Helping International Students with Writing


The international student population at Ohio State increased by over 50% between 2006 and 2012, a growth rate which outpaces the national average. Since then, the number of international students has kept pace with OSU’s enrollment growth, and international students now make up approximately 10 percent of the student body. According to the 2014-2015 enrollment report provided by the Enrollment Services, 6,178 international students out of a total 55,130 students were enrolled on the Columbus campus in 2014 Autumn Semester. 56% of these students were undergraduates and 43% were graduate students (OSU Enrollment Services). The international student population is not only growing, but also increasingly diverse, as students come from a growing number of countries. Students and teachers alike have begun to recognize both the benefits and challenges of teaching and learning in classrooms that are intercultural in ways they aren't accustomed to. We want to help instructors maximize the benefits of having international students in their classes.

International students bring to the classroom a diverse set of experiences, so they provide unique perspectives that can enrich the classroom community. These perspectives help both domestic and international students alike to broaden their understanding about global concepts and issues. While the reality is that classrooms will include students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds (international or domestic), instructors often do not take this into account when designing courses and assignments, or when thinking about the type of student interactions they would like to see.

We recognize, however, that integrating international student perspectives into the classroom isn't always easy. Many instructors want to figure out how to provide support to international students without feeling that they are setting unequal expectations for international and domestic students. Others may try to incorporate international students into discussion or group work but find it difficult when international students are unfamiliar with American classroom practices and many domestic students lack the capacity or patience to engage with their international classmates. Moreover, when instructors try to evaluate writing which does not conform to the conventions of written English that they have come to expect, they must work to figure out what they might productively say in their feedback to help their students learn.

Ultimately, while the challenges every international student faces is culturally specific, they do mirror a number of the same challenges that many domestic students face. If instructors address these shared challenges to as much as possible and make teaching and learning accessible to each and every student, students are more likely to benefit from intercultural classrooms.

While instructors are often concerned primarily with the international students’ writing on the page, we'd like to offer a broad set of principles to help create effective, productive, and inclusive intercultural classrooms. Since responding to student writing is greatly informed by pedagogical perspectives and course design, we urge instructors to consider these issues as a starting point in our discussion. We share several practical changes that instructors can make to help implement these principles, thoughts on how those principles play out at the course level, and how they inform responding to an individual student's writing. Furthermore, we offer advice about how to help students take the best advantage of a key support service available to them: The Writing Center. These perspectives are outlined in four articles:

  • Pedagogical Principles - Here we talk about how think about the classroom as a multicultural space, to consider what experiences students bring to the classroom, how to help them students acclimate themselves to a certain disciplinary field, and how to consider the language skills students bring to their work. 

  • Course and Assignment Design - In this piece, we discuss how to frame learning goals to take students’ cultural backgrounds into account and how to design assignments and activities that take advantage of students’ cultural perspectives. 

  • Supporting Student Learning - On this page, we give some advice for how to provide instructional support for students, so they can best meet the goals set by their instructors. We also address how to engage with students in one-on-one conferences, to create space for students in class discussion, and to frame group work and peer review. Lastly, we give advice on how to help students make the most out of visits to the Writing Center

  • Responding to International Student Writing - Included here are strategies to help instructors think about assessment and how to give feedback to individual student writing. 


OSU Enrollment Services. (2014). Student Enrollment Reports.