Teaching International Students: Tools and Strategies
(Tips, Ideas, and Resources)
Presenter: D. Margaret Campbell, Instructor, Learning Services, Student Development
At SIAST growing numbers of newcomers to Canada and international students bring new
challenges to the classroom. This presentation will provide concrete tips, ideas, and resources for
working with students from diverse cultures or whose first language is not English.
Research, instructional best practices, teacher experience, common sense, and student
suggestions all identify similar strategies to ensure success for students whose first language is
not English or who come from cultures other than the dominant local culture. Success strategies
for these students will benefit all of the students in our classes.
The discussion will focus on time, transparency, groups, and resources.
Time – Slower Speech and Pauses
Listening is a receptive language skill, but it takes a lot of effort to listen effectively to class
lectures. Rapid speech, unfamiliar accents or pronunciation, and new vocabulary make it hard to
keep up in class. Students need acclimatization and processing time. If English is not the
student’s first language, it may take extra time to translate a word, process information, or
formulate a response. Students need time to search for or to translate unknown words, to get
used to North American English pronunciation, to process meaning, and to understand course
expectations. Listening and taking notes at the same time can be difficult. Students need built-in
pauses. Sometimes we are uncomfortable with silence, but pauses can be added for a number of
reasons and in a variety of ways.
Time – Slower Speech
• Slow down your speech – don’t talk so fast.
• Beware of over-enunciation.
• Understand the stress patterns of English. English is a stress-timed language – content
words are stressed; functions words and unstressed syllables are reduced.
• Remind students to slow down to make their speech clearer to listeners.
Time – Pauses
• Pause before and after important points – and TELL students that this is a very important
point (write this down, take note, everyone, you need to know this - it will be on a test,
the car will explode, the patient will die, etc.).
• Take a sip of water, cough, or reach for a piece of paper if a silent pause makes you feel
• Ask everyone to reflect for a moment before answering a question.
• Call for questions frequently and wait for a few moments even if no one has a question.
• If questioning, come back to students who did not answer at first, in case they now have
something to contribute.
• Use think-pair-share strategies.
• Check frequently for understanding using interaction, not simply by asking if everyone
has understood. (Nodding heads do not necessarily indicate understanding.)
Students come from many learning backgrounds. They may be suffering from culture shock,
language shock, and academic shock. Achieving the required score on a language test, or
coming from an area where English is an official language but not necessarily one’s first
language, is completely different from being in an academic setting where English is the
language of instruction, coursework, and interaction with others. These students do not have the
same set of prior information as most students do.
Some students are used to memorizing and then repeating back information. The authors’ words
may not need to be cited. Other students have learned by being shown how and then doing.
Students may not be used to employing critical thinking skills or processing and synthesizing
Use a variety of teaching and assessment approaches.
Transparency – Language
• Ensure that course information and the syllabus or course outline is clear and concise.
• Include timelines for assignments and exams.
• Provide glossaries for new terms, or give spelling and definitions as you go.
• Avoid using slang.
• Avoid using jargon, or teach the terms if that language is necessary.
• Avoid references to popular culture (TV, movies, sports), which may be unfamiliar to
• Beware of figurative language – metaphoric expression is not universal.
• Recap and review frequently.
• Use discourse markers or bridging words such as (for example) “first”, “next”, and
• Embed definitions into lectures and notes; that is, use synonyms or tell students the
meaning of the previous word or concept.
• Check the reading grade level of text with readability testers such as Flesch-Kincaid.
• Encourage the use of unilingual dictionaries rather than translators.
• Be mindful of font, colour, and white space for ease of reading when creating documents.
• Know what is important to you and for your program – fluency, accuracy,
comprehension, content, and/or grammar.
• There is a difference between having an accent and pronunciation that impedes
• What level of language error is acceptable to you?
Transparency – Assignments and Assessment
• Make sure that students understand the requirements for assignments and exams.
• Give many examples.
• Consider the reading density of exam questions.
• Use practice exams to familiarize students with the types of questions they can expect.
• Ensure that students know that they should choose the best answer for multiple choice
• Build a bank of old assignments and tests that students can use for practice or example.
• Use a wide range of assessment techniques.
Tutorials or Groups
• Consider Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) for your program.
• Assign people to groups rather than having them choose their own partners.
• Assign designated tasks to each group member.
• Keep groups together long enough so that they develop good working relationships.
• Encourage study buddies or study groups outside of class time.
• Suggest that students seek extra help if needed (Learning Services, simplified or
translated course materials, or private tutors).
Tips, Ideas, and Resources
• Consider the “flipped classroom”.
• Try using clickers.
• Provide appropriate scaffolding.
• Use simplified versions of standard information.
Ideas (Suggestions and Comments from SIAST Students)
• Speak more slowly.
• Give time to think.
• Pause between pieces of information and between questions.
• Tell what is really important (lots of information and students do not know how to tell
what they really must know).
• Explain about plagiarism and cheating.
• Give lots of examples so we can see what to do – life experience, culture, and education
systems are all different so we don’t know what to do.
• Give examples to demonstrate theories.
• Use captions when showing videos.
• Allow recording of lectures or post recording or video on course web page.
• Give clear timelines on course syllabus or outline.
• Assign readings before classes. Make small readings for each day instead of big for a
• Most importantly, students have to preview the course materials before they go to related
• Try not to use slang during classes.
• Use pictures or drawings, not just lecture. Most are visual learners.
• Use other than lecture.
• Write new vocabulary on board or put on PowerPoint or give a list – if there is an
unknown word or new terminology in a lecture without time to look it up, I lose the rest
of the lecture.
• Give information to study before the next class.
• Don’t tell jokes or give cultural information that we can’t understand.
• Ask questions to make sure we understand.
Reference and Resource List (Some of Margaret’s Picks)
Red River College – Guide for Immigrant and International Students, 10th
Edition (meant for
students but also useful for instructors)
Red River College – Practical Strategies for Teaching Immigrant, International and
Generationally Diverse Students Faculty Guide, 1st
The Higher Education Academy – International Student Lifecycle Resources Bank
The University of Melbourne – Teaching International Students: Strategies to Enhance Learning
Western Oregon University – Tips for Teaching International Students
Green River Community College – Ten Tips for Teaching International Students
Indiana University Bloomington – Teaching & Diversity
University of Michigan – Teaching International Students: Pedagogical Issues and Strategies
Norquest College - Centre for Intercultural Education link (contains some excellent materials)
Norquest College – Assessment of Informational Materials Tool
Norquest College – Assessment of Informational Materials Guide
Vancouver Island University – Teaching Resources for International Classrooms
Medline Plus – How to Write Easy to Read Health Materials (may be of interest to instructors or