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10 Teaching Strategies for Making a Quiet Class Talk

Jordan Catapano

Teachers often debate which is worse: A noisy class of students or a quiet one. In terms of teaching strategies, a noisy group can be difficult to control and lead through a lesson; although they might also be easier to engage in activities and discussions. On the other hand, a quiet class is easily communicated to, but there is a struggle to get them excited, engaged or participative.

Why Students Don’t Talk

While some teachers have the challenge of quieting down a noisy group, others are challenged to enliven a quiet class. Why do classes vary so much and keep quiet?

  • Quiet by nature: Sometimes the odds just are that the majority of your students have a quiet disposition. It’s not you. It’s them. They are passive everywhere they go.
  • No friends in class: Students who have friends to talk to feel more comfortable in any class. When they don’t have their friends, they don’t feel like there’s anyone there they can comfortably rely on to share with.
  • It’s the subject: Sometimes students are good are participating in other classes, but not yours. Why is that? Well, sometimes the specific course just isn’t their thing. It’s over their heads or not their preference.
  • Scared of what others think: This reason takes the cake. Sometimes a group of students feels afraid to share because they feel that everyone else in the room is smarter or judgmental. If they “put themselves out there” by sharing, then they fear they might be viewed negatively.

So if you happen to be given a group of quiet students, are you aware of their reasons for introversion and ready to get them talking? Our natural instinct might be to compensate with more teacher-talk, but resist that urge! Here are a few of the top teaching strategies implemented by teachers to make your quiet class talk.

1. Guided Discussion. Classes sometimes just need a little more structure for their talking. Try this simple exercise as an example:

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  • Ask students to write an answer to a question or prompt for a few minutes.
  • Pair students and have them share.
  • When one student listens to the other, they must summarize what the other says, beginning with the phrase: “So what you’re saying is …”
  • After they all share and summarize to one another, go around the room and ask students to tell the class what their partner’s thoughts were (not their own).

2. ‘Round the Room Sharing. Students often don’t talk because you’re waiting for volunteers. But you don’t have to require their voluntary sharing; instead, simply go around the entire classroom and ask students to just quickly share one thought about your topic.

3. Seminar Discussions. This is a more formalized student-led type of discussion that’s fully explained here. In brief, you ask students to prepare notes in advance, then to sit together in a fishbowl discussion and converse. The teacher sits out and interjects as little as possible.

4. Kinesthetic Activities. Sitting in a desk in a quiet classroom and raising your hand can be intimidating for a lot of students; but doing a physical activity that’s less formal can easily bring out the thoughts. Try asking students to do a dance, answer questions by walking to spots in the room, perform a relay race, or play a silly game. These are much easier to talk about.

5. Sharing through Technology. Numerous technologies allow for different forms of sharing beyond just raising a hand. Have a chat on Twitter, try a poll on polleverywhere.com, use the Socrative app for quiz and discussion questions, or even have students text or make photos to share.

6. Groups > Whole Class. When a class is composed of 30 students, it’s intimidating to share an idea in front of such a large group. But when students are in groups of just three or four students, the pressure decreases. Students might not participate in whole-class discussions, but a small group might fit the bill.

7. Increase Wait Time. Teachers – especially new ones – feel uncomfortable with silence and often call on the first hand in the air. Sometimes students just need a little more time for processing before sharing. So conscientiously wait longer between asking a question and expecting an answer. Next time try waiting at least 10 seconds – maybe even up to 60 seconds – before breaking the silence. You’ll see more hands in the air!

8. Something to Talk About. No offense, but if you’re content is boring, no one is going to want to talk about it. Try to incorporate topics that are more likely to generate opinion and controversy. You can begin by perusing websites that compile topics and opinions for you, like the Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context database.

9. Confuse Them. Routine is the enemy of stimulation. Give students something that gets them off-center a little bit like playing a game, having them do speed-dating, leaving the classroom, or even just rearranging the desks to face the back of the room. Confusion leads to questions, interest and talking.

10. Change the Seating. Try this: have students fill out an exit slip where they identify a short list of classmates who they do feel comfortable talking to. Then make a seating chart based on their responses!

Susan Cain, who stirred much discussion about introverted students in 2013 with her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking,” suggests in this post from NEA Today that introverted students and classes have powerful contributions to offer, yet should not be misunderstand as defective extroverts that need to be fixed. Remember that we don’t need to try to turn quiet students into someone they’re not, but we should give them opportunities to become more comfortable verbally articulating themselves. Another publication from the Atlantic quotes an introverted professor – Dr. Kendall Hoyt from the Dartmouth Medical School – who suggests, “You don’t get a pass for your personality type,” and maintains that school is as much about learning how to articulate your ideas as it is about facts and figures.

So when you get down to it, the trick to getting your quiet class to talk is all about experimenting with techniques that change the format of your discussions. Now that you know why quiet students are quiet and how to get them to begin sharing thoughts, hopefully you’ll find more success engaging your unique class.

Help us out more! Tell us about the tips and tricks you have used to engage your quieter students into your discussions!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.