Tips to Create an Inclusive Classroom

The 2020 census made it official: America is an increasingly diverse country. And while that finding confirmed what many college instructors had been seeing in their classrooms for years, addressing the needs of such a diverse student body can be overwhelming.

Enter inclusivity in higher education, a movement that strives to improve pedagogy to meet all students’ needs, especially those in marginalized groups. This ongoing process seeks to transform learning systems, and campuses across the country are tackling the situation.

A recent pedagogy workshop at Johns Hopkins University addressed how to accommodate the needs of disparate learners. Instructors explored best practices for creating inclusive classrooms. Led by Dr. Karen Fleming, a nationally recognized expert who works to overcome biases against women in STEM, workshop attendees first examined their own biases by completing a series of surveys designed to illuminate unconscious biases. [The tests are available to anyone and results are confidential.]

Many instructors were shocked after the surveys revealed their own unintentional prejudices, but they learned that accepting this reality was the first step to overcome them. Then the group brainstormed strategies to make their classrooms more inclusive. Some of their results are shown below.

  • Establish classroom protocols for discussions and group activities, whether teaching online or in person. Revisit these procedures during the semester to both remind students and to adjust the rules.
  • Encourage students to speak up when they sense that a mistake was made, even an unintentional one, so the entire class can learn from the error.
  • Invite guest speakers from a broad mix of cultures, backgrounds, and identities.
  • Include a mix of course materials and content using video, images, research papers, and graphs.
  • Incorporate frequent classroom activities that consider differences in learning acquisition.
  • Follow accessibility guidelines such as including closed captioning or transcripts.
  • Provide opportunities for students to respond anonymously so they can express themselves without fear of judgment.
  • Conduct small group activities so students can learn about one another. [Refer to our post on best practices for group activities online, which are easily adapted to the live classroom.] Urge students to form study groups with their classmates.

College instructors possess a unique opportunity to model as well as encourage inclusive behavior that will benefit students long after they leave the academy.

Strategies for an Inclusive Classroom. (2021, July 28). The Innovative Instructor Blog. Retrieved from

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