Ways to Help Shy Kids Participate in Class

student with head down on desk

Participating in class activities and answering questions is a very important part of learning. It also helps the teacher to assess student’s understanding of a concept. But what if a student is so shy they won’t answer questions in class and struggle to participate at all? Should you force them? No.

I used these strategies when I was teaching English in China. My students were in grade 1 and they had a wide variety of background English. Some had absolutely no previous English experience and were very shy and reluctant to speak during class. These several strategies make it easier for shy students to participate in a non-threatening way.

1. Think, Pair, Share Strategy

Think, pair, share is a way for students to process what they are learning without having to give an answer to the entire class. The teacher asks the class a question. You give everyone about 1 minute to think of the answer on their own. Then students pair with a partner (usually just the person sitting next to them). They share their answer with their partner. The teacher should try to go around and listen to several of the pairs as they share their answer with each other. Afterwards, you can ask a few groups to share their answers with the whole class.

2. Small Group Activities

Getting students to participate in tasks or activities with a small group is sometimes easier than getting a shy students to speak out infront of the whole class. I try to always have some sort of game or speaking activity that students complete with other students around them. These might be literacy centers, or Roll and Read activity or a dialogue they read together. As a teacher, I move around the room listening in to each groups discussions and watching their work.

3. Hold Up A Finger

As students to hold up a finger to provide you with an answer instead of having to speak. For example at the end of a lesson I may ask students to hold up 1-5 to tell me how confident they are that they can do their homework all on their own. During the lesson I might ask students to give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down if they understand what I just said. I might ask them to hold their thumb up if they think the answer to a specific question is yes, and a thumbs down if they think the answer is no. Holding up a finger is less threatening than asking students to speak. It is a very quick way to gauge the whole classes level of understanding.

4. Slap Game

Even the shyest student in the class with want to play this game! My students absolutely love it. Place 3 words or pictures on the board (you can print pictures and tape them to the board or if you have a projector or Smartboard you can create a slide with 3 pictures on it). Call two students up to the front and say a word related to one of the pictures of word cards. The first student to slap the correct picture or word, wins. I usually have them play 2-3 times with different words before I call on another set of students to come forward.

If you are looking for more exciting games to play in class check out my post by clicking the image.

5. Call on the table or group

If you are really wanting to get students to speak (maybe you are trying to check their pronunciation of a set of terms for example) try calling on a table or group of students to speak together instead of just one student. I used to hold up flash cards of pictures, numbers or letters and I would have 3 students at a time stand up. I would show them about 3-4 flashcards and the 3 students standing would tell me what was on the card. They would all say the answer together. This provides a little support for the shy students because they can speak quieter than the other two students in their group. As a teacher I would just try to stand close to the shy student so that I would be able to hear what they said. You can also just watch their mouth to see if they are saying the correct thing. I would use this same strategy while we were reading. I would have 2-3 students read a page of the story together out loud, instead of requiring the shy or poorer readers to read aloud alone.

Leave a comment to let me know what other strategies you use to help your students participate in class!