How to Encourage Even Your Most Shy Students

Jim Damico, 126

Some ESL teachers who publish online take about having a shy student, or maybe two in their classrooms. But I’d hazard to guess that in “your” classroom, its just the opposite, one or two speaking and all the rest are “shy”. So, how do we tackle this problem, but more importantly, how do we transfer these ideas to our Thai co-teachers?
Here’s a few ideas from an article I found at

Create a Fantastic Learning Environment
…a good policy is always to run your classroom in a way likely to get good results from everyone, including the shy students.

Smile, laugh and praise often. Create a warm and jovial atmosphere by being willing to smile, make jokes, poke a little fun at people, and occasionally be the butt of a joke yourself. Laughter demonstrates many things, but mostly that you’re a fellow human being who is sharing a learning journey with your students, rather than a robotic instructor who’s forgotten they’re teaching people.

If something goes fantastically, make a fuss about how pleased you are. Stop and praise students who are giving their best. Give high-fives, thumbs up, big smiles, gold stars, anything you can think of. You loved those things when you were a student, I’ll bet, and your own students will always respond positively.

Establish Routines. Repeating patterns make classroom events easier to predict, and therefore less stressful. If you have an established habit of questioning your students in a circle, in alphabetical order, or through some other mechanism, they won’t freak out when they are chosen because, well, that was always going to happen! This is especially useful for check questions and post-reading comprehensions, and the like. Very much related to this is…

Establish Equality. For me, it doesn’t matter if you’re sitting in the back row and hiding behind your notebook, or you’re in the front row with your hand perpetually in the air, you’re both going to be chosen to speak, asked for an opinion, required to contribute to feedback and generally nudged into taking part as frequently as possible. Not all teachers work this way, so be ready to throw questions at students who’ve never experienced this before; the results might not be great, initially, but they’ll soon improve. Accept short answers – even monosyllables – but quickly require more. I use an ‘expanding hands’ gesture to request full sentence answers, and it works wonders.

I think the two most crucial items are 2) establishing a routine and 3) establishing equality because they are something I just haven’t seen in Thai classrooms. I also think that tackling these two issues directly will also address classroom management problems indirectly.

For the full article, check out the link at

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