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Strategies for teaching international and multilingual students

Below 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, and supporting academic reading.

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 communication issues that you think might be helpful for them to be aware of.
    • e.g.,I notice you keep pronouncing ‘[X word]’ as ‘[Y]’—here it is 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.
  • If you want to mark errors, help students see patterns of a repeated language error, rather than marking all that you see.
  • Give students a chance to apply your feedback directly through an immediate revision.

Strategies for supporting academic reading

Discuss your purposes for assigning the reading:

  • Preview the reading with students to help them identify key issues or questions you want them to be alert to as they read.
  • Show students how the texts they’re reading connect to other readings they’ve done for the class, key course concepts, and/or future exams or assignments.
  • Offer students insights into how you / your field typically use this type of text in research or practice.

Help students connect with the new and unfamiliar:

  • Ask questions about a text that require students to reflect on their experience and prior knowledge.
  • Design reading or study questions that point students to key ideas, applications, and connections to important issues. Use online or in-class discussions to follow up on these questions.
  • Provide relevant background information about the text, authors, etc.

Ask students to interpret readings in their own words:

  • Assign note-taking or summarizing tasks as homework during the first few weeks of class, and check their work to see how well they are understanding.
  • Show students how you take notes on a chapter: show them your questions, comments, quick summaries of difficult concepts, criticisms, links to other parts of the text, and effective underlining or highlighting. Encourage students to do the same for each other.
  • Use in-class surveys or brief quizzes that give students a chance to articulate and/or apply what they’ve read.

Give students guidance in working with the text:

  • Encourage students to ask themselves questions as they move through a text. Model this process for them in class or provide model questions initially.
  • Show them how to find textual clues to meaning and the significance of the concepts presented in this kind of a text.
  • Ask students to identify important concepts from the readings, and to explain how they recognized these as they read.

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