As a teacher, supporting and encouraging shy students within your classroom can sometimes be one of those ‘thoughts’ you have every good intention of focusing on. But, with everything else you have to think about, it is often an afterthought. And, more often than not, these students are so quiet in the classroom that they often fly under the radar.
It’s not about getting these students to overcome their shyness or turning them into extroverted students. It’s about encouraging and supporting them, creating a learning environment that they feel comfortable in. They will provide you with a little more, but it takes time.
I am not a child psychologist or an expert in this field, but I am a teacher and was a child who was shy herself at school so I’ll use that background to provide some ideas to help support shy students within your classroom.
Ten Ideas to Encourage and Support Shy Students in your Class
It’s important to note that any of these suggestions should be an option for all students in your class.
Don’t make special exceptions for the ‘shy’ student in your class as this will bring attention to them, creating, even more, anxiety for them! There is often a natural tendency to want to be overly protective of shy children.
1. Build a Relationship and a Supportive Environment
- As teachers, we know that developing relationships with our students is one of the utmost important aspects of your teaching success. This is even more pertinent with shy students.
- Find out their interests, get them to bring in pictures from home.
- Work out what triggers a spark of a conversation and go with that topic.
- Be compassionate and understanding of the student’s shyness… it is often a sign of anxiety.
2. Provide Non-Verbal Options
- Give non-verbal options to initiate a discussion.
- Small things like raising their hand to speak in groups can cause a massive amount of anxiety.
- Think of a different strategy if the student has a question.
- Use our emoji self-assessment cards as a whole class process during work. This will provide those students who are shy the option to say they need some help quietly, rather than raising their hand and putting the attention on them.
- Another cute idea is using the red, green, and yellow cups on desks. Red means they need to talk, yellow means they are struggling, green means they are all good!
- It’s important to note that once they have used their non-verbal process, they will still need to hold a conversation with their ‘helper friend’ or the teacher. It’s still important to develop their confidence in holding a conversation with someone they feel comfortable with.
3. Don’t Pressure!
- Never pressure shy students to talk or speak up and punish them for their shyness. (I was shocked at the number of websites that suggested this as a strategy to ‘help’ shy students!)
- Avoid placing shy students in a situation that might be embarrassing or overly stressful for them.
- You’ll be surprised, once shy students do start to feel comfortable they will start to come out of the shell a little more!
- If a shy student does put up their hand or say something. Smile reassuringly, making them feel comfortable, but don’t make a big deal of it, this will only make them feel more uncomfortable.
One strategy that worked for one of my shy students, is she would carry around a pencil and post-it note. If she had a question or a thought that she wanted to share she would start writing her thoughts down. Once she got her thoughts on paper, she sometimes felt comfortable sharing it with the whole class, other times she whispered it to a friend, who then shared it for her. This strategy resulted in her always writing her thoughts down first and then sharing with the whole class. The fact that she could read her thoughts out without worrying about stumbling on her words provided her with enough confidence to share her ideas and thoughts with the whole class. It’s about doing what works for that particular student!
4. Use Collaborative Learning
- Assign them to work with other children in the class that are confident yet supportive.
- Think about desk placement in the classroom. Group them with children they feel comfortable with and who are good at including others in conversation.
5. Read Books and Hold Class Discussions
- Read books about how we are all different and unique in our own ways. Creating a supportive environment for all students. Explain, just like our looks, we are all different. Some of us are outgoing and find it easier to talk and some students find it very difficult.
- Read books to the class that promotes self-confidence. Not only is this good for your shy students, it will also benefit the other students in your class.
6. Make Them Feel Needed
- Play up their strengths, make them feel like a needed member in the classroom.
- If they are really good at maths, get them to help another student who may be struggling.
7. Involve Parents and Past Teachers
- Work with the parents. They know their kids the best!
- Ask the parents what works at home, what has worked in previous years to make their child feel supported and comfortable to speak up more.
- Talk about what worked and what didn’t work with past teachers as well.
8. Role Play Social Situations
- Role play social interactions and situations that may occur in the playground when you may not be there to support those shy students.
- Social stories are often a nice way to introduce how they can ask friends to play. Use our Asking My Friends to Play social story template.
- Teach the class social ‘door openers’ for greeting others.
9. Set Individual Goals
- We all know that goal setting is crucial in the classroom.
- Once you have developed a comfortable relationship with the student, take time to sit down and ask about their feelings and social activities they want to engage in.
- Based on one-on-one discussions, set small achievable goals for the student.
10. What About Speeches?
- This is the only suggestion that wouldn’t be open to the whole class and it really depends on your expectations of the students in your class.
- One year, I had an extremely shy student. We would organise for the written part of the speech to be ready at least a week before the due date. She would practice in front of me in the mornings before school, then she would select a couple of friends to practice it in front of during breaks. I would then select a smaller selection of students for her to do her speech in front of. I was happy with this to provide a mark. I figured it wasn’t worth throwing her in front of the whole class.
It’s important to note that just like any other student in your class, each shy student that you come across will have different strengths and weaknesses.
Take notice of what works and how they are progressing. Observe their behaviour and take note of different situations that make them particularly uncomfortable. It’s often easy to see who is shy, but it’s important to look out for what triggers them to feel so uncomfortable.