Supporting Specific Groups of Students

Chemistry 110. First day of classes.

Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

General inclusive teaching strategies are beneficial, but to be truly inclusive, we need to encourage students to bring their full selves into the classroom. This requires building a sense of safety within the classroom community and acknowledging that different aspects of their identity may have impacted how prepared they are to be in the space we’ve created. Below are some strategies tailored toward individual identities that you might consider implementing in the classroom.

When implementing these strategies, keep in mind that each student holds a variety of different identities and group memberships which combine in unique ways to influence the educational experience of that student. Developing relationships that acknowledge many aspects of identity is a critical baseline for integrating any of the strategies listed below into your teaching practice. Additionally, while these strategies are generally beneficial to members of these groups, the people within the groups are diverse and no one strategy will work for everyone.


Adult Undergraduate Students

  • Implement policies that provide reasonable flexibility. Adult undergraduate students are likely to be juggling multiple obligations, such as work and caring for a family member (National Center for Educational Statistics, n.d.). Making assignments and deadlines available in advance, providing flexibility with deadlines, and holding office hours at times that fit into students' schedules are helpful for all students, but particularly beneficial for adult undergraduate students.
  • Use their life experience and expertise. Adult students often bring a rich array of experiences with them to the classroom. It may have also been a long time since they have been in a classroom, so many of them may have concerns about their ability or whether they belong in college (e.g., O’Donnell & Tobbell, 2007). Encourage students to reference their life experience in assignments and class discussions to help students feel like they belong, like their experiences are valued, and to better connect what is being learned to their lives.
  • Give personalized feedback that acknowledges their strengths. While this practice is good for all students, it is particularly beneficial for adult undergraduate students who are more likely to question their abilities and feel like they do not belong.

First Generation Students

  • Create policies that support the demands on students' time. Like adult undergraduate students, first generation students are more likely to be juggling multiple obligations (Stebleton & Soria, 2013). Making assignments and deadlines available in advance, providing flexibility with deadlines, and holding office hours at times that fit into students' schedules are all particularly helpful for first-generation students.
  • Fully explain everything and do not assume that students know how college works. Explain course policies, define office hours, and consider using a syllabus activity to ensure students understand the course requirements and structure. Do not assume that students know academic terminology, university acronyms, or how specific processes work at the university.
  • Teach study skills and organize study groups. First generation students are less likely to have been taught effective study techniques, so explicitly teaching those strategies can be particularly beneficial for them (Stebleton & Soria, 2013). Also, organizing study groups can further help students develop and practice their study skills while also fostering connections with other students.
  • Connect students with support. First generation students can get support from Student Support Services and the First Generation Nebraska Program.

International Students

  • Identify needs early. Identify students without adequate language or academic preparation skills and refer them to appropriate resources as early as possible. Note that conversational abilities and literacy skills are different dimensions and may not correlate with each other (Jackson & Lu, 1992), so how well a student speaks may not be indicative of how well they are able to read. An early assignment that tests comprehension and academic production skills can help identify students who may need additional support.
  • Create fair testing environments. Allow for the use of dictionaries so you are testing content knowledge rather than English language abilities. Make sure the intent of test questions is clear. Use multiple and varied assessment activities that use different skill sets. Avoid restrictive time limits in recognition that some students may need significantly more time than the average student to fully understand the questions.
  • Value names, and the cultures they come from. Ask students what name they would like to be called and how to correctly pronounce their name. For example, you can ask students to make an audio recording of their name or phonetically spell their name.
  • Avoid using culturally contextual language. Avoid examples or other course content that requires that students have certain cultural knowledge. Use examples from a variety of different cultures when appropriate. Provide students with a variety of different, structured ways to actively engage in class.
  • Connect students with support. The International Student and Scholar Office has a variety of resources to help support international students. English Language Support is also available for students.

