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Resources for Teaching International Students

International undergraduate and graduate students face a range of challenges beyond that are qualitatively different from those that domestic students encounter. As faculty, we will better serve our international students if we take some time to develop a deeper understanding of these challenges. We need to remember that our international students come to the U.S. from different cultural and educational environments. Those environments powerfully shape students' assumptions regarding proper classroom behavior not only for themselves, but also for their teachers and classmates. Your interaction, process and performance expectations may be strange or confusing for an international student.

This page offers suggestions and resources intended to help faculty who wish to more effectively engage and integrate their international students. You can contribute to the ongoing development of this resource by sending your favorite tip or weblink to us using the link at the bottom of this page. We'll be glad to add it!

Teaching International Students

Special Issues that International Students Might Have
  • Students who are not native speakers of English may be more reluctant to ask questions in class out of fear that they may seem confused or ignorant. It may help to encourage students to note their questions in writing and to make yourself available to answer questions later.
  • It may not be usual in other educational systems for students to ask instructors for help. It is important to make it clear that instructors are available during office hours and that they expect students to come speak with them. It may help to build required conferences into your syllabus.
  • Bear in mind that the culture of education differs around the world, and that assignment and exam formats in the US are often not the same as those used in many other countries. It may help to provide sample questions, examples of successful work, and study guides, all of which can help international students understand what you expect of them.
  • Study skills also differ in different countries, and not all international students are familiar with group or partner work. It may help to offer clear guidelines for individual vs. group expectations within a group assignment.

Non-Academic Factors Can be Critical
  • Personal life has a tremendous impact on the success of all students, but these factors are intensified for international students as they attempt to navigate a strange culture while separated from their regular support networks of family and trusted friends.
  • Encourage students to exercise regularly, eat healthy food, and get plenty of sleep. Doing university-level work in a second language and/or strange culture is extremely demanding and stressful (have you tried it?). If a student is falling asleep in class, or seems sluggish or anxious, take a one-on-one moment to express concern.
  • Homesickness, loneliness and/or culture shock can significantly impact focus and academic performance. Many internationals struggle with one or more of these at some point. Be prepared to refer them to assistance (see below) if you learn they are struggling with any of these.
  • Some internationals receive intense pressure from home to perform well. This can be a significant factor in emotional well-being.
  • Confidential and highly competent counselors are available on campus for students to talk to if they are struggling. Help students understand that it's good to seek help and that doing so does not mean they are mentally ill. The CAPS website (www.caps.ku.edu) has more info. Their number is 785-864-2277.

Advice to Give International Students
  • Follow this link to a page of advice for international students that is located on the International Student Services Website. This page offers ideas that international students might follow to help themselves adjust to the new academic climate in which they find themselves.

Tips for Teaching Non-Native Speakers of English

Helping Students Get Comfortable in the Classroom
  • Be proactive in getting to know your international students. Make an effort to learn how to pronounce their names and to find out what brought them here to study and what their interests and strengths are.
  • Provide opportunities for international students to use examples from their own experiences or cultures in the classroom, but be careful not to ask international students to serve as stereotypical representatives of their cultures or countries.
  • Encourage and normalize your office hours. Other educational systems may not encourage the use of office hours for regular communication between faculty and students and international students may not be likely to visit an instructor’s office unless required to do so.
  • Hold individual conferences with your students at the beginning of the term. This takes time, but it can help you get to know each other and gives international students a chance to ask questions.

  • Make lecture outlines/slides/notes available ahead of your lectures.
  • Use consistent patterns for presenting information.
  • Be clear and specific in instructions and send follow up emails to put information in writing.
  • Limit use of colloquialisms and culturally specific examples, and take time to explain meanings of slang, puns, humor and cultural references. You can also encourage students to jot down questions about the language or examples you have used and to ask them after class.
  • Turn on English subtitles for films.
  • Think about how you use the first and last five minutes of class to set up the subject matter and to recapitulate the important points you want students to take away. Non-native speakers of English can especially benefit from outlines and recaps that clue them into key words and the main points of the lecture.

  • Not all educational systems emphasize discussion and student participation as much as ours does. Take time at the beginning of the course to explain why participation is important and the role that it plays in your course.
  • Talk with students individually about participation and encourage them to share their perspectives on the material.
  • Allow time for brainstorming in class.
  • Use writing prompts to give all students time to compose responses.
  • Provide opportunities for students to discuss questions in smaller groups or with their neighbor.

Group Work
  • Educational systems around the world vary in the amount of group work they use in their curriculum. Explain the purpose and value of doing group work in your class.
  • Create clear guidelines and rules for group projects.
  • Assign groups rather than letting students pick their own, and consider diversity when you make the assignments.
  • Maintain groups over long periods so as to encourage stability, comfort, and the development of good working relationships.
  • Group projects with written deliverables can result in an unfair division of labor, so consider asking groups to produce deliverable outcomes that are things that everyone can share (for example, ask them to choose a position and defend it, or to recommend a course of action).
  • Provide class with basic information about differences in communication and decision making so that group members may value other communication styles.
  • Check in with students in groups and offer suggestions.

