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4 Simple Strategies to Help a Shy Student

Loriana Romano, Lisa Papa, and Elita Saulle

4 Simple Strategies to Help a Shy StudentIn an effort to engage students, you create questions that elicit a class conversation. More often than not, you have those one or two students that dodge your gaze. When they do participate they have a shaky voice or a very soft tone. These students are shy students and it is vitally important that we understand why they have these feelings.

What we need to understand is that shyness is a combination of emotions. It is derived from fear, tension, apprehension and embarrassment; some students display all these emotions, while others only show a few. As teachers, we realize that shy students are self-conscious and lack confidence when they are presented with new situations or when the focus is put on them. Teachers may regard many of these students in high esteem because they are bright and independent thinkers; however, shyness becomes concerning when it is overpowering and impeding on the student’s learning ability and social development.

When we have such a situation, we have different perceptions of these students. Social development is hindered as other students see these students as unfriendly or disinterested. They can become social outcasts and subsequently have low self-esteem; sometimes, they even become depressed and lonely.

As educators, we need to be able to help students overcome these emotions and help students socialize. The development of social skills depends on trust and safety in social situations and these can only be attained with time. Essentially it is important that we develop an environment that provides a sense of safety for each student. They need to understand that their thoughts, fears, and emotions are important and real. Many classroom strategies are available to help your students gain confidence and understand that their inhibitions are natural and common. They need to understand that they do not need to be overwhelmed by these feelings.

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Below you will find some strategies that you can utilize in your classroom. It is essential that we implement various strategies that will support various types of children, as well as, help create an environment where each child feels accepted by other children and the classroom teacher.

The following are strategies that can be used in the classroom to help students who are shy become more comfortable and willing to share their voice with the class:

1. Introductory activities to help student learn about one another (everyone gets a turn):

Introducing 'me’: Group students together in a large circle or small group and have them start with saying who they are and one thing about themselves (e.g. a word that describes them, a middle name, a favorite color, animal)

Introducing ‘me’ with extension: After stating their name and listing one thing about them, have each student shake the hands of each student in the group or circle. In return, students in the group/circle can respond by saying “I'm (student’s name)," and give a handshake in return.

Introducing ‘others’: Once students have introduced themselves, divide students in pairs. Prepare a set of 3 questions for each student to answer and share with their peer to further allow them to get to know each other.

Introducing ‘others’ with extension:  After students have had the opportunity to share answers, group 2 or 3 sets of pairs together. Have each pair introduce their peer to the larger group.

2. Additional activities to help students learn a little bit more about their classmates (everyone gets a turn):

‘I like’ and ‘I don’t like’: In pairs, small groups or as a whole, have students share and discuss one thing they ‘like’ (food, animal, destinations, color, TV show, movie, book, game, etc.) and one thing they ‘don’t like’ (food, animal, destinations, color, TV show, movie, book, game, etc.). Record on board or paper.

Who is that? (after completing ‘I like’ and ‘I don’t like’):  Knowing some of the things the students like and dislike, a fun activity is to now go around the class, list the likes and dislikes and see if they can match the likes/dislikes with the correct student.

What do we have in common? (after completing ‘Who is that?’): Look at the board of likes and dislikes and have students draw lines from one student to another who share the same likes or dislikes. This helps them make connections with classmates who share the same interests, so students will begin to feel more comfortable and willing to share

3. Classroom arrangement is important to help students become more comfortable with their peers and to facilitate discussion:

Small groups: Place students in small groups (4-5 per group) and then rearrange them over the course of the year, so that each student has the opportunity to sit with and get to know all the other students in the class.

Rows: Follow the same idea as ‘small groups’

Horseshoe: Arrange students in shape of a horseshoe so that all students are included and facing one another, allowing all students to communicate with one another and work together.

4. General suggestions for the classroom teacher to create a safe and inclusive classroom environment:

• Encourage students to understand and recognize that we are each different and unique in our own ways. For example, some students are naturally more outgoing than others and may find it easier to talk to others; whereas, some students are may have a different experience. This will standardize ‘shyness’ and will further work to represent it in a more positive light.

• Maintain continuous contact with all students, especially those you may recognize as being ‘shy.’ The worry is that it is easy for ‘shy’ children to fall behind and remain in the shadows; once they do, it tends to be harder for them to begin to accept attention when it is given. For example, make a comment, ask a question, make some small talk, or even pass a smile on a daily basis to make them feel included.

• Ensure all students, especially those who are ‘shy’, have a job in the classroom. The goal is to try and give them a job that allows them to feel they are contributing to the classroom and feel connected to other students, while also encouraging them to interact with other students. Some great classroom jobs for shier kids include handing out supplies, collecting materials, or being the line leader.

• Make sure to comment on their work and try to display their work where other students can see it and comment as well. This will build communication, encourage interaction, and, again, allow ‘shy’ students to feel proud and improving their self-esteem.

• Recognize the small steps! It may be very difficult for shy students to even have the courage to raise their hand to answer a question or participate in class discussions. Recognizing these small steps will help encourage shy students continue to take positive risks and overcome obstacles.

• There are various online sources available to further guide us in ensuring we have created an inclusive classroom where all students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. One of the websites that is particularly helpful is ‘Shykids.com’. This web site talks about shyness – both what it is and what it feels like.

All of the strategies we mentioned are essential and useful; however, it all depends on the dynamics of your classroom and most importantly, your students. Keep in mind that these strategies should not just be implemented on the first day; rather, for they can be used throughout the course of the year to not only help shy kids become more comfortable, but to also help build classroom community. Little by little, we will begin to see that children who may be ‘shy’ are beginning to come out of their shell and reveal who they really are in a safe and inclusive classroom without worry of judgment or embarrassment.