Instructing Global Learners: Working with International Students

Provides MU community with tools to assist in fully integrating international students and fostering intercultural competence for all students.

Lecturing, Communicating, and Empowering

When instructing international students, keep the following in mind:

  • Both international and domestic students come from various learning backgrounds.
  • It is not possible to know exactly where all of your students will be in terms of learning, language level, or comprehension.
  • Utilize the strategies outlined in this guide regardless of whether teaching or learning gaps are brought to your attention by students.
  • It is best to use these strategies unconditionally in order to fully support all students, especially international students.
  • To compensate for ESL weaknesses in certain language areas, utilize the board, overhead, and other methods of visual media frequently while lecturing. Skills vary from student to student. 
  • Write down directions so that students who may not understand your speech can follow along.
  • Be mindful of pop culture and historical references while lecturing and in assigned readings. For example, not all international students will know who Hellen Keller or various Disney characters are. 
  • Incorporate a greater use of synonyms into your lecturing style. For example, "This poem evokes, or gives feelings, of sadness and despair." In this way, students who have a limited vocabulary will still be able to understand.
  • Ask open-ended questions to encourage ESL student participation. Additionally, instead of asking "Do you have any questions?" instructors may receive a more positive response when asking "What questions do you have for me?"
  • Sometimes, in other countries, not making eye contact with an authority figure is a sign of respect.
  • Be aware that teaching styles in some foreign countries are not interactive.
  • Give sufficient time for international students to respond to questions. It may take time to process what is asked.
  • Check for comprehension. Some students may be shy or feel embarrassed to tell you they do not understand.
  • Sometimes international students struggle to find the right words to ask or respond to a question.
  • Plan to spend extra time when assisting international students.
  • Expect the same amount of effort and quality of work from international students as native English speakers, but consider grammar and vocabulary. Focus on the content.
  • Be sure to tell international students when you do not understand them. Ask them to repeat or rephrase.
  • Encourage international students to share their ideas or perspectives. They may be shy or not think it appropriate to do so unless asked. However, do not ask an international student to represent his or her entire country (for example, "What do Chinese people think of the U.S. political system?").
  • Many times, international students are not encouraged to write about their own ideas or opinions in their home country. Faculty may have to give international students "permission" to use their own ideas; many cultures frown upon not doing exactly what your professor says. 
  • Having a discussion-driven class may be intimidating for some international students. They may not know how to comment in class. It can be helpful to give them examples of how to participate and what kind of interaction or input you are looking for. 

Evaluating Assignments

Working with multilingual writers whose native language is not English requires patience and understanding. Some international students may require more time than a U.S. student to complete an assignment. When grading the paper of an international student, expect the same amount of effort and quality as you would from a native speaker. However, try to be understanding of grammar and syntax errors. International students may have great ideas, but might not be able to express them as well as native speakers. Focus on content and organization rather than vocabulary. Grade assignments accordingly as long as you can understand the ideas students are trying to express. If a student is clearly struggling to express his or her ideas, please direct the student to the Writing Center or ESL instructors in the Office of International Education for additional support.