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Center for Teaching and Learning

Strategies for teaching international and multilingual students

Fall in the Quad, University of Washington Seattle campus, October 2013. Photo by Katherine B. TurnerBelow are a range of strategies that UW instructors use to help international, multilingual, and all students succeed, including: Facilitating communication, encouraging participation, setting expectations for and responding to student writing.

Facilitating communication

  • Clarify expectations for communication and encourage a variety of modes of communication:
    • Set up a question/answer box for students to ask questions or make comments anonymously.
    • Clarify expectations for email use.
    • Set up an online discussion board for students to raise questions.
  • Provide extra visual and oral support while presenting information:
    • Use redundancy and paraphrase to help students understand concepts.
    • Write out on the board key words that might be difficult for students to understand.
    • Organize explanations and use phrases that clearly mark important information and transitions between ideas.
      • e.g., The most important point to remember is…So that’s the first point – now let’s move on to…
  • Use written materials to supplement classroom communication.  
  • Encourage students to record class sessions, or record them yourself using Panopto or other lecture capture tools.
  • Find out who your students are and how they communicate:
    • Ask students to fill out an online survey or index cards with information about themselves and their classroom communication experiences.
    • Encourage students to come to office hours.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their learning:
    • Allow time for Q & A at the end of class.
    • Ask students to write a “minute paper” at the end of class.
      • Possible topics: What was the most important thing you learned in class today? What is still unclear to you?
  • Offer specific feedback:
    • Offer students constructive feedback (in a one-on-one setting) on small communication issues that you think might be helpful for them to know about.
      • e.g., I could understand you better if you spoke more slowly. Or I notice you keep pronouncing ‘[X word]’ as ‘[Y]’—here it is more more commonly pronounced as ‘[X]’…)

Encouraging participation

  • Set up expectations for class participation:
    • Be clear about what participation means in your class.
    • Set ground rules for participation and discussion.
  • Plan questions carefully:
    • Ask one question at a time, and allow time for thinking and responding.
    • Plan a series of questions to guide students’ thinking.
    • Consider the level of complexity of your questions.  Are you asking students to recall information?  Are you asking them to apply knowledge?  Or analyze, synthesize or evaluate?
  • Give students time to prepare before the discussion:
    • Ask students to answer a question in writing.
    • Ask students to discuss key questions in small groups before a full class discussion.
    • Provide students with discussion questions in advance.
    • Ask students to post questions before they come to class.
  • Use active listening strategies.  Reflect on how you listen:
    • Are you allowing the student time to express themselves?
    • Are you concentrating on what the student is saying?
    • Are you attentive to verbal and non-verbal cues?

Setting expectations for and responding to student writing

  • Make goals for the assignment and criteria for success clear:
    • Be explicit about the purpose, the audience, and the evaluation criteria.
    • Show students two or three examples of previous student work.
    • Make sure logistics (format, length, due date) are explicit.
    • Discuss expectations for citing others’ work and show examples.
    • Allow time for discussion of the assignment in class.
  • Provide opportunities for students to become familiar with the task and for students to practice:
    • Assign an ungraded writing task for students to practice.
    • Design study questions that focus students on the framework or argument formulation that they will need to use.
  • Provide students with feedback and the opportunity to respond:
    • Ask students to read and discuss what they’ve written with a small group.
    • Ask/encourage students to visit a writing center.
    • Draw students’ attention to repeated language errors – or focus on one paragraph.

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Have other strategies to recommend? Looking for something else? Contact us at or 206-543-6588.