Working With Multilingual Learners

Classroom Practices: What's Working at UFV?


This section includes suggestions and strategies contributed by UFV instructors. Please feel free to share approaches and strategies that you have used in your classroom.

Make time for students to get to know each other and their instructor

  • Include icebreakers, class mixers, and time for students to get to know one another, especially in the first couple of weeks. This helps to establish good relationships and promote interaction, better discussion, and group work in later classes.  This also helps to create a safe learning environment, which is crucial for new international students, who are apprehensive about the Canadian classroom and unsure as to what is expected of them.
  • In larger classes in which students have very similar names, it is still important to interact with individual learners and to establish a relationship with them. This can be as simple as taking attendance every day and taking the time to make eye contact with each class member and ask “how are you?”
  • Get students to interview each other in the first class to establish a collegial atmosphere and pave the way for pair work, group work, and collaborative learning. Suggest they exchange emails so they have a contact person in that class.
  • Use a People Bingo icebreaker during the first class.

The Art Department has found this activity to be a great icebreaker on the first day of class:

  • Sit across from someone from another country, pronounce each other’s name, do mini-interviews, and draw each other.  Can present drawing and introduce your interviewee to the class.

Other departments suggest:

  • Pair international and domestic students to do an activity together. They share information about their educational backgrounds and the education system in their countries.
  • Concentric circles (a great interactive activity from instructors in the Faculty of Access and Continuing Education). Students sit in two circles facing each other. One student asks a question and the other answers it. A short discussion ensues. Then one circle rotates so students are talking with new partners and switching roles. This can be done as a helpful review activity.

Asking for help

  • International students are often afraid to approach instructors or to attend office hours. A question we often hear is “why don’t they ask for help?” (in other words, before it is too late).
  • Chemistry suggests that instructors demonstrate that they are approachable by adopting an informal, friendly manner, learning the students’ names and using them in class, and asking students to introduce themselves and their background either in an email to the instructor or an informal office visit to introduce them to the concept of office hours.

Strategies to help students engage with texts

From FACE (Faculty of Access and Continuing Education):

  • Dialectical Journal Writing: A dialectical journal can be thought of as a conversation with a text. The writer selects passages from the text for commentary.  This can include questions, reflection on the passage and how it connects to the writer’s life and experience. Many sample handouts for dialectical journal handouts can be found online.
  • Reading strategies: Have students do online research on an assigned reading strategy and share what they have learned in a small group.  This could be done with metacognitive strategies as well.

Group work and participation

  • Structure group work so that each member has a specific role (e.g. facilitator, recorder, etc).  Ask students to document their meetings formally with an agenda and minutes.  Evaluate through self and peer assessment.

  • Students who are shy and nervous about speaking with others can be given a role as recorder of the group discussion.  These students are responsible for taking notes and putting main points discussed on the board to share with the class after discussion.

  • CIS instructors have used a "bonus marks" strategy successfully to encourage participation and contribution from students (especially when the instructor asks a question).  Students who volunteer answers are rewarded  with "bonus marks." It does not matter whether the answer is correct. The act of volunteering an answer is rewarded. This can be extended so students who are shy or find it difficult to speak in front of others have a chance to get bonus marks for other forms of participation.

Scaffolding learning and assignments

Some helpful strategies to address confusion and support students as they work on assignments from the CIS Department include:

  • The instructor works through problems on an assignment and identifies areas of confusion or possible error.  These areas are pointed out to students, and the instructor provides hints to help students as they work through a sample problem or when problems are assigned.

  • A short in-class assignment gets students to use a program to create a budget before they go on to a more complex assignment involving the same program.  This assignment ensures that they have hands-on experience using the program and apply what they have learned in a practical way before embarking on a longer, more complex assignment using the same program.

  • Show what different groups or learners have done to demonstrate different approaches to solving a problem or applying content in an in-class assignment.   Give learners an opportunity to see other approaches and learn from each other.  (See the lecture by Dr. Peter Looker on creating a classroom setup that facilitates immediate feedback).

Assessments and testing

An instructor in the Kinesiology Department gives a set of exam questions that require a longer, thoughtful response before the exam, stating that questions will be chosen from those that have been distributed. On the exam day, the students can vote for the questions they want on the exam or the instructor chooses question numbers by chance.

This strategy is particularly helpful for multilingual learners as it gives them the time they need to think through the questions and prepare a well organized and thoughtful response. This strategy also gives them the time to ensure that responses are well worded and to check for grammatical errors.

What’s brewing in your classroom?

Meet with Dr. Maureen Wideman to discuss your ideas and challenges. She can help you reach your teaching goals and develop great learning experiences for students.

Book a meeting now

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