Inclusive teaching in the international classroom

A stronger focus on internationalisation means a more diverse student population. Although this offers a great richness and diversity in cultural backgrounds, previous experiences, levels of knowledge and approaches to learning it also raises quite a few questions. How can you, as a teacher in higher education, include all students and connect to their prior knowledge and experiences and to their own, unique frames of reference? Being aware of this diversity is the obvious first step but there are also a few other steps you can take as a teacher in the international classroom to be more inclusive in your teaching.

Personal experience

It is important to identify your student’s personal experience and prior knowledge when you are introducing a new topic so that you will not exclude students based on gaps in their knowledge or level of understanding. Firstly, you can identify what previous experiences or frames of reference students have related to this topic by asking them what comes to mind when they hear the topic. Let them make notes for themselves so that everyone gets a chance to contribute. Students can share their thoughts in pairs or small groups before you have a plenary discussion. This will provide insight in your student’s definition and interpretation of the topic (this can differ enormously!), but also in their interest, motivation, and personal experience with the topic.

Remember that this is also important when you use examples to illustrate concepts. Using a deck of cards to illustrate probability in statistics is very creative, but if you lose students because they are puzzled by unknown terms such as spades and queens it is counterproductive. In order to include all students you may have to explain more than you would normally do, the least you should do is to check your student’s familiarity with words (jargon!) and concepts.

Prior academic knowledge

Following, and as an important second step, you can identify your student’s prior academic knowledge. One possibility is to let your students raise green or red cards (representing true/ false or agree/ disagree) on a number of questions or statements (quiz). You can also use online voting for this in large lecture rooms, for example by using Socrative or PresentersWall. By doing so you have a better idea of the current level of academic understanding and what aspects of the topic, or perhaps which individual students, need more attention.

Based on your student’s personal experience and prior academic knowledge you can let students work together in diverse groups. Make sure that you emphasise that different types of knowledge and different approaches help to better understand a topic and that they all have their value.

Whereas it may seem that this will take too much of your time, it can drastically save time if it puts to rest many questions which you would otherwise have to answer. It can also prevent having confused or unhappy students in your lecture who cannot follow your class. Starting a topic like this also draws students in, they connect their own experience to the content and they are more motivated and engaged. Seeing it like this it may be time well spent!


Educational Development & Training offers the course ‘Teaching in the international classroom’ for teachers who are interested in the intercultural, language-related and didactic implications of teaching in the international classroom. The course will provide you with practical tools for teaching in an international context. For more information or registration click on the following link.

Written by: Nathalie Veenendaal (former employee Onderwijsadvies & Training)
Published: April 2018