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Classroom Practices for Being Inclusive

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PWR is designed to support diverse learning styles.

The practices built into the PWR curriculum are advocated across literature as means to best support ELL writing: scaffolding; providing early feedback; requiring drafts; using peer review; and giving students individual attention. These practices set students up for success in the individual course and also give them the skills to continue to develop as language learners after the course is over. At the same time, this course structure allows instructors to get to know student’s individual learning needs and monitor their progress.

In addition to these practices—scaffolding, providing early feedback, requiring drafts, using peer review, and giving individual attention—there are other ways that instructors can create a learning environment that is inclusive of English language learners. 

Cultural Knowledge

Implicit cultural bias can be difficult to detect; and, in fact, it is impossible to remove ourselves completely from culturally-shaped expectations. We can, however, look more carefully for points in our teaching where we can either be more inclusive of different cultural perspectives or provide more guidance for students to decode implicit cultural knowledge.

Pop Culture References and Idioms

  • Be aware of your own speech patterns and cultural references. As Briguglio and Watson note, “This does not mean that idiom should be avoided (almost impossible, in any case) for it lends colour and richness to language, but simply that idiom may need to be explained to cultural and linguistic ‘outsiders’, when it is used.” (71)
  • Contextualize pop culture references. For example, if your class analyzes a music video or other American pop culture artifact, you might ask one student to volunteer to briefly explain the context of the video to the class first.


  • When possible, incorporate diverse cultural perspectives. If your course theme allows, it can be useful to offer readings that feature diverse cultural perspectives. This will make students feel less like cultural outsiders. At the same time, inviting students to reflect on the interplay of cultures will help them to negotiate their linguistic and cultural transition.


  • Be explicit about expectations. Concepts like participation, originality, research, etc. vary by educational context. It can help to even be explicit about your expectations for workload. How many hours do you anticipate students will need to work outside of class?
  • Provide resources for assumed background knowledge. Be explicit about the background knowledge you expect student to have—and provide resources so that, if necessary, students can guide themselves in becoming familiar with the basic writing skills or knowledge of writing genres you expect them to start the course with. Coursework or other online platforms can provide a space for these additional resources. (44)

Lectures and Discussion

  • Make listening easy. Use Verbal Signposts when speaking to focus student attention
  • Facilitate group discussions.
    • Resummarize points students make, write key points on the whiteboard.
    • Model asking for elaboration or clarification. (“Can you say a little more about that?”)
  • Create tasks to reinforce discussion. For example, have students write a question at the end of the discussion, or work in pairs or small groups to build on the discussion. 

Group Work

  • Choose groups. Instead of asking students to form their own small groups or randomly forming groups, consider student personality to create groups that will give ELLs the best opportunity to participate. 
  • Monitor groups. At times, it may be helpful to step in to facilitate small group discussion. 


Students from non-US academic backgrounds may not be familiar with American academic notions of participation; they also may come from cultural-academic contexts that do not see active vocal discussion during class as a marker of learning. It is important, then, to be explicit about your expectations for participation and to integrate multiple forms of participation into your class in order to account for diverse learning styles and personalities.

  • Create alternative forms of participation. Build in opportunities for participation beyond class discussion. Language learners, especially, may need time to process discussion before feeling comfortable enough to articulate a response. Online discussion forums and small group work following a class discussion can give ELLs more time to participate in an ongoing discussion.
  • Use directed participation. Build in opportunities for structured participation. For example, you might assign different readings to different groups and then have groups teach the class about their reading. Or students can be responsible for opening discussion during one class period. Or you might have students rotate reporting back to the class on their small group discussion/ activity. 

Grading and Assessment

Shapiro, Farrelly, and Tomas recommend thinking of assessing language learners as a “balance of accountability and accommodation” (66). Instructors are unlikely to—and probably should not—hold language learners to the same standards as native speakers. This does not mean that instructors should lower their standards for language learners. But it does mean that the presence of a few language errors such as an incorrect preposition or a missing article indicates a lack of proofreading or sloppiness.

  • Provide feedback early. The more early feedback you can offer, the more you will set the student up for success. In addition, research shows that language learners—like native speakers—benefit more from in-process feedback than from feedback on final products.
  • Provide multiple forms of feedback. Andrade and Evans argue that it is most effective to offer written and oral feedback.
  • Make feedback interactive. Andrade and Evans also advise that instructors make feedback an interactive process. Engage the student in a dialogue about their writing. Let them respond to your comments and participate in coming up with a revision plan. (9)
  • Consider offering extensions—as long as they are concrete and short-term. Working in a second language is extremely time consuming. Most of your language learners put in significantly more time in reading and writing assignments than their native speaker counterparts.
  • Accept a “written accent.” For an essay to be “good,” it need not be indistinguishable from writing by a native speaker. Some idiomatic difference can even add richness to a text.
  • Do not penalize every surface error. As Shapiro, Farrelly, and Tomas point out, “it is normal to expect article and preposition errors in the work of even very advanced L2 writers.” (66)

Working with Students One-On-One

Offer students help before they ask for it. Many language learners are self-conscious about what they see as their language deficit. They may not feel comfortable asking for help; they may also come from educational contexts where it is inappropriate to ask for extra help. If you think a student may be struggling, find a non-threatening way to offer additional guidance through a conversation after class, a conference, or friendly email.

  • Leave the last few minutes of class open. This will create a space for students to bring up any concerns they have in a non-intimidating context.
  • Be generous with encouragement. Note students’ progress. It is easy for language learns to focus solely on error rather than their academic successes.
  • Encourage students to develop language skills outside of class. Suggest to students that they also read nonacademic texts in English to develop their English skills. It is also useful to continue working in their first language. In fact, research shows that L1 development benefits L2 development. (Shapiro 47)


Andrade, Maureen S. and Norman W. Evans. Principles and Practices for Response in Second Language Writing: Developing Self-Regulated Learners. ESL & Applied Linguistics Professional Series. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Briguglio, Carmela, and Shalini Watson. "Embedding English language across the curriculum in higher education: A continuum of development support." Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, The 37.1 (2014): 67.

Shapiro, Shawna; Raichle Farrelly, and Zuzana Tomas. Fostering International Student Success in Higher Education. Alexandria, VA: TESOL Press, 2014.