Seven Ways to Make Shy Students Talk

02nd August 2019

Seven Ways to Make Shy Students Talk

By Munaza Akhter
Assistant Professor FAST-National University
Guest Blogger
In language classes of 30 to 35 students it is hard to make all students talk, especially the ones who are shy to express. Shy students try to pass time by letting others’ talk. Teachers need to work out ways to assist shy students in talking by not pressuring them but by creating comfortable ways for them to express.

Audience/Level: Beginner to Advance


Don’t correct shy students instantly
In psychology, there are different types of communication apprehension (difficulty to communicate). One of them is audience related communication apprehension. Many students in ELT class rooms struggle with audience related communication apprehension. This is more common in South East Asian countries where speaking English language is a marker of social superiority and intelligence. Shy students are afraid of audience because they think if they speak in incorrect grammar or structure they will be considered less than their other peers. (the same idea is talked about by Busy Teacher Blog

It is important to realize if a shy student has an audience related fear it should be dealt accordingly. Try to not correct a shy student right away because that can create a fear of making further mistakes and he/she may stop putting effort to express ideas. As a teacher our main focus should be, in my opinion, to develop confidence to express ideas to others. Once they have the initial confidence then we can work on the accuracy of language gradually.

Once a shy student finishes speaking, then a teacher may correct it generally by addressing the entire class.

Set complete sentence policy for shy students
Shy students tend to answer in lesser words like ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. One way to make shy students speak is to set a full sentence policy in class.

Let me give you an example:

In my each Monday’s class, I ask my students about their weekend.

My question: ‘what did you do this weekend?’

My shy student: ‘slept’ or ‘ate’ etc.

After such experience, on suggestion of my colleague, I applied a full sentence answer policy. You can even add a set number of sentences answer policy. Instructing students that each question asked must be replied in full sentence and in at least 3 to 5 sentences. Putting such rules make students to consciously put effort into achieving these smaller goals.

Once the shy students start developing ease of saying a few sentences, they gradually move to expressing ideas in more sentences.




Use flip class strategy

If you have a too shy student/s, someone who feels extreme uneasiness to talk, you can first create a way to make him/her feel accomplished by some other mean. For example creating a game on is an educational quiz plus game app, where winners can see their names on multimedia display. When a student sees his/her name as winner on the board he/she feels accomplished and worthy. Once they have won then you can ask them why they chose a certain answer out of multiple choice or why they believe a certain option was correct etc.


Pairing shy student with another shy student

Smart grouping or pairing is very important to enable all students to participate. Recently I conducted a class for TESOL Advanced Practitioner course and my observer noted that my pairing strategy of making a strong language speaker paired with a weak language speaker is highly ineffective. My observed mentioned that my students with strong language speaking ability over shadowed the weaker one.

It is important for teacher to be very conscious about pairing. Either pair two shy students, in this way, they both have to talk when it is their turn. Or if a strong and weak language ability student is paired together make a compulsion for both to talk and for a certain time limit.

Various pairing strategies are mentioned in detail on English for life blog (following is its link)



Allowing shy students to paper read

As I mentioned in beginning, some students have a fear of making mistakes in front of peers, especially in Asian countries therefore we can allow them to read from paper. To avoid a situation where students read a whole paragraph copied from google, you can ask students to write a short paragraph in class and then whoever wants to present without paper or with paper should be allowed. In this way students will have time to rectify their mistakes in written document and they would feel more confident while presenting in front of others.

Allowing to present from their place/seat in class

Stage fright is a common thing world over. To face a room full of people is daunting for anyone because even face expression of someone can make you nervous. For shy students stage fright is sometimes more than normal. To facilitate a shy student to express, allow him/her to present/talk from his/her seat in whichever way he/she wants (to present in standing or sitting position).

As we make students feel safe and comfortable in class they feel protected and valued and gradually they come out of their shell of fear and discomfort.


Smart Seating Placement for shy students
If you arrange a class where students are sitting in rows and columns, it is much easier for shy and disinterested students to hide behind other students in back seats. In a language class the goal is to make students interact so try arranging seats in a way that everyone is visible to everyone else like in half D shape or full circle form etc.



As a language teacher, it is not enough for us to make great lesson plans and interesting activities, we need to be conscious of students’ emotions and mental condition. If we cater our students according to their varied needs and styles of learning we will be able to get better results out of them. Our facilitating strategies will not just help them to become independent learners but eventually become independent and confident human beings.

Bio: Ms. Munaza Akhter is an Assistant professor at FAST-National University. She is an English language teacher for past 6 years. She has done various courses on critical thinking in language teaching from University of Oregon and she regularly participates in teaching pedagogy workshops. Ms. Munaza has also served as full bright language teaching assistant at University of Texas, Austin in 2016-17. She is currently doing Advanced Practitioner course with TESOL International.


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