How can you get your shy English language learners to participate?

shy asian student in classroom
14 Jun Shelley Vernon 2 Comments

*As an EL teacher, you have no doubt noticed that some students never say anything in class!


Why are some EL learners so shy?


- They might have no confidence in their English.


- They might be intimidated speaking in front of a large group.


- They might be too polite to barge in with an answer.


This is often the case with Asian students. Asian students are often used to a teacher-centered classroom. In Western classrooms, students are expected to participate actively and are often graded on their participation as well as their written work. In addition to that, it would be culturally unacceptable for many Asian students to interrupt someone or jump in first.


Helping shy students feel more comfortable


- Have a discussion session on class participation and evoke cultural differences. Create awareness. Ask students how they might solve the problem of shy students themselves. Make the louder, more confident or pushy students aware that others should have a chance to participate too, but please don't crush their enthusiasm or humiliate them.


- Make interrupting or blurting undesirable or against the rules during discussion.


- Make eye contact with the student and ask him or her an easy question. Success with easy questions could boost the student's confidence over time.


- Give shy students a head start. Discreetly give them have the text up for discussion in advance. If learners feel more confident with the subject matter, they will feel more comfortable making a contribution in class.

shy EL learners discussing in small groups

Play a participation game. Divide the class into teams. Every member of each team has to say something in a two-minute time-frame. If this doesn't happen, that team doesn't earn a point. Let the next team have a turn. If teams are only made up of 3 students each, allow one minute.


- Give students the chance to discuss things in small groups. This is less intimidating than expressing oneself before a crowd.


- Put shy students together in a group, or at least don't mix the shyest student with the pushy ones, or they will never get a word in edgeways!


- Give them something interesting to talk about. Ask the shy students to choose the topic for discussion. Even shy students find it hard to resist joining in when the topic is close to their heart.


- Have the shy ones present the topic and open it up for questions.


- Try making the shy student the president of a meeting, inviting speakers to the floor and maintaining order in the event of a heated debate.


Have fun experimenting with these ideas and please do let me know how you get along, I'd love to hear about it!


All the best,

Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games

PS: Get my games book for teens and adults to help make your classes fun and your preparation easier.


I liked it, Thank you.
Thank you Mam! It was marvellous!

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