Teaching International Students

Be aware

• Our international students come from many places and are very different from one another, so each one should be known and treated as an individual.

• Intelligence is very different from English-language ability, and students working to enhance their English likely speak English as a second or third language.

• Some of our international students are native English speakers, and others have studied at English-medium schools.

• Our international students may be used to different classroom experiences and expectations from many U.S.-raised students (e.g. they might be from places where students didn’t quickly jump into class discussions, might be unfamiliar with pop quizzes,  might have different assumptions about collaboration, might see the professor’s role differently).

• Students may be dealing with challenges related to personal and cultural adaptation in addition to academic challenges.

• Using international examples helps all our students develop the global perspective we’re hoping for – but don’t require your international students to be the expert on their home country.

• Using idioms and specific cultural references means some students won’t follow you.

Adopt “universal design” practices – which help international students and all students

• Early in the semester, find out from all your students about their relevant background knowledge and experiences for your course.

• Early in the semester, get to know your students and learn what they are nervous about.

• Be as clear as possible about the skills and requirements necessary for success in the course and offer examples or models of good work.

• Be clear about what you mean by “good class participation,” including behavior in small groups.

• Facilitate class participation so that there is wide sharing and multiple perspectives and regular invitation for students to explain what they haven’t understood.

• Use multiple modes (e.g. lecture and images, discussion and a handout, reading and a small group activity) to introduce and practice new concepts.

• Offer low-stakes opportunities for students to practice the skills (such as do drafts or sample problems) before high-pressure exams and get feedback.

• Allow enough time for all students to finish quizzes, exams, etc.

Consider going even further

• Know what resources are available (i.e. the Writing Center for various stages of the writing process, the Tutoring Center for one-on-one assistance in learning content, Belk library for research and citations, the Global Education Center, CREDE, etc).

• Consider whether there are adaptations you’d be willing to make for students for whom English is a second language (e.g. different style testing or extra time, allowing dictionaries, looking at drafts, etc.).

• Learn more about your students’ cultures in order to better understand and interact with them.

• Think carefully about how you assign membership of project teams.


Carnegie Mellon University has put together a helpful report (.pdf) for faculty about how to recognize and address the cultural variations that impact students in their  U.S. college classrooms.

The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Teaching and Learning provides web resources for bridging differences in classroom knowledge and practice, teaching non-native speakers of English, improving climate, and promoting academic integrity.