How Do I Support International Students in My Classes?

How Do I Support International Students in My Classes?

Many of our students speak English as an additional language and are learning the language alongside disciplinary knowledge. They come to our campus with high hopes and expectations, a desire to succeed; and yet, they often struggle in our classes. How can you as the instructor best support them so that they can thrive and achieve their academic goals? Here are some teaching practices that can help your international students develop a sense of belonging in your classes and succeed academically. Best of all, these practices will benefit of ALL your students!



Establish High-Quality Relationships with Your Students

Create an inclusive syllabus. Use your syllabus to outline a pathway of learning through the course, to set the tone, positively shape the class climate, and build a sense of community, respect, and mutual support. Explore our CTL webpage How Do I Write a Good and Inclusive Syllabus?

Learn your students’ names. If you find it difficult to pronounce a name, look for name pronunciation help websites or apps, or ask your students to audio record their name for you.

Get to know your students. Ask your students how they have been taught, studying, and interacting in class in their previous schooling, and what they find difficult. That way you can find out about their strengths as well as areas where they will need specific support and scaffolding of their learning. Use a student survey or invite students to share this with you during a meet-up.

Invite students personally to meet up with you and explain the purpose of office hours. International students may not be familiar with the concept of office hours so let them know how meeting up with you (and other instructors) can benefit them.

Check in regularly with your students. Use feedback mechanisms to find out how your students are doing. You can quickly and regularly gauge students’ understandings of course content and skills by regularly using Classroom Assessment Techniques, such as a Minute Paper, iClicker Questions, Exit Tickets or Muddiest Points.

Be Explicit in Your Communication and Provide Resources

Include a Diversity and Inclusion Statement in your syllabus. You can find a variety of examples online and adapt these to fit your own personality, teaching style and philosophy, and disciplinary context: Sample Diversity and Inclusion Statements compiled by The Sheridan Center at Brown University; Diversity and Inclusion Syllabus Statements - San Diego State University; Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University

Let students know about expected classroom behaviors. Some international students may not be accustomed to speaking up in class, asking questions, or challenging others’ viewpoints in class. They may be unfamiliar with active learning activities. You can include this information in your syllabus and talk about it during a scheduled student-instructor hour. Consider engaging your students with developing class participation agreements.

Share campus resources with students and explain what they offer. Add an Inclusive Learning and Disability Accommodation Statement that includes the following hyperlinks in your syllabus and on your Moodle/Blackboard course site. Add any resources specific to your college/school, department, and or field. Explain to your students what type of help they can find there. Encourage students to connect with these campus resources from the beginning of the semester and remind them not to wait until exam time or when assignments are due. Resources include:


Explain academic honesty and plagiarism. In many countries this is handled differently. Add an Expanded Academic Honesty and Plagiarism Statement to your syllabus with explanations and resources. Consider asking the Writing Center to come to your class to teach students about the most important aspects of the genre of writing required in your course, what citation format to use and how to use it, what plagiarism is and how to avoid it. Also see our CTL webpage How Do I support Students in Maintaining Academic Integrity During Exams.

Teach your students explicitly about the genres, expectations, and purposes for writing in your academic discipline. How we write is culturally and context-specific. Especially international students may be unfamiliar with the expectations for writing in the U.S.

Provide regular and timely feedback and assignment revisions. Correct for content on first draft; for mechanics and grammar (if you do) on later drafts. Be concise and focus on major points and patterns to avoid overwhelming students. Highlight particular strengths and identify critical areas for improvement and ways for students to make changes.

Reduce the Effort Students Have to Put in to Understand Course Materials

Students who are speakers of English as an additional language have to process the language in addition to the content. It may be particularly difficult for them if they can only listen to what is being said.

Present and engage students with course content through multiple modalities. Use visual supports to represent ideas and concepts, such as images, concept maps, real objects, or videos (with subtitles). Use the board to highlight ideas and show relationships. and show relationships.

Make your course materials available online. Before class, share your lecture outline or the PowerPoint presentation with just the outline of your lecture. Encourage students to fill in the blank spaces during the lecture. Record your lecture and make it available on Moodle/Blackboard. Be sure to have subtitles! CTL Faculty Success: Caption This! Best Practices for Live Captioning Presentations

Be mindful of your own speech. Use short sentences. Pause at regular intervals to give students time to process what you said. Avoid jargon. Explain acronyms and cultural references.

Scaffold student learning. Provide a list of important concepts with definitions, highlight key information, and offer guiding questions for students’ reading and engagement with other course texts. Graphic organizers or lecture outlines help students organize content. Have written task instructions on a worksheet or a PowerPoint slide. If appropriate, use an online Note Catcher or an online whiteboard for students to record their work. Chunk the content to increase learning.

Designate class note takers. On a rotating basis, ask students in your class to be the note taker (maybe for extra-credit), and have them share their notes on Moodle/Blackboard with the whole class.

Make Course Content Relevant

Encourage students to build connections. Ask students to connect course content to their own experiences and contexts. Offer opportunities for students to reflect on the course content and their learning.

Provide diverse examples and representations in the course content from contexts outside of the United States. Be mindful of cultural references in visual representations, examples, and assignments.

Design transparent assignments. International students may not be familiar with assignment expectations. Map out the purpose for the assignment, necessary knowledge and skills, the steps involved in the task, and the criteria you will use to evaluate students’ performance. Check out the Transparency In Learning and Teaching Project (TILT) website for Transparent Methods, Transparent Example Template, Example Assignments, and a Transparent Assignment Checklist.

Provide examples of completed assignments and papers.

Encourage Multiple Ways for Participating and Collaborating

International students may find it challenging to speak up in class. Do this to support them:

Mix-it up and provide opportunities for collaborative work so that students can discuss, communicate, listen to, read with, negotiate, and solve problems with a diversity of peers. Assign rotating roles in group projects. Vary between individual, pair, small group, and whole class activities. Allow students to work with a chosen partner(s) when appropriate, and at other times connect international students with U.S. students during small group work. Check out the CTL webpage How do I design successful group work and collaborative assignments.

Offer various ways for participating beyond speaking up in class (e.g., online discussion, using an online chat as a backchannel, note-taking, creating a concept map, etc.). Explore the CTL webpage “How can I effectively integrate various discussion formats into my course?”

Give students time to prepare. Use pre-discussion writing strategies - such as quick writes, shared writing, or completing a sentence starter to help students organize their thinking and make them feel prepared before entering into a discussion. Offer enough wait time after asking a question for students




Please contact the CTL with any questions or for more details about the examples shared