstories more fully, children will more likely sympathize with others. Stories about kids from other cultures -- or immigrants -- increase cultural awareness and demonstrate the need to show respect and compassion.

In addition to fictional stories, teachers can read biographies of leaders from around the world who embody peace, and discuss the challenges they have overcome. International leaders such as the Dalai Lama, Wangari Maathai, Jane Goodall or Nelson Mandela provide examples of character traits and inspiring lessons.

Questions to ask your students:

  • Why is he or she admired around the world?
  • What characteristics and values does this person have that makes him or her a good leader?
  • Think about the challenges he or she overcame. What would be the hardest part for you under those circumstances?
  • If you could meet this person, what would you like to ask him or her?

5. Dispel Stereotypes and Get Facts from the Source

Explore "A Day in the Life"-type books with your students that show typical kids doing typical activities in other countries. Books like Florence Parry Heide's Day of Ahmed's Secret, Stacy Bellward's Ethiopian Voices: Tsion's Life or Maria de Fatima Campos' Cassio's Day: From Dawn to Dusk in a Brazilian Village follow children through a typical day from when they wake up until they go to sleep. After reading several stories, chart the similarities and differences between these children's lives and your students' lives. Talk about what kids eat, what they play with, where they live, who is in their family, how they get to school, how they learn, and more. Open your students' minds to distinct perspectives and ways of going through the day.

What multicultural resources do you use in your K-5 classroom? How do you bring them to life?

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Kori Winker's picture
Kori Winker
AMAZE Community Partnerships Coordinator

I totally agree with you! I am with AMAZE. We use storytelling and developmentally appropriate activities to positively impact classroom climate and empower young students to stop bias based bullying behaviors from starting. AMAZE helps create the safety and belonging every child deserves.

Candice Smith's picture
Candice Smith
Educational researcher

I picked up some useful points here about how storytelling can help teach multicultural values. I have practiced curriculum integration for multiculturalism exposure for students so that they learn the ethical value of diversity and add that to their character at an early age.. This can best be achieved if the classroom practices include all senses activities to create a clear and positive perspective in a student's mind.

We followed and tested a few assessments that could be added to a classroom curriculum including:

1.. Writing a biography of themselves (usually classrooms with kids from different regions fit well for this activity) or developing descriptive charts including descriptions about their family values, festivals and hobbies.

2.. Using visual arts to defines how the work of an artist represents their key cultural values. These courses are the toughest for teachers to implement but once the resources are firmly gripped and you can control what learning aspect you want to deliver, this method is very attention gaining.

3.. Then there is always social activism.. The more students involve in cultural gatherings socially the more they will learn from the differences in a positive way. Since they are themselves a part of it !!

4. Here comes storytelling, another effective method of teaching multicultural knowledge through literature. The post by Becky defines it perfectly !!

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

On Twitter, children's author @SamRVamos recommended:

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference (CitizenKid) by Katie Smith Milway.

From Good Reads: "Inspired by true events, One Hen tells the story of Kojo, a boy from Ghana who turns a small loan into a thriving farm and a livelihood for many."

Kate's picture

For books that teach tolerance, empathy, etc. there is a GREAT free resource called the Helping Books Connection

Cheryl Ann's picture

I like how using children's literature books can be tied in with other curriculum areas. Also allowing students to join the world wide book club will allow students to speak to other students from all over and to see if they share the same point of view.

Tara Lira's picture

Thanks for the ideas to breathe life into the Common Core. Here below, the Pulitzer Center for Journalism offers some lessons for teachers to provide students with a global perspective and integrates the Common Core standards.


The Pulitzer Center utilizes the work of Journalist' in the field in making lesson plans for students to learn more about journalistic writing and perspective taking through real life fieldwork.

One particular plan is based around "Out of Eden" a piece by journalist Paul Salopek. Paul introduces the lesson plan to the students with "But I look forward to hearing your stories too because learning about the world and how we're all connected within it doesn't mean you have to pull on a pair of boots and walk 25 miles a day."


Catherine Browning's picture
Catherine Browning
e-Learning Education Analyst at VIF International Education

VIF recently released our 'Where Reading Takes Me: Literacy Toolkit' and it highlights many of these ideas that you all have mentioned. Check out the Literacy Toolkit here: for fun and easy ways to incorporate global learning through reading, into your classroom!

What are some of your favorite world literature resources for your classroom?

clstward1's picture

I think using this strategy of including multicultural literature of children from around the world may pique the interest of my students, including my low-readers. I look forward to bringing more of the world into my classroom. Thank you, everyone, for the resources.

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