3 Tips for Building Inclusive ELA Lessons

by | 11.14.21

Nawal Qarooni Casiano is an educator in Illinois. Follow her on Twitter @NQCLiteracy.

When I think about lesson planning this year, I see a million moving parts. I’m a former classroom teacher, now working to support fellow ELA educators, so I know what it’s like to feel excited about building lessons that inspire student success. By designing inclusive, affirming lesson plans, you can make your learners feel so empowered to grow! That’s why I want to share 3 steps to planning culturally responsive, student-centric ELA lessons: 

1. Begin with diverse texts – and plenty of student choice. 

I believe that if we want to plan lessons that will support every student’s growth, choosing culturally nourishing texts is the very first step. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s research has shown, in order for students to thrive as learners, they need to see their identities and histories reflected in the texts they read – and they need to see others’ reflected, too. (Below, I’ve included a helpful resource authored by Dr. Bishop.) When we build diverse materials into lesson plans, we show students that every voice matters. In doing so, we show them that their voices matter – and that inspires them to explore deeply, think critically and express ideas confidently. They see a truer and more complete picture of the world. And when we go just a little further and plan lessons that offer a choice of texts, we can show students we trust them to take charge of their learning – and promote even more growth. They’re additionally more engaged! 

2. Build in multiple learning modalities.

My suggested next step is to take those texts and build multimodal lessons on them. Just as our students have diverse identities, they have diverse learning processes. Some kids learn well by reading a text, then discussing it with fellow learners. Others learn well by listening to an audio recording, then drawing or writing about it. If we want all our students to succeed in ELA class, we need to provide not just one path to mastery, but many. That’s why when I recommend a text to a teacher friend, I create a simple resource bank to go with it. 

For example, Oge Mora’s book Thank You, Omu! tells the story of a woman who shares her homemade stew with her community. If I were planning a multimodal lesson around this text, I might create multiple entry points by inviting students to explore Lucy Knisley’s book Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, David Dominguez’s poem “Oxtail Stew” and the video “Amy Wu Shows You How to Make the Perfect Bao.” (You can explore my collection of culturally nourishing, multimodal resource recommendations below!)

3. Hold space for student identities. 

I recommend using surveys to learn about students: their reader identities, passions and histories. I also recommend activities that invite students to share and celebrate who they are (but never requiring a student to be the sole representative of a culture or experience). Next, we can fill those spaces in our lesson plans with texts to make students feel seen, exercises to support the ways they love to learn – and even invite them to showcase their skills by leading a discussion or activity. Identity work is literacy work, and the more we center our students’ identities in our lessons, the more we can get them invested in learning. (Below, I’m sharing two books on identity work that inspired my practice, written by fellow educators.) 

As ELA educators, each lesson brings the opportunity to encourage new explorations, support new skills and promote incredible growth for all our learners. When we build lesson plans on diverse texts and multiple learning modalities, then bring them to life with student voice, we can empower our students to become lifelong readers, writers, thinkers – and leaders. 


Multicultural Literacy: Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors,” by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

”Opening Up New Perspectives With Literature,” via Edutopia

Culturally Nourishing Resource List, via NQC Literacy

Practice Posts on Inclusive ELA Instruction, via NQC Literacy

Start Here, Start Now: A Guide to Antibias and Antiracist Work in Your School Community, by Liz Kleinrock 

Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension, by Sara K. Ahmed

More community favorites


Looking to Try a Classroom Library Audit?

by Molly Castner

I teach middle school, and it’s such an important time for students to discover what books they like and to develop a solid reader’s ide...


How We Can Support Our LGBTQ Students

by Wendy Garay

As a gay educator, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my identity with my students at first. Before coming out, I wanted to make sure I was...