Intercultural Competence Toolkit

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 resources, strategies and activities to develop intercultural competence.

Key Concepts

Both intercultural competence and cultural humility presume that it is not possible to become competent in someone else’s culture. Instead, they focus on the lifelong learning that begins with understanding of one’s own cultural positionality.

Intercultural Competence

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

Cultural self-awarenessCuriosityRelationship building
Culture-general knowledgeCognitive flexibilityListening, problem solving
Culture-specific knowledgeMotivationEmpathy
Interaction analysisOpen mindednessInformation gathering

Bennett’s (2008) definition of intercultural competence has been developed by the Association of American Colleges and University (AAC&U) into the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence VALUE rubric.

Cultural Humility

Originating in the healthcare field, cultural humility is an approach to engaging with others that requires self-reflection and self-critique, includes the desire to fix power imbalances where none ought to exist, and involves aspiring to develop partnerships with people and groups who advocate for others (Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, 1998).

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 & 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 academic 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, challenge their instructor, or call their superior by their 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, and during the Teaching in Progress Series in Spring 2017:

  1. Set clear expectations – via your syllabus, a collaboratively-developed community agreement, and modeling desired behaviors – for class participation and the value of sharing cultural perspectives.
  2. Model the learner mindset. Share your awareness of personal limitations and worldview.
  3. Take time to get to know students as individuals, e.g. have students complete a short questionnaire or notecard during the first week of class; use nametags with gender pronouns throughout the quarter.
  4. Think > pair > share.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Arrange seats in a circle and pass around a “talking” object.
  8. Plan time for reflection before soliciting responses from the class, e.g. assign a free-writing prompt to stimulate thinking.
  9. Raise the status of students with lower language skills.
  10. Use show and tell activities to highlight culture, e.g. incorporate “artifacts” in e-portfolios.
  11. Be intentional in the design of groups or assignments, e.g. assign specific roles; use playing cards to assign students to groups randomly.
  12. Allow moments of silence instead of rushing to fill it.

Working with Non-Native Speakers of English

Resources compiled by Young-Kyung Min, PhD, former 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.


  • Chavez, Vivian. Cultural Humility video
  • Cultural Humility Versus Cultural Competence: A Critical Distinction in Defining Physician Training Outcomes in Multicultural Education. Melanie Tervalon, Jann Murray-García. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Volume 9, Number 2, May 1998, pp. 117-125. Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • 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.
  • ESL Resources for Faculty. Min, Young-Kyung, PhD. 2013. UW Bothell Writing and Communication Center.

  • Exploring Interculturally Competent Teaching in Social Science Classrooms. Deardorff, Darla, EdD. 2009. ELiSS, Vol 2 Issue 1.

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