Strategies to Teach International Students
Best practices in teaching a diverse class requires explorations of what expectations international students have of their teacher1. Based on teaching quality surveys, the following areas are cited by international students as needing improvement: teachers’ explanations, clarity of course aims and objectives, and support during out of class hours2.
Here are some strategies that accommodate the diverse academic needs of students.
- Being Explicit about Teaching
- Making the Lectures Accessible for International Students
- Internationalizing the Curriculum to Benefit both International and Domestic Students
Being Explicit about Teaching
Beginning post-secondary studies is like playing a new game in which all students are expected to figure out the new rules and apply them properly in practice3. Unfortunately, it is more challenging for international students to win the game as they may not realize the “rules have changed and most will start out using behaviours and assumptions that have served them well as learners up to this point”4 (p23).
Instructors best help students by being knowledgeable about the Canadian academic culture and talk explicitly about our rules and expectations in class4.
To facilitate students’ survival in the difficult early months of transition into the Canadian academic culture, instructors need to know when to be explicit, how much to explain and what to be explicit about while lecturing5. The following four areas may serve as a framework.
- Teaching Methods
- How instructors teach: the purpose of lectures and what other teaching methods will be used to reach the learning objectives6
- What instructors value and/or expect: how they expect students to learn/perform in class and why it is important for students to do so4
- Length of submission. Academics need to be explicit about the fact that longer does not mean better, as some international students believe.
- Format with detailed explanation
- Criteria of the assessment and how the criteria is applied
- Indicate if English language proficiency is being assessed; be specific about what aspects of English language proficiency will be assessed, and what percentage of marks will be allocated4,7
- Teacher-Student Relationships4
- When can students see instructors outside of class?
- What issues are appropriate / inappropriate to bring to instructors?
- Should students ask instructors for help if there are problems, and how might they express their needs to instructors?
- How can students, who used to expect answers from instructors, see their teachers in a new light as facilitators or organizers of learning?
- Academic writing and issues of plagiarism
Making the Lectures Accessible for International Students
Instructors need to be aware that listening to a native English speaker lecture could be challenging for international students as they attempt to “understand the main ideas presented and draw on what they already know to make sense of the material presented in the lecture, in their second language”8 (p9).
Tips to help make lectures more accessible8:
- Provide an outline with main points covered to help students follow the lecture and take notes; summarize the key information at certain stages in the lecture
- Explain relevant background information to assist students in understanding key concepts
- Define new or unfamiliar words or concepts, provide opportunities for clarification and explain acronyms and abbreviations fully
- If slang, jargon and idioms are used, explain the meaning
- Put some notes online prior to lecture and encourage students to read in advance
- Speak steadily and use frequent re-capping to help students understand what you are saying
- Give time after asking an international student a question. They will need it to translate ideas, organize thoughts, or look for vocabulary to feel confident and ready to answer
- Conclude the lecture by summarizing the main points and highlighting ‘take home’ messages
Internationalizing the Curriculum to Benefit both International and Domestic Students
The traditional teaching and learning environment that is currently dominant across Canadian universities does not take into consideration international students’ previous educational backgrounds and diverse learning needs9.
The Internationalization of the Curriculum (loC) is a “powerful and practical way of bridging the gap between rhetoric and practice to including and valuing the contribution of international students”10 (p100).
More importantly, it enables both international and domestic students to develop an intercultural expertise to succeed in post-secondary studies and in increasingly transitional workplace1.
Strategies to Internationalize the Curriculum at the Course Level:
The Course Design Wheel11(p23)
The course design wheel provides a framework for a student-centered learning to internationalization of the curriculum which is supported by three major pillars11:
- Internationalization in content
- Internationalization in instructional strategies (teaching & learning)
- Interculturally sensitive assessment techniques
Internationalization in Course Content
Course content should include diverse perspectives and cultural differences. A straightforward way to internationalize course content is to draw on research studies conducted in different countries. By doing so, international students will feel empowered as they have access to locate research from their countries and in their languages12.
More Tips to Help Infuse Diverse Perspectives and Cultural Differences into Course Content8,13:
- Include subject matters relating to global and inter-cultural perspectives (e.g., inclusion of international and national case studies, examples, and illustrations);
- Address how knowledge is constructed differently across cultures;
- Make good use of international guest speakers who are on campus;
- Collaborate with colleagues and join networks of faculty who teach the same or similar courses in and outside Canada.
It is worth noting that, “internationalization goes beyond the mere addition of international examples. It needs to permeate the very nature of the discipline so that students gain a global understanding and perspective of the discipline”14(p94).
Internationalization in Teaching & Learning
Internationalization of curriculum requires instructors to optimize opportunities in planning and delivering courses that enhance international students’ learning and create supportive learning environments to engage all students8.
However, interactions between students who perceive themselves to be different from each other seldom happen unless initiated12. Therefore, instructors need to set the tone at the early stage of the course to encourage intercultural interactions.
Interaction for Learning Framework
The Interaction for Learning Framework is composed of six interrelated dimensions, each represents a particular teaching aspect and learning opportunities associated with interactions between students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds8.
