Tips for Creating an Inclusive Classroom for Multilingual Writers

  1. Include a statement on your syllabus about multilingualism and inclusivity. Describe the classroom ethos you wish to cultivate, to which you expect students to contribute. Emphasize your commitment as an instructor to fostering a congenial, collaborative, and respectful environment for all students, and reiterate that commitment verbally at the start of term. Use this space to also highlight the additional resources available to multilingual writers and international students. (Sample statements at the Knight Institute's Indispensable Reference for Teacher of First-Year Writing Seminars website.)
  2. Find out early in the semester what language skills are present in your classroom. Include a question about languages spoken/read/written on a start-of-term questionnaire which students share privately with you. Have students write a discussion board post to the entire class introducing themselves and talking about their language and writing skills and goals for the course. Questions about language skills may also come up naturally in seminar discussions (see item 3).
  3. Actively draw on the range of language skills your students have. Especially for courses in the humanities and the social sciences, your students’ knowledge of different languages can be a resource that benefits the entire class during discussions and presentations. Give students an opportunity to volunteer their knowledge of different languages in a range of venues—discussions (e.g., exploring etymologies), presentations, papers and written assignments.
  4. Wait for it…Multilingual writers for whom English is a second (or third or fourth) language may need a little more time to process questions and formulate responses in a seminar setting. If students are slow to respond when you pose a discussion question, give them time to think before hurrying to fill the silence.
  5. Build opportunities for thinking about and responding to discussion questions in advance into your syllabus/lesson plan. Have students write discussion board posts or reading responses in advance of class discussion. Carve out free-writing time during class before a discussion, allowing students to formulate their thoughts on paper before participating. Have students discuss their ideas in small groups before opening up a class- wide discussion in order to build confidence before speaking in front of the entire class.
  6. Avoid making assumptions. (This holds true for all of your students, but especially multilingual and international ones!) Do not assume your students’ knowledge of certain writing and language skills. Different educational backgrounds and experience mean that students will be familiar with a range of writing styles, genres, and rules. Conversely, don’t assume a lack of knowledge of certain writing or language skills. Better to get a sense early in the semester of all of your students’ past writing experience (again, a start-of-term questionnaire is a fantastic place to start), and continue to check-in and gauge students’ levels of writing and language expertise throughout the term.
  7. Incorporate sessions on diction, grammar, and mechanics into your lesson plan (for FWS instructors especially). Chances are, many students—not just international or multilingual ones—will benefit from going back to basics and learning the standards specific to your field or course.
  8. Remind students of the writing resources available to them. Encourage students to make use of office hours and multilingual writing support from the Knight Institute. Direct them to the resources page on the Knight website where handouts and advice for multilingual writers can be found, and/or share specific handouts or online resources with them.
  9. For more ideas. check out Global Cornell's website: Teaching International Students: Tips for Online Instruction and this video recording of a panel discussion hosted by the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity: Mentoring and Supporting International Scholars.

Grace Catherine Greiner, Multilingual Writing Tutor

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