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Shy Students‏‎ in your Class

How To Teach English

A shy girl covering her face with her hands.Shy Students can be found in almost any class. This article looks at ways of bringing shy students into the learning process and getting them to participate more in the class.

In general, shyness brings on feelings of apprehension and anxiety when a student is placed in the spotlight, as it were. If you as a teacher ask a shy student to speak in front of the whole class, they are likely to either not speak at all or speak very quietly and be uncertain in their reply. In extreme cases they may blush, tremble and perspire.

And it is not an uncommon problem. It has been estimated that up to 50% of people are shy to a greater or lesser extent.


There are a number of causes of shyness in a student.

  • Cultural. Some cultures value quietness and discretion more than others and “standing out from the crowd” may well be a cultural trait that is not valued.
  • Genetic. There are some studies which suggest that shyness may be a genetic trait.
  • Conditioning. If a child is continually criticised by their parents or teachers for being wrong or making mistakes, that child may well begin to resist answering rather than possibly answer wrongly. Often in a class you will see the same set of students putting their hand up to answer questions whilst another set will sit quietly hoping not to be singled out to answer.

Generally, however, shyness comes on when a student is in a threatening situation. And for many students, classrooms are threatening when students are put on the spot and everyone is looking at them, waiting for an answer.

Combating Shyness

As a teacher it is very important to try and involve the entire class and ignoring shy students will only serve to exacerbate their problems. But how can you get shy students to speak when they do not want to?

There are number of very simple steps you can take which will make a huge difference to shy students.

Firstly, a student will often not want to answer or participate in case they make a mistake or answer a question wrongly. Whether it is the case or not, they fear ridicule from the rest of the class and will often think that others will laugh at them or think them stupid if they answer wrongly. They thus don’t answer at all.

So you need to make sure that if a student answers wrongly there are no negative repercussions. Just answer with, “Good try, almost right!” or say, “So, so close!”. In other words, make it fine to give the wrong answer in class; there are never, ever any bad consequences for getting an answer wrong.

And of course, if the student is right then plenty of praise!

On the topic of asking questions, always give your shy students plenty of time to answer; don’t put pressure on them to come up with a response quickly as this will only serve to increase their stress levels! Make the question/answer process relaxed and free.

But there are other strategies as well:

  • If you do ask for a volunteer to answer a question and a shy student does offer, then pick them. It has probably taken that student a lot of effort to raise their hand and that should be rewarded.
  • Try to involve the shy student in the class as a whole – ask them to fetch a book for you, get them to clean the board and so on. These tasks don’t involve interacting with other students, but they do allow them to be a part of the class and this will make the classroom a less threatening environment for them as they have some (however little) control over it.
  • If you ask a question to the class, make sure you don’t always choose the same student to ask. Use the Hands Down‏‎ technique which works on many levels to increase participation and allow shy students the opportunity to speak.
  • Use pairwork‏‎ or small groups to involve the shy students and give them an opportunity to speak in a less threatening environment. If you can, pair the shy student with a friendly and talkative student but of course give each member of the group a specific role within the group so the shy student isn’t sidelined.
  • Build in some prepared presentations. For example, if you have some questions on a text get the class to work on them either individually or in small groups while you go around and help and check. At the same time make sure your shy student has the right answer and praise them there and then. With the class back together get a few students to read out their answers and include here the shy student whom you both know has the correct answer.
Image © rashmi.ravinray

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  1. Damaris Norberto

    i would like to cite this work, can you tell me who wrote it?

    • Pete West

      Sure. Here you’ll find how to quote sources, including ICAL articles.