Encouraging Shy Students out of Their Shell

WRITTEN BY Lindelwa Msimang ・ 02 June, 2020

Having the courage to speak up during class may not come naturally to every student. Speaking up in class may come with anxiety and high-stress levels. Not to mention coupling this with the apprehension that comes with learning a new language.

Shy students often have reservations about raising their hands and initiating interactions or participation in class. They tend to second guess themselves and talk themselves out of answering questions, even if they know the answer. So it is important to create a classroom environment which is inclusive of all your students, not just the forthcoming ones.

Ways to encourage shy students:

Call on the shy students… second:
In a class, there is usually at least one confident student who is ready to raise their hand and volunteer to be your guinea pig. Allow that student to pave the way for others to feel more comfortable answering your questions or trying out a new game. Then call on the shy students, this will lessen the anxiety of being in the spotlight as they have seen that other students can do it too.

Call on students at random:
Calling on students in a particular order can be counterproductive as students can anticipate when it will be their turn. Students, therefore, focus on the answer they will give when it is their turn rather than pay attention to all the information being shared, such as key learning moments. A way to mitigate this is to call on students at random thus making it hard for students to predict when you will call on them next. In turn, students will concentrate more on their peers and on you, instead of what they will say. This can also minimise the fear of class participation, especially for shy students.

Encourage working in pairs or teams:
Some of the apprehension students have when participating in class stems from having everyone look at them. And some of it stems from the fear of being wrong or looking silly to their peers. To take off some of the pressure that comes with being in the spotlight, split students up into pairs or teams. This will make shy students more comfortable with being wrong and they will gradually learn that it’s okay to be wrong.

Don’t shine the spotlight on them too long:
By using the above-mentioned techniques you might entice shy students to want to participate more in class discussions or even volunteer to answer questions. However, don’t make the mistake of putting them in the spotlight for too long by asking additional questions or expanding too much from the scope. If you see a student shrink from being in the spotlight or answer with “I don’t know” move on and give other students a chance. If you see them get more comfortable after observing their peers, you can try them again.

Don’t call on them for complex or challenging questions:
When calling on shy students, have them answer easy questions at first. Try to avoid asking them open ended questions, as these tend to paralyze shy students. Open-ended questions give any student anxiety, especially shy students, as they have to think hard of the correct answer as well as the correct way to phrase that answer. If a student refuses to answer a question, as a classmate to give an answer instead.

Avoid overcorrecting students:
Many students have some anxiety when it comes to answering questions, even more so if they have to answer a question relating to a topic they are unfamiliar with or new to. It is therefore important that you maintain participation by not discouraging students from wanting to participate. Overcorrecting can cause students to be discouraged from answering in the future, instead, you can try to have their peers help answer the question with them, if they are struggling. Then you can iterate the point after you’ve had a peer assist, try not to linger too long on the mistake made. This makes it feel more like teamwork and mitigates the feeling of dejection.

Being shy is not a negative thing and you should avoid making a student feel bad for being the way they are. Instead, try to create an environment that makes them feel included, and you will see the shyness slowly slip away. I have many students in different classes that were shy and not forthcoming at the beginning of our relationship. However, with the help of these key tips, I have been able to encourage them in a way that has made them participate in class as if they are not shy.

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