Teaching International Students: Strategies for Teaching Saudi Students

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 18–19, 2016

Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Spelman College
Atlanta, Georgia

Some universities have seen an influx of students from Saudi Arabia because of the King Abdullah scholarship. The following strategies and tips are offered for providing instruction and enhancing social interactions for these students. All strategies may not be feasible in every instructional setting and instructors will have to use their judgement as to which strategies are appropriate for their teaching environment.

Instructional Strategies and Tips

Please keep in mind that Saudi students may not tell the instructor that they don’t know the Arabic equivalent of a word that is used in class. Therefore, it is imperative that instructors have strategies to increase their students’ comprehension of the lectures. One strategy is to preview the vocabulary and forward important words and phrases to the students prior to class.

It may also be possible to learn the Arabic for some English words. The instructor can then just casually mention, almost as an aside, the Arabic for the English word. The appropriateness of this strategy would obviously depend on the class. For example, if an instructor has a small class with only Arabic-speaking students, this would be a more reasonable strategy to use than if he or she has 100 students with only one Arabic-speaking student in the class.

All of the Saudi students have iPhones. Instructors can encourage them to use their phones during class to access an Arabic/English dictionary. If instructors are concerned that this may lead to an inappropriate use of cell phones, they can encourage students to use their phones only during the pause procedure, which will be discussed below.

Professors can also allow themselves to be recorded. Students can later listen to the recordings and identify concepts that may need further clarification. Understandably, some professors may be uncomfortable with this recommendation. As already stated, professors have to decide which strategies work best for them.
Another strategy to increase lecture comprehension and recall is for the instructor to use the pause procedure (Bachkel & Thaman, 2014). The pause procedure entails the instructor providing a 2-3 minute pause every 12 to 15 minutes. The students then use this time to work in pairs to talk, refine their notes, and ask the professor any questions.

Research has also indicated that the use of guided notes increases the academic performance of students (Williams, Weil, & Porter, 2012). Guided notes provide a written preview of the key concepts of a lecture and include blank spaces that students complete during the lecture (University of Kansas). Professors can review examples of guided notes online to determine which format may work best for their classes.

Tips for Dealing with Social and Religious Differences

Professors who are interested in cultivating strong interpersonal relationships with Saudi students could benefit from learning simple Arabic greetings. YouTube provides various lessons and students are also a good source for learning common phrases.

It is advisable to consider that some assignments may offend the religious sensibilities or conflict with the cultural values of some students. If possible, make those assignments optional or for extra credit.

It is important to know that males and females who are not related will usually avoid each other. Female Saudi students can work with male partners for assignments during class, but they will avoid any unnecessary physical contact such as giving them a high five. Instructors should also attempt to avoid any physical contact with Saudi students of the opposite sex.

Professors should keep in mind that certain rules in Saudi Arabia may affect how Saudi students behave, even when in the United States. For example, the celebration of Valentine’s Day is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. Sometimes stores are raided to make sure that candy in red boxes and red roses are not sold on that day (Saudia Arabia bans, 2008). Therefore if a professor offers candy in a heart-shaped box on Valentine’s Day to Saudi students, he or she shouldn’t be surprised if they do not partake of it.

Prayer is an important aspect of Saudi students’ religious lives. If possible, have a place in each building of instruction where students can pray. This may not be possible at state universities and colleges, but perhaps private institutions can designate a place for prayer.

Final Thoughts

The consideration of teaching strategies, religious mores, and social customs can enhance instructional delivery when teaching Saudi students. This enhancement will further the goal of providing all students with a beneficial learning environment.


Bachkel, R., & Thaman, R. G. (2014). Effective use of pause procedure to enhance student engagement and learning. Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, 8(8) 1-3.

Saudi Arabia bans all things red ahead of Valentine’s Day. (2008). Retrieved from www.cnn.com

University of Kansas. (n.d.). Guided notes. Retrieved from http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu

Williams, W.L, Weil, T.M., & Porter, J.C.K. (2012). The relative effects of traditional lectures and guided notes lectures on university student test scores. Behavior Analyst Today, 13(1), 12-16.

Go to the table of contents for:
Spring 2017: Teaching a New Generation of Students