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Resources for Teachers: Dealing Effectively with ESL Students in Class

Students for whom English is a second language (ESL students) face several extra challenges at MIT. In addition to dealing with the language itself, many have to cope with cultural issues. For instance, some cultures discourage their students from speaking out in class. In courses where class participation is graded, this cultural difference can have significant effects. Further, some cultures consider it an insult to readers’ intelligence to state explicitly the point of a paper. In American writing, we tend to demand explicit and direct statements of major points, so once again, ESL students find themselves having to learn a whole new set of cultural expectations as well as master the language. For more insights into these issues, please see Jane Dunphy’s “Special Considerations for Teaching in the Multicultural Classroom” in the MIT Faculty Newsletter, vol. X, No. 6, May/June 1998 pp 4-6. (MIT certificate required).


Our ESL Page offers links to online ESL resources for teachers and students. Several offer suggestions about how instructors can recognize and work to mitigate cultural and writing challenges for their ESL students.

In addition, the Writing and Communication Center has long dealt with these issues on a one-on-one basis, the most effective method for teaching such concepts. Please feel free to consult staff members in the Center about working with your students on ESL problems.

Another effective source of suggestions and information is faculty members who teach ELS writing subjects in the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department.