LGBTQIA+ Students

  • Share your pronouns and respect students' pronouns. On the first day of class, share your pronouns when you introduce yourself. Include your pronouns online wherever your name appears, including in your email signature, MyRED, and Zoom. Provide the opportunity for students to share their pronouns but do not require them to share. Students may be questioning their gender identity or not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns with all the people in the class. For more information on best practices related to using students' pronouns in the classroom and gender-inclusive teaching more broadly, see this resource from Vanderbilt University.
  • Do not make assumptions about students’ gender identity or sexual orientation. Do not assume that students are cisgender and heterosexual. Also, do not assume that students who look a certain way are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Avoid using gendered language when referring to students (e.g., ladies and gentlemen, guys, etc.) because you could misgender students or make some students feel excluded. For more information, see Support Transgender and Non-Binary Students.
  • Briefly apologize if you make a mistake and move on. If you misgender someone or make an insensitive comment, briefly apologize as soon as possible, and move on. Most importantly, work to not make the same mistake in the future. Extended apologies or processing your own feelings about your actions can further burden the people impacted by your words or actions. The best apology is changed behavior.
  • Connect students with support. Include a link to the  Gender and Sexuality Center and the Chancellor's Commission on the Status of Gender and Sexual Identities in your syllabus. Provide a link to the Gender Inclusive Restrooms Map or include where the nearest all-gender restroom is located for in-person classes.


  • Use universal design for learning principles. The principles of universal design for learning benefit all students but are particularly beneficial for neurodivergent students.
  • Be explicit in communication. Be clear and concise in class materials. Some students will take things literally so avoid using figurative language.
  • Implement a routine in class. Routines in class can help students know what to expect and reduce anxiety. For some students, change can be difficult and interfere with learning so a clear routine can help them focus on their learning. If the routine needs to be changed, give students advance notice.
  • Normalize certain classroom behaviors. Recognize that paying attention looks different across individuals – some people need to fidget, move around, or stand up to be fully cognitively present. Providing fidget devices can help some students focus during class more effectively. Many neurodivergent individuals find eye contact uncomfortable, so don’t be offended if some of your students avoid it.

Race and Ethnicity 

  • Further develop your own racial consciousness. Engaging in self-reflection about your own racial experience and socialization and further educating yourself are key components of effectively managing racial dynamics in the classroom (Tatum, 2017). To further expand your own knowledge about race and ethnicity, there is a list of racial equity resources and indigenous resources.
  • Normalizing struggling and working to overcome challenges. Provide students with stories of upper-level students or scholars in the field who struggled at some point in their college education and have them discuss those stories in small groups. Have students reflect on their own experience of overcoming academic challenges and how those challenges might improve over time. This technique has been shown to increase the GPA of minoritized students and reduce the achievement gap (Binning et al., 2020).
  • Making space for students to express their full identity. Make space for students to safely express their racial identity and the way that interacts with their other identities. Explicitly affirm that no student is expected to be a representative of their race during class discussions that relate to race.
  • Connect students with support. Include links to OASIS and the Chancellor's Commission on the Status of People of Color in your syllabus.


  • Have a policy for missing class for religious observances. In the syllabus, include a class policy that does not penalize students for missing class for religious observances. If it helps you with course management, you can require that students notify you by a certain date if they will be missing class for religious observances that semester.
  • Avoid scheduling major assignments or exams on major religious holidays. When possible, avoid having major assignments or exams due on or right before major religious holidays to not disadvantage students who belong to those religious groups. When it cannot be avoided, provide assignments well in advance or be flexible in when students can take the exam.
  • Be sensitive that some religious observances might impact student performance. Some religious observances, such as Ramadan, involve fasting which could negatively impact student performance for a brief period of time. Additional support for students during that time can help them be more successful in your course.

Students who have experienced trauma

  • Experiencing trauma can have a long-lasting impact on cognitive, social, emotional, and physical functioning. Trauma is a complex phenomenon that impacts individuals in very different ways, so we have developed a more comprehensive resource explaining the different ways that trauma can impact student performance and how instructors can best support students who have experienced it.



Binning, K. R. et al. (2020). Changing social contexts to foster equality in college science courses: An ecological-belonging intervention. Psychological Science, 31(9), 1059-1070.

Jackson, N. E., & Lu, W. -H. (1992). Bilingual precocious readers of English. Roeper Review, 14(3), 115-119.

National Center for Educational Statistics (n.d.) Non-traditional Undergraduates / Definitions and Data. Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from

O’Donnell, V. I., & Tobbell, J. (2007). The transition of adult students to higher education: Legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice? Adult Education Quarterly, 54(4), 312-328. DOI: 10.1177/0741713607302686

Stebleton, M., & Soria, K. (2013). Breaking down barriers: Academic obstacles of first-generation students at research universities. The Learning Assistance Review. Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy,

Tatum, B. V. (2017). Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?: And other conversations about race (Revised Ed.). Basic Books.

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