As any experienced teacher will tell you, sometimes the most difficult students aren’t the rowdy ones, but the quiet kids. Sure, they might not disrupt your class while you’re giving instructions, but as educators, we have a responsibility to ensure all students are engaged. Unfortunately, sometimes engagement is particularly difficult for shyer students. So, how do you bring them out of their proverbial shell? Here are seven helpful tips for encouraging your less-than-outgoing students.
1. Bring the shy students to the front
Don’t let students pick their seats in class. Not only does this guarantee your class will be partitioned according to whatever clique breakdown your particular student body is beholden to, but it also allows the shyer students to hide. Instead of letting your students dictate the seating arrangement, you should take that responsibility. Doing so offers a range of benefits, but most significantly it forces your quieter students to be closer to you and to engage other students they otherwise might avoid. You might not always want to play the authoritarian, but in this instance use your authority to guarantee the best experience for all your kids, including your shy ones.
2. Call on students even when they don’t have their hands raised
Occasionally it helps the flow of your teaching to get a quick answer from the fastest hand in the room. Most of the time, however, it’s probably more helpful to give students a minute to think before they answer a question you’ve posed. If you wait 10, 20, or even 30 seconds, more and more hands might pop up, and some of them will be attached to students who are almost ready to burst. Still, you will always have those students whose hands never go up, even if they probably know the answer.
These cautious kids are your shy students, and you should still call on them to participate. Not every time, of course, but in your classroom, it should be common knowledge that just because a student doesn’t raise his hand doesn’t mean he won’t get called on. This has the dual benefit of ensuring everyone is thinking when you ask questions, and it also means your shy students don’t have to compete with other kids to have a voice in the discussion.
3. Get your extraverts to help
Oftentimes your less outgoing students want to participate, but their reserved natures can keep them from making the first step. Therefore, sometimes all these kids need is someone to extend a friendly hand, and there are always a few friendly, outgoing students ready to help.
The easiest way to get these students to engage with their shyer classmates is to seat them next to each other. If you have put your shyer students up front, save some room nearby for students more gifted in participation. When assigning group work, mix the different personality types and make sure shy students are surrounded by kids who are bound to ask for their input. And finally, if you happen to have a friendly student who you can rely on, take her aside and ask if she can be a “buddy” to a student who seems particularly shy. Use group dynamics and your organizational skills to bring out the best in your introverts.
4. Always remember to involve them
This might be the most obvious tip on this list, but it’s also very easy to forget. Sometimes it’s just more convenient to let your more active students set a quick pace for the class. It makes it feel more like you’re being listened to and that you’re getting somewhere. School is, by its nature, a social exchange, so it makes sense that the more sociable participants will simply play a bigger role, right?
Wrong. As tempting as it is to lean on your star students or even just the ones who like to participate more, it is your job to keep everyone in the loop. Pay attention to who you call on. Make it a priority to hear from each student at least once a day. And even if it means work getting done a little slower, encourage your shy students to take on leadership roles during group work.
5. Take a minute to talk to them one on one
Some of the best parts of being a teacher are the relationships you build with individual students. Obviously, this is easier with some students compared to others, and sometimes notoriously difficult with shy kids. Still, one of the best strategies for helping these students is to try and foment a strong student-teacher relationship, and a great place to start is talking to them one on one.
Again, with shy students the problem isn’t a lack of willingness to participate – it’s more a personality trait or a lack of confidence. But by taking them aside and talking to them individually, you are accomplishing two things. First, you are showing you actively care about them even separate from the class. Also, you are addressing one of their biggest concerns – that they’re too shy. Let them know it’s okay, and not everyone has to be an outspoken participation hero. But also challenge them to try and engage more than they otherwise might. Chances are they’ll take your advice to heart, and if they do they are sure to be more vocal.
6. Be patient
All of the above tips are very useful, but they should also be tempered with another critical piece of advice: don’t be pushy. Give it time. Your shyest students won’t get over it on day one, or even week one. If you’re a champion teacher, you might have made some tiny progress by month one. And that’s okay; part of the process is letting students learn to be comfortable with you and your class. Forcing them to engage will only make them resent it. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be proactive, but part of getting shy students to engage is understanding who they are and what their needs are, and that takes time. Once they feel comfortable, some of their reticence to participate will fade.
7. Be vigilant
While you’re being patient, however, you should also be paying attention. Shy students have a way of signaling they’re ready to engage more, but if they feel like their early forays into greater participation aren’t acknowledged, they’ll go right back to being the quiet kid. So, watch their behavior and how they respond.
If you notice more laughter, or the occasional under-the-breath comment, that means they probably have something to say. If they linger after class to chat with you, take a minute and do so. If you see them trying to work themselves into a group of students, quietly help that student join, whether it’s by changing seats or nonchalantly telling the other students to make room. Whatever it is, pay attention to signals – if you’ve followed the rest of these tips and catch a signal, you have the chance to turn an otherwise shy and unconfident student into a superstar.
What do you think? How do you help shy students? Have these tips worked in your classroom? Let us know in the comments!
This article was written by Adam Hatch – UC Berkeley graduate, son of a teacher, brother of a teacher, and a teacher himself. Adam started a unique English school in Taipei, Taiwan, where kids learn to research and write articles in English. The articles are published on the first ever English newspaper written by kids in Taiwan, called the Taipei Teen Tribune.