Pointers or no pointers, that is the question. It's unfortunately so heavily ingrained in c++ that it's not something you can avoid, however arguably pointers are the most confusing part of c++ and if your students aren't professional programmers, most likely only half of them will grasp pointers and the other half will pretend they do.
So with that said, if they're somewhat seasoned programmers, I would try to cover it simply in the context of "referenced parameters" and the like. That's easy enough to understand without getting into too much detail. Details can come later.
Stick to examples and explain them which parts of the code are subject to change and which parts must be a certain way. Might seem obvious to one who knows c++ but without any experience, that becomes very important.