- Acknowledges and capitalizes on student diversity as a resource for learning and teaching;
- Engages students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds within the learning context in a variety of ways;
- Embeds interaction in curriculum planning and links to teaching, learning and assessment;
- Promotes peer engagement through curriculum-based activities; and
- Recognizes the variety of ways that interaction can be utilized across different learning contexts.
To learn more about the Interaction for Learning Framework and check a short video about engaging students, please use the link below:
Arkoudis, S., et al (2010). Finding Common Ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from: https://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/research/past-research-projects/finding-common-ground
Interculturally Sensitive Assessment Techniques
As international students bring different educational experiences, assessment may be one of the most important areas in which international students need guidance8. Instructors will need to explain the assessment criteria and offer constructive feedback which provides international students with direction on how to improve academic performance19.
Tips for internationalizing assessment include13 (p14):
- Make assessment criteria related to global/multicultural capability explicit to students;
- Map out the links between assessment criteria and international standards in the discipline area or profession for students, so that they are aware of why the assessment items are important.
- Use assessment tasks early in the course which provide feedback on students’ background knowledge, so that teaching can be modeled in such a way as to ‘fill in’ any gaps in requisite knowledge or skills and hence combat risk of failure;
- Include assessment items that draw on cultural contexts as well as disciplinary knowledge (e.g., comparative exercises that involve comparing/contrasting local and international standards, practices, issues, etc.);
- Design assessment tasks that require students to present information to, and receive feedback from, an international’ or cross-cultural audience;
- Design activities that encourage students to interact with other another (real or virtual).
- Include the use of peer evaluation and feedback.
In addition, international students do not always fully demonstrate what they have learned because they may have difficulty understanding the instructor’s expectations14. Therefore, instructors may reflect on the following questions14 (p99) while designing assessments.
- [Am I] assessing students for their mastery of academic discourse rather than for their critical or original thinking?
- [Do I] recognize or encourage different styles and approaches to learning?
- [Do I] allow students to use their own words and ways of expressing themselves?
- [Do I] assess content rather than penalize for spelling or grammatical expression except in the cases where spelling and grammar are inherent in the assessment criteria?
Additional Teaching Resources
The University of Melbourne. Teaching International Students: Strategies to enhance learning. Retrieved January 30, 2017, from:
Liverpool John Moores University. Internationalising the curriculum: A toolkit. Retrieved May 15, 2017, from:
Leask, Betty. (2012) Internationalisation of the curriculum (loC) in action: A guide. Sydney, NSW: University of South Australia.
Working with International Students: a guide for staff in Engineering. Retrieved July 25, 2017, from:
Internationalization in Action: Internationalizing the Curriculum
Carrol, J., & Ryan, J. (2005). Teaching international students: Improving learning for all. Routledge: New York.
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2. Baldwin G, Jones R, Prince, N. Report on Survey of International Students at the University of Melbourne. Melbourne University, Centre for the Study of Higher Education; 1998.
3. Leask B. Transnational Education and Intercultural Learning: Reconstructing the Offshore Teaching Team to Enhance Internationalisation. Adelaide (S.A.): Australian Universities Quality Forum, Australian Universities Quality Agency; 2004.
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7. Burns R. Study and stress among first year overseas students in an Australian university. Higher Education Research and Development. 1991; 10 (1): 61-77.
8. Arkoudis S, et al. Finding Common Ground: enhancing interaction between domestic and international students [Internet]. 2010 [cited 2017 June]. Available from: http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/resources/teaching-and-learning/teaching-in-practice/finding-common-ground-enhancing-interaction-between-domestic-and-international-students
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11. Schuerholz-Lehr S, van Gyn G. Internationalizing pedagogy or applying pedagogy to internationalism – the journey of a professional development workshop. Paper presented at Internationalizing Canada’s Universities: Practices, Challenges, and Opportunities symposium [Internet]. 2006 [cited 2017 June]. Available from:
12. Trahar S. Internationalisation of the curriculum: Concepts and working practices. Available from: https://edgesf.files.wordpress.com/2015/11/trahar-2013-ioc-publication-english.pdf
13. Barker M. The GIHE Good Practice Guide to Internationalising the Curriculum [Internet]. 2011 [cited 2017 June]. Available from: https://internationalisering.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/the-gihe-good-practice-guide-to-internationalising-the-curriculum.pdf
14. Ryan J. Improving teaching and learning practices for international students: Implications for curriculum, pedagogy and assessment. In: Carroll J, Ryan J, editor. Teaching International Students: improving learning for all. New York: Routledge; 2005.
15. Dunne C. Host students’ perspectives of intercultural contact in an Irish university. Journal of Studies in International Education. 2009; 13 (2): 222- 239.
16. Glass C, Wongtrirat R, Buus S. International student engagement: Strategies for creating inclusive, connected and purposeful campus environments. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing; 2014.
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18. Wenger E, Snyder W. Communities of practice: the organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review. 2000; January-February: 139-145.
19. Leask, Betty. (2012) Internationalisation of the curriculum (loC) in action: A guide. Sydney, NSW: University of South Australia.