Teaching International Students


About 11% of the DU student population consists of international students. International students are by no means a homogenous group, and nearly 90 different nations are represented at DU. Each student is unique, however there are some strategies that can help international students be more successful in their time here at DU.


Chinese Students

More than half of the international students at DU are Chinese. Chinese students are more diverse today than a decade ago, but still tend to bring with them a worldview that includes respect for authority and avoidance of conflict. This worldview often clashes with U.S. classrooms that expect participation in discussions and active learning activities. In addition, although DU has recently taken steps to alleviate this issue, some Chinese students have lower English language skills than preferred.

International Student Experience in the Classroom

Strategies for Teaching International Students

There are some steps that instructors can take to better engage and support international students (as well as domestic students):

Classroom content/understanding

  • American college students have a vocabulary of approximately 20,000 words that took them 18 years to acquire. It can be very challenging for international students to bridge this gap. Trying to understand content while taking notes can be very difficult.
  • Talk slowly and clearly, give additional explanations for foundational concepts, clarify meanings of slang and cultural references (some students might not speak up, ask them to  write down their questions and talk with them after class).
  • Use consistent patterns for presenting information (explain learning outcomes, what do you know about it, how does it fit with rest of material).
  • Allow time for brainstorming (some cultures stress reflection before speaking). Give them time to provide a considered opinion.
  • Be careful and aware if your content relies on precision, one mistaken definition may disrupt learning an entire concept.
  • Consider sending class notes/outlines ahead of time and/or allowing international students to record lectures.
  • Hold individual conferences/meetings with students, send follow-up emails to provide information in writing, or encourage them to use office hours.

Group projects/participating in discussions

  • Promote smaller conversations among students in the classroom, for example, talk to your neighbor for a few minutes, or use writing prompts to give all students time to compose their thoughts.
  • Assign diverse groups rather than letting student select groups (but also be careful of isolating international students too much). Keep the groups stable over the quarter to allow relationships to develop.
  • Encourage domestic students to help create a space for sharing of multiple voices and to support international students. Appeal to their future careers – they will benefit by having experience working with people from all over the world. Explicitly ask domestic students to list the benefits of having international students and brainstorm what they could do to support and welcome them.
  • Provide examples from international student contributions and remind everyone the value of these contributions.
  • Create group projects with a fair division of labor. Group projects with a written deliverable often results in unequal division of labor, especially when there are very different language skills. Focus group projects on the concepts and discussion/process, with the deliverable/outcome being something everyone can share (choose a position to defend, recommend a course of action, choose option A/B/C as a group, etc.)
  • Provide groups with some basic information about communication and decision making differences. Create guidelines and ground rules for group projects.
  • Look into the many resources about effective group practices (for example: best practice in effective group work).


  • Don’t lower standards. However, certain English language mechanics are very difficult for non-native speakers. In addition, language skills often get worse when concepts discussed are more difficult.
  • In your grading, distinguish between global writing issues (more important) and common errors (less important or harder to correct).
  • Also, distinguish between assignments where the thinking/process issues are most important (and grammar is less important), and those assignments that need to be polished/summative/final where grammar issues are important.
  • When grading papers, select just one paragraph or page to grade for grammatical issues and ask student to revise rest of paper, don’t edit it all for them.
  • Visit these resources from The Writing Program: Working With International Student Writers and Guidelines for Responding to the Writing of International Students

Expectations for Learning

  • Get to know your international students – how to pronounce their name, what brought them here, what are their interests and strengths.
  • Be explicit about rules and expectations, especially unwritten rules (who to go to for help, guidelines for plagiarism, expectations for active learning/participation) show examples, model and walk through the rules.
  • When using active learning methods, explain why and the expectations for students.
  • Provide ongoing feedback on student progress, on how well they are meeting learning goals.
  • Ask them to reflect on their learning process – which learning and study strategies are working and which are not? What do they struggle with and how could they adjust their strategies to be successful?

Academic integrity

  • Academic integrity norms are different in some cultures. International students don’t necessarily understand how to paraphrase, or the mechanics of how to translate things into their own words.
  • Communicate standards about academic integrity and walk through examples with students.
  • This plagiarism test from Indiana University might be helpful to use with students.
  • View additional resources about promoting academic integrity.

Additional Resources

Teaching International Students: Strategies to Enhance Learning

Teaching International Students: Pedagogical Issues and Strategies

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