ESL Teaching Methods: Teaching Shy Kids

Just about everyone is shy sometimes.  Especially in a new classroom, with a new teacher, a lot of kids need time to break the ice and get comfortable speaking up. 

Kids and Library!But what about those students who stay shy and withdrawn through weeks and weeks of classes?  They’re not being disruptive or creating problems for the rest of the class, which makes it easy to just let them fade into the background.  But putting in the effort to get those kids to participate is critical as a teacher.

With a lot of students, their reasons for not speaking up are complicated, and the solution isn’t as simple as just calling on them and making them give an answer. Here are some tips for teaching shy kids to help you get them out of their shell and participating in class.

Identify why they don’t want to speak up

There are as many different reason for shyness as there are shy kids in the world.  Some students are afraid of being criticized, some are terrified of public speaking, some just need to get to know their classmates a little bit better, some don’t understand a word that’s being said in class, and some are just trying to get by without having to do any work.

You can’t help them if you don’t understand what it is that pushes them into their shell in the first place.

Don’t put them on the spot

It’s easy to get frustrated, and to try to force a quiet student to give an answer by putting them on the spot.  Having the whole class come to a stand still and wait for a student to give an answer can actually have the opposite effect that you intend.[contextly_sidebar id=”fe1ATNl0ecoUMzgYn61xSrL8RjWmnFA5″]

The student may eventually mutter an answer, but it can be a very traumatic experience for them, and can erode the trust that you need to build in order for the student to actually feel comfortable speaking up in class.

Don’t push them too much

In most cases, kids’ reasons for being quiet and withdrawn run deep.  Don’t expect them to be jumping up to sing a song in front of the class in a few months.

Take things in baby steps, and try to get them to participate more in games or small group activities, or to feel comfortable coming up to the board to write an answer.

Build a relationship

Trust and comfort are huge parts of helping shy kids come out of their shell, and it takes time and caring to build that foundation. Take a few minutes, before or after class, or during breaks, to chat one on one with the student.

Ask them about their day, their interests, how they are doing. Sometimes all it takes to build that relationship is giving them a high-five and telling them “good job today.”  But make sure they know that you care and are there to encourage them when they do feel ready to speak up.

Highlight small victories

If a child who is usually withdrawn does speak up in class, be sure to meet that with encouragement.  Tell them that you liked their idea or comment, or that you would love to hear more about what they brought up, or that you are very happy that they raised their hand today.

Make them feel good about taking a little step forward, and you’ll find them taking more and more of those little steps.

Be very delicate about correcting them

Quieter kids are often very sensitive to criticism.  Be careful about how or if you correct them, even if they give the wrong answer.  The important thing is that they are participating.

Meeting that participation with criticism or correction, even if it seems minor to you, can drive them back into their shell.

Pay attention to their interactions with other students

Kids are kids, and sometimes they can be cruel.  Quieter students often feel they don’t fit in, and often that is because other students make fun of them or pick on them.

If you do identify something, address it discreetly with the students involved.  No one wants it to be brought to the attention of the entire class that they’re getting picked on, and that can be especially mortifying for a student who is already self-conscious and withdrawn. .

Use small groups or partners

Shy children will usually be a lot more comfortable speaking and participating in a group of 3 or 4 than in front of the whole class.  Partner them up with peers they feel comfortable with, and who you trust to help them instead of just talking over them.

Encourage their interests

If they have a chance to talk about something that they are interested in, a quiet student is much more likely to come out of their shell and get engaged in class.

This goes along with building a relationship with the student; talk to them, find out what they like and are interested in, and then give them opportunities to pursue those topics.

Use parents as resources

Parents can help you figure out what the student is interested in, what their reasons are for being shy, and what kinds of encouragement will work to get them to participate.

Don’t be afraid to bring up to the parents that you would like to help their child get more involved in class, and would love some suggestions from them as to how.

It can take a lot of patience and effort to draw shy students into the class.  But seeing that quiet girl suddenly light up with passion about a subject, or watching that shy boy take charge in a classroom game can be some of the most heartwarming and rewarding moments in your teaching career. 

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1 Comment
  1. I teach a small family group of children and they are shy- the middle girl especially so I don’t get you about small groups.

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