You enter the class and the students are all talking loudly with each other.
You get them to focus on what you are teaching for today’s lesson.
You pick on one or two students to read something out loud.
The first student reads from the book and the whole class can hear them. They speak at a reasonable volume with their head up high.
But the second student is very quiet — you tell them to raise their voice. All the other students turn their heads to pay attention to this one student. They get more and more flustered and stumble over their words. You ask them to repeat a line and they clear their throat, their face turns red and they try to shrink into their chair.
This is the shy student.
Every class has one.
And it is the teacher’s responsibility to find out who this person is and help them.
As teachers, we need to encourage the shy student and help them overcome their awkwardness in class. We need to help them so they can have a little more belief and faith in themselves at the end of every lesson.
Do you want to know how to help them in your English class?
Let’s take a look at some ways to help the shy student in the English class.
Why don’t your students want to speak?
Don’t put the student under the spotlight
Sometimes we get angry and frustrated, but the last thing you should do is put the entire focus on the shy student. He will just clam up and do nothing.
It will not benefit you or the student.
Don’t push them too far
Go slowly and do not expect them to suddenly start standing in front of the class and giving a great speech on something.
Gradual little steps over time will benefit them far more.
Gain their trust
This will help you and the shy student. Get to know them, try to talk to them after class and let them realise they can trust you.
You need to find out what makes them tick — their interests, things they like.
Sing their praises
If they do even just a small thing in the class, really sing their praises. Give them a high five and tell them they did a great job.
This goes a long way with shy students.
But be careful when correcting
Equally, you need to be very careful when correcting. One simple correction can shatter their confidence.
Try to find out why they are shy
It might be because of classroom politics. You always have one alpha student who can make other students lives a misery.
Or maybe something is going on at home.
How to encourage your students to speak
1. Shy students hate the sound of their own voice
You must bear this in mind all the time. The shy student is very self-conscious of the sound of their voice and their English pronunciation.
Ways you can overcome this is by making all the class recite as one certain words or phrases you want them to learn.
Also, reading out loud helps — but choose the more confident students first. And only let the shy student read for a short time. Just five minutes is enough to give them a huge confidence boost.
Baby steps and then give them longer turns each time.
2. Put the students in pairs
The biggest fear for shy students is to stand up in front of the whole class and speak out loud.
And if you are having a class discussion, the shy student will probably not raise their hand to answer a question. The thought of getting the answer wrong just terrifies them — so they keep quiet instead.
You can overcome this by putting the class in pairs. Try to place the shy student with another student that can help them. Then they can practice things like dialogue or do a pair exercise without fear of peer pressure.
Once the shy student has done an exercise in front of one student, they may feel more confident to speak out in the class.
3. Set up small groups in class
A smaller group dynamic is much easier for a shy student to deal with.
They don’t feel as overwhelmed as when they are having a big group or class discussion. A smaller group enables them to speak out and be a part of the process.
Make sure you choose activities where the shy student can build their confidence in speaking out. Good exercises to start with include:
- Talking about myself
- My likes and dislikes
- My family
- My friends
4. Start small
Don’t give the shy student big challenges to deal with — start small. Baby steps can lead to the shy student opening up and becoming more and more confident along the way.
5. Let the more confident student speak first
If you are asking questions in class, the last thing the shy student wants is for you to pick on them to speak first.
Ask some other students first. Even if it is just to ask students their opinion of something — the shy student is always afraid of getting the ‘wrong answer’. If they hear another student say they like something, they might also feel inclined to say they like it too.
At least they are speaking out, and this gives them confidence.
6. Don’t put them under the spotlight
Shy students hate any attention.
They want the focus to be on any other student but them anytime in the class.
But you have to engage with them — so you need to ask them sometimes. However, if they shake their head or give a one-word answer to your question — move on. Don’t let them sweat it out in front of all the other students.
7. Never make a point of their shyness
That means never asking the shy student if they are shy or if they are always quiet.
A good teacher should be able to pick up on this very quickly — and then never make a big deal out of it.
If you point out that the shy student is indeed shy, then you are just drawing attention to them. And that is the last thing they want.
The best tactic is to be friendly and show support. This will you will gain their confidence and they will trust you.
8. Avoid difficult questions
If you do ask a shy student a question, make sure it is within their grasp and they can provide an answer. Just the thought of answering a question out loud in class is a big enough challenge for the shy student.
Leave the more difficult questions for the confident students.
9. Avoid open questions
The shy student often just prefers to answer with one-word answers. You should let them do this until their confidence has developed.
Allowing them to answer yes or no to questions can give them the chance to at least say one word in the class. They will feel this is a big accomplishment.
10. Encourage longer answers
As the shy student gains confidence and speaks a little more in class, try to push them a little to speak in longer answers.
Be very careful how you do this.
If you push too far, they may clam up again.
But try to make them step a little outside of their comfort zone each time — even if it is just one centimetre.
11. Talk about their interests
Find out what makes them tick and what they like to do in their free time.
Shy students can often be quite bookish — so find out what books they like to read.
Or if they like movies — what kinds of movies do they like to watch?
Do they have any after-school activities or hobbies?
After class, try to talk to the shy student about these things — if they are things they are passionate about, they will open up and talk about them at length.
12. Let the students move around
We all learn at different rates and we all have different learning styles.
If you let your students move around the classroom, they have more chance of finding what style suits them best. A shy student might find kinesthetic learning — that is learning through physically engaging — works better for them.
For many shy students, field trips and the opportunity to move around and engage with what they are seeing works really well.
Allow them to find out for themselves what works.
13. Sing their praises
You have to really encourage shy students every step of the way.
That means that if they do something even to just a basic level, shower them with praise to show that they have performed well.
You could also give the shy student a simple task to do in the class — like handing out exercises or returning homework assignments. Things like this will make them feel valued and part of the class.
14. Be careful with corrections
Yes, throw praise at the shy student — but when correcting them, be very careful how you do it.
If the shy student answers a question but they are not using perfect English, then maybe let them get away with it.
By correcting too much, you can shatter any confidence the student may have in themselves.
15. Let them fail a little
By this, I mean if the shy student makes a mistake, it may not be a good idea to correct them at all.
Just the fact that they are speaking out loud at all is enough. The shy student hears the sound of his own voice in the class, and it can give them more confidence.
As the man said: Progress, not perfection.
16. Build trust
You often find that shy students try to hide away. Either in the back of the class or to the side — anywhere so they are near invisible.
Try to place them at the front of the class if you can. Or sit them next to other students who you think might befriend them.
You should try to interact with all the students — but if you spare more time for the shy student, you can build trust with them. This will build their confidence in you, and then they will be more willing to speak out in class.
17. Stick to the lesson plan
If you veer off the lesson plan and start asking the shy student something you have not covered in class, they will clam up and not speak.
Stick to what you are teaching in the class.
As the teacher, you have to use superhuman skills in the classroom at times.
One of those skills you need is to be able to detect who the shy students are. And then give them the care and consideration that they need.
It is relatively easy to deal with the very confident students. The ones with their hands up first and who always volunteer for reading out loud and speaking in front of the class.
But for the shy and quiet students, asking them to do anything where the focus is upon them can be extremely overwhelming.
I have outlined 17 precautions and techniques above for you to use in your classroom. Use these and be aware of your shy students and how to help them speak English in your lesson.
Best of luck — and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!