Quick Tips for creating a culturally intelligent classroom for your international students

August 17, 2018

Here is some great advice adapted from the University of Denver on classroom practices that can make a difference for SMU's international students.

Classroom communication:

  • American college students have a vocabulary of approximately 20,000 words that took them 18 years to acquire. It can be very challenging for international students to bridge this gap. Trying to understand content while taking notes can be very difficult.
  • Talk slowly and clearly, give additional explanations for foundational concepts, clarify meanings of slang and cultural references (some students might not speak up, ask them to write down their questions and talk with them after class).
  • Use consistent patterns for presenting information (explain learning outcomes, what do you know about it, how does it fit with rest of material
  • Allow time for brainstorming (some cultures stress reflection before speaking). Give them time to provide a considered opinion.
  • Be careful and aware if your content relies on precision, one mistaken definition may disrupt learning an entire concept.
  • Consider sending class notes/outlines ahead of time and/or allowing international students to record lectures.
  • Hold individual conferences/meetings with students, send follow-up emails to provide information in writing, or encourage them to use office hours.


  • Don’t lower standards. However, certain English language mechanics are very difficult for non-native speakers. In addition, language skills often get worse when concepts discussed are more difficult.
  • In your grading, distinguish between global writing issues (more important) and common errors (less important or harder to correct).
  • Also, distinguish between assignments where the thinking/process issues are most important (and grammar is less important), and those assignments that need to be polished/summative/final where grammar issues are important.
  • When grading papers, select just one paragraph or page to grade for grammatical issues and ask student to revise rest of paper, don’t edit it all for them.