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Group of International Students Speaking in Difference Languages

Advice for Teaching International Students

Posted on: September 22, 2020

In many countries and universities, international students make up a key segment of the student body and contribute a great deal to the student population. For instance, they add diversity to a campus meaning native students have opportunities to meet peers from different cultural backgrounds, and vice versa. Although ultimately, they are like any other student, teaching international students, particularly online, can offer up new challenges for faculty. We’ve put together some key advice to assist you, whether you’re teaching international students online for the first time, or you have experience doing so.

Firstly, almost all international students are highly motivated, but many may not know where to channel that motivation to succeed in higher education. They are keen to adapt to a new culture as well as learn. However, the expectations of a student in your country may differ to what they are used to, especially at university level. Help your students to channel their motivation by making your expectations clear from the start. Whether that means reading everything on the reading list or finding their own sources, it should be made obvious to them. Direction is important for all students but will be even more so for teaching international students who want to do their best but may not be sure where to start.

Students talking around a desk

Image of Students Talking - Pixabay

Social interactions for overseas students either with yourself, other staff or fellow students, will be key to their success. International students highly value a good rapport with their professors. To help build this relationship, try to build significant synchronous opportunities into your course, including ample virtual office hours and small group check-in times. Identify different ways for students to participate in the course; for example, answering questions on a discussion board in advance and then grouping students into break out sections to follow up. To further support international students, find ways to sponsor social connection among other students; for example, have them post a short introduction video at the beginning of the course (you should too, as an example!). Create small working groups of students from various backgrounds and suggest initial discussion topics to support connections. You cannot control how sociable students are or how they interact, but you can encourage social connections and it can really help them feel more comfortable if they’re integrated well into the class.

Be mindful of those students for whom English is a second language, especially when teaching online. This coupled with the fact that most online systems have less than ideal audio fidelity can make it difficult for students to comprehend some of the details of your lectures. To compensate, make effective and ample use of visuals, such as clear and detailed presentation slides featuring key vocabulary to support your lectures and discussions. Even better, share your slides in advance of your class for students to review ahead of time. Record key aspects of your lecture or the course (with permission) for later review.
Finally, many international students have unique burdens that can include pressure to succeed, finances, student visa concerns, and adapting to a new learning environment. During this pandemic, be mindful of the stress weighing upon your overseas students. Once you’ve taken the time to build trust and rapport using humour and sharing a bit of your personal life, then make time to ask them how they are coping, referring them to online counsellors, if necessary. At the same time, be mindful of your own stress and ways to alleviate it so you can be at your best during synchronous sessions!


We wish you the best of luck with your teaching, for more resources please visit our Teaching International Students Book Collection!



Thomas R. Klassen is a professor at York University in Canada. He has been Visiting Professor at Yonsei University in Korea, and Konstanz University in Germany. For several years he taught a course in which he took a group of Canadian students to Asia for a semester. He is the father of 14-year old twins, who don’t have the same last name! He also co-authored, The Essential Guide to Studying Abroad, with Christine Menges. More about Professor Klassen can be found at: https://www.thomasklassen.net/

Barbara Hoekje, Ph.D., is associate professor of communication at Drexel and teaches courses in sociolinguistics and intercultural communication. She directed the English Language Center at Drexel University from 2001-2015 and co-authored the book, Creating a Culturally Inclusive Campus: A Guide to Supporting International Students with Scott Stevens. 

Scott G. Stevens, Ed. D., is Director of the English Language Institute and Administrator of the MA TESL program at the University of Delaware.  He has devoted nearly four decades to teacher training and to advocating for international education and exchange, particularly in ESL.  In 2018, he co-authored Creating a Culturally Inclusive Campus: A Guide to Supporting International Students, with Barbara Hoekje.