Do’s and Don’t’s with Quiet Students


Are you struggling with a student who doesn’t want to speak up in class? This is a common challenge that all teachers face eventually. In order to encourage shy students to participate in open class discussions, it is helpful to understand why they may be reluctant to speak up. These are some typical reasons:

  • The teacher may not have given the student enough time to think (or the student might not realize that they are being asked a question or invited to the discussion). Language learners will often cede to the proficient speaker, which leads to the teacher dominating the class. 
  • Some students are polite and/or self-aware and may not want to seem dominating, while others may not be and crave the attention of the class and the focus of the teacher. The latter often keep less-dominant students from wanting to compete. 
  • The student might be a perfectionist and be afraid of offering the wrong answer or being corrected in front of their peers, thinking it demonstrates failure. 

Putting students in pairs solves all these problems, so the first solution is:

DO: Have them work with a partner. 

In groups or in open class, many teachers fall into the trap of thinking that linguistically, quieter = weaker and dominant = stronger. Pair your students, and try to pair the quiet ones with other quiet students, or students with whom they get along, so they won’t need to “fight” to contribute. 

DON’T: Give immediate feedback. 

Delay error correction, as correcting immediately can discourage some students from participating. Anonymous error correction is also helpful to avoid putting shy students on the spot. And remember, never interrupt.

DO: Give them time to prepare before discussions.

Quiet students often struggle to think of ideas quickly, and may become embarrassed if their peers are more speedy. They also tend to write more than they speak. Allowing these students to read prompts, make notes or prepare their answers can help them feel more confident and open up during a speaking task. 

DON’T: Put them on the spot.

Avoid nominating quiet students first to give answers or examples; the pressure can cause anxiety. Try nominating some of the more dominant students first and then call on a quieter student, who will feel more comfortable with the task after a few responses have already been given. However…

DO: Encourage them.

Don’t avoid nominating quiet students completely; refer back to something they have said earlier and animate them to keep trying. 

DON’T: Make things too intimidating.

Instead of having quieter students perform a role play in front of the class, give them the opportunity to read aloud sitting down or do a role play with a partner. 

DO: Give genuine, positive feedback.

Praise quiet students on what they say (the message), rather than just how they say it (the grammar/pronunciation).

And… DO: Repeat activities.

Even in private classes, promoting fluency can make quiet students feel more confident as the creative and memorization part of learning is already done.

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