Wondering how to engage students of vastly different economic, social, racial, and cultural backgrounds in the classroom? Interested in becoming more skilled at communicating across cultures? This collaborative webpage offers activity ideas and resources to develop intercultural competence.

What is Intercultural Competence?

A set of cognitive, affective and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts*.

Cognitive Affective Behavioral
Cultural self-awareness Curiosity Relationship building
Culture-general knowledge Cognitive flexibility Listening, problem solving
Culture-specific knowledge Motivation Empathy
Interaction analysis Open mindedness Information gathering

Cultural Iceberg

Like an iceberg, only a fraction of culture is visible, manifested through customs, language, physical appearance. The majority of culture is hidden from view and expressed implicitly, through deep-held values and preferences.

The iceberg analogy was first proposed by Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book, Beyond Culture.



Activities and Strategies to Develop Intercultural Competence


Cultural Awareness Self-Assessment

To begin to assess your cultural self-awareness, ask yourself several questions**:

  • What are some of my core beliefs and how have they been culturally influenced?
  • How would I describe my worldview?
  • How would I describe some of the students’ worldviews?
  • How might these differ from the ways in which I see the world?
  • How much do I know about my students’ cultural backgrounds?
  • What information am I missing and how can I get that information?
  • How can I incorporate my students’ worldviews into my course materials?
  • What worldviews are demonstrated through the course materials I currently use?
  • How can I enhance those materials so that other worldviews are represented?

Activity: Mapping Your Cultural Orientation

This simple activity is a great way to engage participants in a conversation about cultural values and appreciate how these relate to others. It can be done as an individual, written reflection, or be “acted out” by participants lining up along imaginary continuums.

Classroom Strategies to Increase Engagement of Culturally Diverse Students

While mainstream American culture prizes individual accomplishments and promotes an egalitarian treatment of others, individuals from many other cultures find it highly awkward to be singled out in front of a group or call their superior by his/her first name. To increase engagement of culturally diverse students, try these specific classroom strategies, developed by a group of faculty and staff from the University of Washington Bothell and Cascadia College during a workshop in October 2013:

  1. Set clear expectations, via your syllabus and modeling desired behaviors, for class participation and the value of sharing cultural perspectives.
  2. Vary forms of classroom participation, including: working in dyads and small groups before reporting out to large group; using clickers; utilizing responses from course website/discussion board during in-class discussions; having students write individual contracts that allocate points based on categories of skills they want to develop.
  3. Communicate on an individual level, e.g.require students (or give them specific incentives) to sign up for office hours during the first 2-3 weeks; walk around the room to engage with students or student groups on a more individual basis.
  4. Arrange seats in a circle with a talking stick.
  5. Plan time for reflection before soliciting responses from the class.
  6. Raise the status of students with lower language skills.
  7. Use show and tell activities to highlight culture, e.g. incorporate “artifacts” in e-portfolios.
  8. Be intentional in the design of groups or assignments, e.g. assign specific roles; use playing cards to assign students to groups randomly.
  9. Share awareness of personal limitations and worldview.

Working with Non-Native Speakers of English

Resources compiled by Young-Kyung Min, PhD, Lecturer in the UW Bothell Education Program, highlight culturally diverse approaches to writing, organizing ideas, and issues such as plagiarism. They are intended to help instructors better understand the non-native speakers of English in their classrooms and provide tools to address their specific needs.


  • Developing Intercultural Competence for International Education Faculty and Staff
    Bennett, Janet, PhD. 2011. AIEA Conference Workshop.
    Also found in: Bennett, Janet. 2008. Transformative training: Designing programs for cultural learning in Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Understanding and utilizing cultural diversity to build successful organizations, ed. M.A. Moodian, 95-110. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

If you have resources that you would like to see added to this toolkit, please send to: Natalia Dyba, Director of Global Initiatives