You ask a question. Before the words have left your mouth, six eager-beaver students already have their hands in the air—hoping to be the first to be called on. We've all seen talkative students take over a classroom, and when they do, it's all too easy for quiet students to sit on the sidelines.

Engaging your more introverted students isn't just about getting better class participation. It's about providing the support they need. If you don't develop a genuine rapport with your students, they may not come to you when they're struggling in your class or experiencing personal challenges. Students who are not engaged in the classroom have less opportunity for a successful learning environment, but teachers can implement these four steps to engage quiet students. 

1. Break away from whole group discussions

Whole-group activities remain a common method of instruction. Although it's easy to get your extroverted students to jump into every discussion, bringing your quieter students into the conversation can be a real challenge.

Offering frequent engagement opportunities is vital. We've all heard the 10/2 rule: for every ten minutes of whole-group lesson, allow two minutes for activity or discussion. But go-to tactics like stop-and-jot or turn-and-talk quickly become stale, boring, and overplayed.

What can you do to keep things fresh and get all your students talking?

  • Stand and Talks. Minneapolis math diva Sara Van Der Werf suggests ditching the standard "turn and talk" teacher move for a "stand and talk." The basic idea is simple: have your students actually stand up, walk around the room, and find a new partner to talk with. For an added energizer, consider playing music while students circulate. Getting students moving kicks the energy level up a notch and helps them think more creatively.

  • Four Corners. Sometimes students are reluctant to take a stand—after all, nobody wants to make a mistake in front of their peers. Four Corners is a strategy for running classroom discussions that feel less risky. To practice this strategy, designate four corners of the room as Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. Then, read out statements related to your lesson and have students move to a corner of the room. It's a simple hack that helps students kick off discussions knowing they'll have peers in their corner.

  • Think, Pair, Share. Think, Pair, Share is one of the first moves any teacher learns, but it can easily become ineffective if it's used thoughtlessly. Over at Cult of Pedagogy, Jennifer Gonzalez shares her advice for using Think, Pair, Share with intention to get all of your students talking.

2. Offer alternatives for discussions and presentations

Group discussions and presentations often favor more extroverted students who are eager to talk in front of their peers. Consider offering alternatives that will also get your more introverted students pumped up.

An online discussion board can facilitate a peer-to-peer class discussion following a video or reading assignment. Classroom management systems like Blackboard and Canvas offer discussion board features that make running these types of online discussions easy.

Looking for an alternative to class presentations? Consider having students make a video to share with the class. Creating video allows students to tap into their creative side, leading to higher levels of student engagement than a standard presentation assignment would offer. Furthermore, students have the opportunity to develop video creation skills that could become useful for their futures.

3. Use roles to change the group work dynamic

In a group work setting, it's easy to unintentionally reinforce routine classroom behaviors. Quiet students often sit back and listen while more talkative peers take the lead. One terrific strategy to ensure that everyone participates is to create roles for group work activities.Assign each group member a job that contributes to the success of the group's overall work. Some roles you might want to assign are:

  • Facilitator. Leads the activity; makes sure everyone understands the task and keeps the group focused so the work gets done.

  • Resource monitor. Collects and monitors supplies for the group; supervises cleanup.

  • Reporter. Ensures that everyone in the group is completing written work; supervises any group report or write-up.

  • Presenter. Uses the reporter's notes to present the group's findings to the class.

Naturally, you'll want to rotate these roles over time so that each student gets a chance to perform all of them, as each role requires different skills that are important for all students to develop.

Assigning roles can give your quieter students an opportunity to take the lead, while your more talkative students assume a supporting role. It's a great way to change the classroom dynamic and create a better learning experience for everyone.

4. Have private one-on-one conversations with students

As a teacher, you wear many hats. At night you're designing your lessons for next week...or (let's be honest) just staying a day ahead. In the morning before school, you're on patrol. During homeroom, you're hanging out with your students. When class starts, you're a professor. And between classes or after school, you're a therapist.

We owe it to all students to check in with them regularly, but it's especially important to check in with your quieter, more introverted students—those who might be more reluctant to bring their challenges or struggles to you. If a student seems stressed, disengaged, or distant, don't wait for the situation to magically get better. Be proactive and talk about what's going on.

Be mindful of your environment. Students can often be reluctant to engage with a teacher in front of their peers. Private teacher-student chat in GoGuardian is a great option in these situations, making it easy for you to have one-on-one conversations and build relationships safely and privately.

Whatever you do, make time to check in with a student if you have concerns. You might be the only adult who does.

Your Turn

Engaging your introverted students can be challenging. Giving them different options won't turn them into the most talkative students in school, but it will enable them to more easily express themselves and more fully contribute to your class.

Look for discussion activities that break up the normal routine, like Stand and Talks. Give your students options for discussions and presentations. Reconsider your student groups. Make sure to check in with your quieter students one-on-one.

What are your favorite methods for engaging quiet students in the classroom? Leave a comment below and share your strategies!