We are all familiar with the student who craves the attention in class! We know the names of all the ones who shout out and demand our time but what about the ones who rarely speak up in class and just get on with their work.

Some might be introverts; others may just like to think before they speak. Some may be quiet because they have not engaged with your lesson or unable to contribute to the discussion. There can be any number of reasons for non-engagement and non participation – perhaps EAL students have a language barrier or simply left home too late to eat breakfast and all they can now think about is break time and that chocolate bar in their coat pocket!

Whatever the reason – it is a teacher’s duty to find a way to interact and to give every children the attention they deserve in the classroom. Sometimes an individualized approach is required but below are some general strategies to help engage the quieter students.

Strategies to engage the quiet students include:

  • Start at the classroom door:  Be organized and have everything ready for class, so you can greet ALL your students at the door to make them feel welcome.
  • Use their name regularly: Students feel more valued if they feel ‘known’ in the class and they are less likely to slip under your radar.
  • Foster a safe learning environment: Make sure all students feel both secure and respected in your classroom. If the classroom is collaborative then the positive reinforcement gained from this will hopefully allow quieter students to open up.
  • Spend time with your quieter students: While circulating in your classroom, the noisier students are more likely to command your attention. Make an effort to chat with the quieter ones about their work. Build a rapport with them so they are comfortable sharing ideas with you.
  • Remember to praise regularly: It is so easy to reward the extroverts and miss the quieter students. Don’t just say you’re interested in what students think, show them that you are. Comment positively about students’ contributions and reinforce good points by paraphrasing or summarizing them. Bring students’ outside comments into class. Talk to students during office hours, in hallways, and around campus. If they make a good comment, check with them first to see whether they are willing to raise the idea in class, then you can say:

“[student’s name], you were saying something about that in the hall yesterday Would you repeat it for the rest of the class.”

  • Think about group work carefully: It may seem like a great idea to place the hard working quiet student with the loud ‘hands up for everything’ student. While both student types are what make a classroom a great place to be, asking them to work together could be a recipe for disaster. The louder student may dominate the conversation, and then thoughts of the quiet one are not heard.
    • Two possible ways around this are to group students with similar personalities or to give each student a role to perform in the group – i.e. researcher, reporter, TV show host, design consultant, etc. Assign roles that they feel comfortable in to begin with – taking them out of their comfort zone as their confidence builds.
  • Give students time to think about and rehearse their answers: For example, pose a question, give discussion time with a partner or time to write an answer, then ask for feedback. This could take the form of the common ‘Think, pair, share’ approach to questioning. Another idea is to wait five or ten beats after asking the class a question. Your impulse might be to call on the students whose hands shoot up right away, but if you wait a few seconds, its gives introverted students a chance to think through their ideas and process them.
  • Give students a way to express themselves in a sheltered way: Quiet students are often more comfortable demonstrating their knowledge by writing it down. Get them to summarise their ideas by writing it on a mini-whiteboard (With the advantage of being able to amend this too), as a Facebook status, a tweet, a text, a blog post, or on a post-it note.
  • Take away the element of teacher choice when selecting pupils to contribute: No teacher aims to ‘pick on’ students, but if you are a quiet student, that is probably exactly how it feels. Have a set of lolly sticks per class. Each lolly stick has one student’s name written on it. Select these at random or even get another student to select. A soft ball/bean bag or something similar can be used. You will need to start the process by passing the ball/bean bag to a student. They answer the first question and then they pass the ball to a student of their choice who answers the next question, and so on – its sensible passing not throwing practice time may be required first off!
  • Take away the element of students volunteering their answers: To do this, try a no hands up approach to a class discussion.*

*Note: A teacher needs to know their class well enough for this to be successful approach otherwise it can lead to confident students dominating the conversation and students talking over each other.

  • Ask students to assess their own participation: Give them the chance to assess their participation and set themselves a target to assist them to be more forthcoming.

A key point to remember is that some quiet students will never change – indeed we should not try to change them. Rather our intentions should be to help quieter students to realize that we want to trying to understand how to support their needs.
Instead of trying to change introverts, we should cultivate their natural gifts. Introverts have great ideas and we need to encourage them to see that it benefits everyone else when they express them.

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