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5 Teaching Strategies for Working with Shy Students

Janelle Cox

As teachers we are always trying to tune into our students. We want every one of our students to feel comfortable and safe in our classroom, so we are always trying to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Shy students may not stand out, and oftentimes they get left by the wayside, which is not a good feeling for them. You don’t want to force them to talk, yet you don’t want them to be afraid to talk either.

The way that you treat your shy students in your classroom will shape the way they interact in the future. Here are a five teaching strategies to keep in mind when working with shy students in your classroom.

1. Teaching Strategies: Treat Them the Same as the other Students

This tip is the most important of all the shy student teaching strategies. It is essential that a shy student know that they are being treated the same as their classmates. Usually, the students already know who is shy and who is not in the classroom, because it is quite obvious. If one day your shy student decides to speak in front of the classroom, don’t make a big deal out of it, simply give them a wink and go on with your day. Then later on when you can get them alone, tell them how proud you are of them.

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2. Create a Signal to Interact with Them

In the beginning of the school year instruct all of your students that they can use a signal to interact with you. A signal is a great way for all students to interact without really having to speak. This way they aren’t just sitting at their desk and anxiously worrying if they are going to get called upon. You can use a simple thumbs up sign or thumbs down sign, or you can get a little bit more creative and have students flip a green card for yes and a no card for no. You can keep these signs at their desks so they will have always have this option in their back pocket.

3. Let Them Get Prepared Before You Call on Them

The last thing that a shy student wants is for the teacher to call upon them. Usually when this happens, their blood pressure starts to rise, their heart begins to beat very quickly, and their cheeks begin to flush. If you think the student has something to add to the conversation but is too shy, then try and give them a few minutes notice before you call upon them. This will help them prepare what they want to say. You can tap their desk, give them a wink, or place your hand on their shoulder and let them know beforehand that this means for them to get ready to be called on. You can also give them the option to get out of it if they don’t fell comfortable. Create a personal signal for this option.

4. Pair Them with a Friend

All shy students have that one classmate that they connect to and feel comfortable with to be themselves around. Make sure that you allow this student to be paired with that person during group work, lunch time, or carpet time. This can make a world of a difference in a shy student’s life in school. Try not to make it too obvious to the other students either if you can. The last thing that you want is to have your students picking on your shy student and embarrassing them.

5. Give them a Classroom Job

A great way to get a shy student to interact with his classmates is to give him a classroom job that allows him to interact with peers, but doesn’t necessarily make him talk to them. Being the class paper collector, the homework helper, or the class librarian allows a shy student to interact with their peers but in a way that is comfortable for them.

The simple understanding of a shy child’s feelings can make a huge impact on their world in the classroom. Use these tips above to help your shy students thrive and feel comfortable in your classroom.

How do you interact with shy students in your classroom? Do you have tops that you think will make a difference in a shy child’s life in school? Please share your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.