How to Encourage Shy Students to Speak Up

by Grace Dickins

As an educator, it's only natural that you want to get your entire class engaged and interested in the lessons you've prepared, but it can be an uphill battle. For some students, it's not so much learning difficulty that keeps them from jumping in discussions, but painful shyness. Need a little help coaxing these quiet participants out of their shells? Here are a few tricks educators swear by:

Start introductions early

The longer a class goes on without addressing shyness, the harder it may become to help those students acclimate to feeling comfortable as vocal participants. Watch children closely the first few days of school; those that struggle to speak up should be fairly easy to spot. Make a commitment to talking with them and making them feel welcome and safe from teasing and ridicule to help build trust.

Emphasise non-verbal connections

Some children seem to be completely closed off until they're allowed to express themselves through a favourite method. Be sure to give students the opportunity to use a variety of communication styles - writing, artwork, music, and speech - throughout your year's coursework. A private teacher-student weekly "journal" assignment may also help foster communication by giving children an outlet that isn't as intimidating as face-to-face conferences.

Level the playing field

If a student's shyness is partially rooted in a particularly outspoken classmate or group, try adjusting that side of the volume as opposed to coaxing your shy student to speak up. Incorporate frequent quiet or calm activities, such as reading time, or introduce a "talking stick" rule during group discussions. A stick or other object is passed around as students wish to speak, and only the student currently holding the object can speak, encouraging others to listen without interruption.

Discuss shyness with parents

Reaching out to parents for help with shy students can offer a lot of insight; if not from the parents' explanations directly, then from the appearance of the child's home life. The parents of your shy children may be able to offer insights into how shyness is dealt with at home, enabling you to use familiar, comfortable solutions to get through to reluctant class participants.

Consider alternate assignments

Unless a presentation in front of the entire class is expressly required in the curriculum, offering shy students the ability to present to a teacher alone or a smaller group of classmates can be a big relief for them.

While shy students will have to learn to coexist with their classmates and surpass the fear of public speaking, they are likely still defining themselves and figuring out how to recognise fears, let alone conquer them. These alternate assignments should be available to all students, as well, to prevent the child from being singled out by teasing classmates.

Being patient, kind, and gentle with your skittish students can pay off in greater engagement over time. As an educator you have a chance to empower these students, rather than triggering their fears with each new assignment.

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Categories: teaching