Be culturally sensitive and responsive

  • Learn a little about students’ countries and cultures (Pappamihiel, 2002).
  • Make an effort to learn students’ names.
  • Encourage cultural exchanges in class giving learners opportunities to address relevant topics from their cultural perspectives and connect learning to their experiences (Pappamihiel, 2002; Pinantoan, 2015).
  • Encourage international students to work with domestic students (Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).
  • Validate students’ cultures by including examples in course instructions from a global perspective, and asking them how issues would be addressed from their experiences (Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).
  • Draw on your own experience of learning a second language or studying abroad.
  • Use neutral language, avoid slang, and address political and religious topics with respect (Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).
  • Be conscious of your non-verbal communication (Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).

Remove unnecessary barriers that disadvantage international students

  • Highlight key questions or issues in written and verbal forms (Biggs, 2003; Ryan, 2005).
  • Define unfamiliar words and concepts and allow time for clarification (Washburn & Hargis, 2017).
  • Write key concepts and vocabulary on the board to ensure correct spelling and reduce misunderstandings and allow students to restate assignment instructions.
  • Provide lecture notes or PowerPoints to students ahead of time, and link main points of the lecture to other connective concepts to enable ELLs to familiarize themselves with content and to facilitate course engagement. (Harrison & Shi, 2016; Pappamihiel, 2002; Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).
  • Ensure that all students start the discussion with something concrete to refer to.
  • Make sure assessment prompts are clear and easily understood.
  • Explain cultural knowledge when necessary.
  • Integrate visual aids, interactive content, adaptive technology, simulations, and virtual reality technologies to enhance teaching and learning (Dahlstrom, de Boor, Grunwald, & Vockley, 2011).
  • Communicate classroom protocols early (Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).
  • Provide note-taking guides to students (Pinantoan, 2015; Washburn & Hargis, 2017).

Create opportunities to improve 

  • Break assignments into phases where students can brainstorm, draft, receive feedback, revise, and edit.
  • Allow multiple moments for you to intervene in the students’ process throughout the semester.
  • Invite students to office hours (Gallagher, Haan, & Lovett, 2020)

During assessment

  • Understand that a native-like standard is unreasonable; focus on clarity–not nativeness
  • Consider providing extra time in formative and summative assessments to allow for processing between languages.
  • Model professional behavior and use the academic language you expect students to use.
  • When reading a student’s paper with the aim of giving feedback, focus on what you are understanding instead of what seems to be missing.
  • Write (or say) back to them what it is you think they’re saying instead of merely commenting, “I don’t understand” or “unclear.”
  • Point out the strengths of the students’ assignments, so they can build from success.
  • Remember to return to your class’s goals. Is the student responding to the assignment? Is the student critically analyzing the content? Offer feedback on those larger issues as well as on their errors.


Carroll, J., & Ryan, J. (2005). Teaching international students: Improving learning for all. Routledge. 

Jimenez, F. (2017). Creating linguistically inclusive classrooms. Inside Higher Ed.

Lindholm, T. & Myles, J. (2019). Navigating the intercultural classroom. TESOL Press.

Livingston-Galloway, M. P., & George, J. (2020). A theoretical perspective of culturally responsive andragogy for international English learners in American higher education institutions. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning for Christians in Higher Education10(1), 35-52.

Merriman, E. Tips for supporting multilingual students. Amherst College Writing Center.