SEL Spotlight

How to Plan a School Cultural Celebration

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Cultural Day, Multi-Cultural Fair, International Night – no matter what you call it, for many schools an event like this is an annual tradition that everyone looks forward to. For most schools, it’s an opportunity to celebrate the diversity that exists within your community. It also offers a great opportunity to deepen social awareness and understanding by celebrating the cultural richness of the world beyond your immediate community.


As with all things cultural, it’s important to approach the celebration with a high level of sensitivity to ensure traditions and artifacts are treated with reverence and respect. Cultural elements, whether food, clothing/costume, visual or performing arts, should always be presented as examples of something from a particular place and time, but not representative of the culture as a whole. Cultural costumes should only be worn by those who share in that heritage and understand the symbolism and meaning behind it.

Getting Organized

Many schools organize their cultural celebration by assigning different countries or regions to each classroom. Students then complete projects related to that culture and share their work at the event. Another approach is to have your event area set up with stations for different regions (for example, an area for each continent), and then look for ways for all students to contribute something to each region. Appointing a planning committee that involves both faculty and parent representatives is a big key to success. Your committee can then decide on the best way to organize your event.

No matter what, a great starting point for deciding what cultures to highlight is to draw from your community. Provide an opportunity for students and parents to volunteer to share something (food, art, music, dance) from their family’s heritage. Then use those contributions as highlights of the event and supplement as needed with additional activities and displays.

Pro Tip: In addition to highlighting countries from around the world, you can also celebrate cultures within the U.S.A. For example, one class or grade could make contributions highlighting different kinds of food, music, etc. originating from various states or geographic regions. It’s important for students to recognize that culture is not something that only exists in far-away places – we all have culture right in our own community.

Spotlight on English Language Learners

An event like this can also be a wonderful opportunity for ELL students to shine! Several studies have shown cultural dance and music programs are particularly beneficial for ELLs who show a significant boost in self-confidence when they have an opportunity to express themselves through the arts. Be sure to include ELL students and their families in the planning and provide opportunities for them to share about their culture in ways that make them feel valued, proud and comfortable.

multicultural dance

Put Arts at the Core

One of the best ways to ensure a lively event is to incorporate cultural music, dance and visual art. There are many ways to do this, but a great tip is to make it as interactive as possible. Some of the many ways schools incorporate music and dance into cultural events include:

  • Invite local artists and performers to demonstrate different styles of music and dance, and when possible also offer a mini-workshop that gives participants a chance to learn something new.

  • Have students prepare music/dance performances ahead of time and present them at the event.

  • Play a mix of recorded cultural music during the event

EduMotion’s SEL Journeys content can also be a great resource for your event. Student can learn dances ahead of time and perform them for parents, or you can set up an activity station at the event where students and parents can follow along on a screen and learn the dances together during the event!

As for visual art, this is one of the easiest ways to incorporate student work, especially if you have an art teacher who can be involved in planning and preparing for the event. Ideas for student projects inspired by cultural art traditions are abundant, and with a little pre-planning you can use student work as the centerpiece of your event decorations.

Make It Tasty

Food is always a big hit at a cultural celebration. Look to your community for contributions – invite local restaurants to donate culturally authentic food samples and/or invite families to contribute with a favorite family recipe. Some schools even find that their food services staff are eager to participate in planning and preparing ethnic dishes for this kind of event.

Don’t Forget the Passports!

One of the most popular tricks for a successful cultural fair is to provide a passport to participants and give them an opportunity to earn stamps when they participate in various activities. Allow participants the opportunity to enter into a prize drawing as long as they earn a required number of activity stamps. This gives participants a mission to accomplish and encourages a higher level of engagement in the activities.

Make it a Fundraiser

When planning an event, you can also consider the possibility of turning the event into a school fundraiser. You can do this by selling tickets to the event, or including a raffle as part of the festivities. Even better, consider setting up an event-based online fundraiser to complement your event.

I recommend Go Dough – a new fundraising solution for schools that focuses on healthy events and school wellness. You can choose to set up an event-based fundraiser and collect donations online. This is helpful to encourage participation and donations beyond the immediate network of those who plan to attend your event. With easy opportunities to share the fundraiser on social media, you can reach a wider audience.

Go Forth and Celebrate

Whether it happens during school, after-school or in the evening, an event that celebrates cultural diversity both within your school and beyond can be a great way to foster a climate of inclusion and respect. Remember to start your planning by looking first to the resources that already exist within your community – focus on that and build from there.


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Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen

Margot Toppen is a visionary educator who works at the intersection of SEL, arts, and physical education.

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