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How to Help Your Shy Student Thrive in their Online Classroom

By VIPKid  |  December 15, 2021

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So, you want to know how to support your shy student in their online classes. It’s understandable—many students are reserved for one reason or another. In this post, we’ll break down what we mean by “shy” or “hesitant” and give you some of our best tips to help a quiet student thrive in their online classrooms (and beyond)! 

Analyzing the Situation 

There are a number of reasons a student may be shy or hesitant to respond in an online classroom setting (or any setting, for that matter).  With that being said, we must be careful to avoid using labels like “shy” to describe a learner. 

In some cases, the language that is expected from the student is beyond their current abilities, which can cause stress or anxiety for young learners. In others, the learner may not understand the instructions or what is expected of them. There could also be some confusion related to the content or an unfamiliar cultural reference. Also, some learners are naturally more introverted, and may tend to focus more on listening than speaking. 

There is also not necessarily a reason to panic if a new or lower-level learner is still in what Stephen Krashen called the silent period. They may be actively processing input even though they are not yet producing much output.

So you might be wondering: “How can I help my student who is shy or hesitant to respond?”

Suggested Strategies to Help Shy Students

You do not need to feel like you are playing a waiting game with your learner each time you are. You do need to have patience, limit distractions in the online classroom, and give “shy” students the best opportunity to participate.

Here are some ways you can do that.

Make Them Laugh

VIPKid teachers know that making online English fun is the best way to learn! 

Use humor to draw out your child’s personality. Show your learner it is OK to laugh—ask silly questions like “Does your teacher have brown hair or blue hair?” or “Do you wear shoes on your hands or your feet?” 

For a younger learner, using a puppet and a silly voice to repeat words or phrases in the lesson can help them feel comfortable and engaged. For an older student, try tongue twisters and simple jokes. 

Connect to Their Interests 

Find ways of incorporating your learner’s interests into the lesson.

If your student is a fan of a superhero or celebrity, use that to personalize examples that you provide orally. For example, in a lesson on “can and can’t”, you could give these examples: Can [Superhero] jump? [Superhero] can’t fly. 

Role Play 

Assign your learner a dialogue with you and take turns. This obviously will only work with students whose language is developed enough to have full conversations, but it’s a very effective tactic nonetheless. Draw from their interests to create a dialogue that you know they’ll enjoy—and don’t be afraid to make it fun!

Get Physical 

Total physical response (TPR) is a tried and true method for teaching language. Find opportunities to get the learner up and moving. Use songs and animations as well as simple games by encouraging clapping or other movements. Also consider some online games like the mirror game, which requires a learner to mimic your movements like a mirror. 

Talk Less 

Increase the amount of time you wait for a response and cut down on your teacher talk time (TTT). It might lead to some awkward silences at first, but be patient. It is important to give your learner the space to jump in and respond. 

Praise Partial Responses 

When a learner does respond, even if only partially, acknowledge that effort with praise or a reward. Partial responses could be the first words (e.g., “I like…”) or the completion of a sentence frame (e.g., T: I like…., S: …chocolate cake). Partially accurate responses could include an inaccurate verb form in an otherwise accurate sentence. 

Do you have any tips for how to deal with more reserved or quiet students? Find us on social and let us know!

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