Syllabi and Assignments
  • Be explicit about rules and expectations, especially unwritten rules. It is best not to assume that international students will come to your class with the contextual knowledge that you might expect domestic students to have.
  • Put things in writing, both on the syllabus and in follow up handouts and/or emails.
  • Whenever possible, show examples of work that conforms to your rules and model the rules.
  • Provide examples of successful work and explain why it is successful.

Student Writing
  • Familiarize yourself with common non-native speaker errors and try not to let those errors cloud your ability to understand the ideas in students' written work. See this article for information on the most common ESL writing errors.
  • Allow students to turn in drafts to get feedback.
  • Encourage students to use the Writing Center and to take copies of the syllabus and the assignment with them when they do so.
  • Consider your approach to the teaching of standard American English with regard to your international students. Many international students are native speakers (and writers) of varieties of English that are distinct from standard American English and use spellings, terminology and/or grammatical structures that are distinct from standard American English. To learn more about current thinking on standard vs. non-standard Englishes you might want to watch this lecture by Prof. David Crystal. For more information on World Englishes, look at this article by Ferit Kilickaya and Maria Curie-Sklodowska.

Academic Integrity
  • Because academic integrity and citation norms differ between cultures, international students haven't necessarily been taught to paraphrase or put things into their own words, and they may even expect that it would be insulting to the reader to make an attribution to a text that the reader should be familiar with. In addition, international students may not be familiar with standard citation techniques used in the United States.
  • Take time in class to clearly communicate your expectations about academic integrity and walk through examples with students to help them understand why one example is plagiarism and another is not.
  • Model good citation practices on your handouts, powerpoints, and syllabi.
  • Include a section on academic integrity in your syllabus that explains when students should cite their sources as well as what citation style they should use. The KU Writing Center provides excellent resources on this topic.
  • Consider the extent to which American values shape American perspectives on Academic Integrity. If you take time to understand how different cultural values might lead to different ways of thinking about citation and academic integrity, it may help you to communicate your own expectations more effectively to your international students. For further reading on this topic look at this page on "American Cultural Values Represented in our Teaching and Academic Integrity Policy" from North Carolina State University.
  • Washington State University offers some excellent guides and exercises aimed at educating students about plagiarism. Some of these exercises could be used in class. The site also contains a page on "Cultural Perspectives on Plagiarism."

Additional Resources
  • This article, "10 Tips on How to Teach International Students Effectively," provides some good, general advice along with a clear explanation of how cultural faux pas can create problems in intercultural communication. It might be a particularly useful article for instructors who are not very accustomed to interacting with people from other cultural contexts.
  • This 3 part video, "Writing Across Borders," from Oregon State University uses interviews with international students to explore the role of culture in shaping how people think and communicate in both speech and writing. It looks at topics such as organization preference (what the cultural influences are on our organizational choices when we write something), and the role of culture in shaping reader expectations.
  • The University of Dayton's "Teaching a Global Student Community" website has an extensive list of journal articles about teaching international students and the challenges faced by international students on its "Additional Resources" page. Other pages on this website also provide excellent advice on teaching international students.
  • Purdue University's Online Writing Lab is an excellent writing resource. It includes extensive information about avoiding plagiarism as well as information for ESL students on writing in a second language.
  • This article, "Helping Foreign Students Speak Up," from Inside Higher Education offers a set of strategies that the author has found helpful in encouraging international students to speak up in class.
  • This advice on leading discussions on the University of Illinois website is not specifically targeted at teaching international students, but the ideas it offers would help create a positive environment for international students.

Promoting an Inclusive Classroom

Creating an Inclusive Climate
  • Identify social/cultural differences as being valuable resources that can facilitate classroom learning.
  • If you hear students refer to national or cultural stereotypes, take time to question the generalizations they are making and how they are being applied.
  • Take time to learn something about the countries your international students come from and especially about the educational culture of those countries.
  • Pay attention to your pace of speech and the way you use idioms and cultural references.
  • Use non-verbal communications such as gestures and eye contact.
  • Discourage side conversations amongst either international or domestic students.
  • Facilitate equitable participation and the sharing of diverse views.

  • Social Psychologist Geert Hofstede has done some interesting research on differences between national cultures. His research-based national comparison tool may help you better understand cultural differences between nations. This knowledge might help you do a better job of engaging your international students. Thoughtful use of this tool might also help you to break down national or cultural stereotypes that your students use.
  • Check out this booklet from Griffith University on culturally inclusive classrooms strategies. It focuses on positive interaction with students, discouraging classroom incivilities, using inclusive language and encouraging open, honest and respectful classroom discussion, and offers numerous ideas for how to achieve each of those goals.
  • You can find more information on managing cross-cultural conflict here. This resource from Griffith University includes ideas regarding identifying and preparing for conflicts before they arise, establishing a climate of trust and mutual respect, promoting effective communication and listening skills, managing emotions, reaching consensus and mediation.
  • These Purdue University videos on intercultural competency may be useful if you are looking for strategies to encourage your students to develop cultural self-awareness and intercultural empathy and to engage with each other across cultures.
  • This University of Melbourne website hosts a video entitled "Finding Common Ground: Enhancing Interaction Between Domestic and International Students" that discusses how to encourage cross-cultural communication in the classroom.
  • This blog by a Chinese student from Indiana University describes her perception of differences between Chinese and American instructional norms.

Please send us your suggestions for additional tips or resources to include on this page.

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