Success in learning a second language depends on a multitude of factors, but chief among them are the willingness to participate in class, the willingness to try new things and the willingness to make mistakes. In my experience, I've observed that these characteristics typically come more naturally to extroverted and outgoing students than introverted or shy students.
If you’ve ever had an introverted or shy student in your ESL classes, you’ll know how much of a challenge it can be to draw them out of their shell and get them interacting and participating in class. However, it’s not impossible and it can be an incredibly rewarding experience when you finally break through to them and they start to make real progress in their English language skills.
Here are some tips for creating an online ESL learning environment in which even the most introverted student can thrive.
1. Teach Your Students That It’s OK to Fail and Create a Safe Environment for Them To Do So
As adults, we know that “failing” and making mistakes is a natural part of learning a language (or learning anything at all for that matter) but our students may not yet understand this. Gradually over time let them see that not only is it OK to make mistakes in English class, but that it is actually a good thing! You can do this by making mistakes yourself and letting them correct you – you’ll see their eyes light up when they know you’ve made a mistake. Or, use a puppet to model incorrect answers first.
2. Set Students Up for Success with Easier Questions That Require Only a One- or Two-Word Answer
To build confidence and entice students into more class participation, set them up for success by asking easier questions that only require a one- or two-word answer. Make sure you question them about material that you know they are confident in or material that you have just taught and is fresh in their mind. Again, you can use a puppet to first give an incorrect answer, paving the way for your introverted student to correct the puppet and give the correct answer themselves.
3. Involve a Third Party in the Lesson to Temporarily Direct the Focus Away from your Shy Student
To give your student a break and some time to compose themselves, it can help to include a third party in the lesson. If possible, get mum or dad involved or a puppet can work wonders too. While you are conversing with the puppet or mum or dad, the student will have a little more time to think their answer through and then feel more confident about speaking up and participating. By introducing a third party in this way, the lesson will still flow and there won’t be any awkward or long pauses which could increase the student’s anxious feelings
4. Avoid Overcorrecting and Frame Corrections Positively
Corrections are, of course, necessary in any ESL lesson, but when it comes to introverted and shy children they should be used sparingly and framed in a way that is positive and encouraging. Try, where possible, to only correct the mistakes that are relevant to the current lesson material. For example, if you’re teaching a lesson about forming plural nouns and the student says, “He have two apple.” you might only mention the incorrect use of the singular form of “apple” and not the incorrect form of the verb “to have”. This will ensure students are not overwhelmed and discouraged by too many corrections and also allow them to really absorb the content of the current lesson.
5. Get to Know Your Student’s Interests and Tailor Class Around Them to Entice Them Out of Their Shell
This is a guaranteed, and perhaps the quickest, way to get your shy ESL students opening up and participating in class. However possible find out what your students’ interests, likes and hobbies are. If they won't or can't tell you, you might need to ask a parent during class, look at teacher comments from previous lessons or even leave a note in the student feedback asking mum or dad for help with this.
Once you have some ideas, whenever possible, tailor their class or a section of their class around something that they are interested in or like doing. For example, if you find out that your student loves kittens, highlight any kittens or cats that appear in any stories or class material you’re teaching and try to stimulate conversation that way. Or, create a reward system that utilizes kittens somehow. Or, find or create props or flashcards that show kittens and other baby animals.
The possibilities are endless. I use the example of kittens because I once created a set of flashcards to teach colors, shapes and numbers that featured cute kittens on every card to entice my student into participation! And it worked. She opened up to me more and more once the kitten cards became a part of our lessons each week. Some simple changes to the lesson structure and content can be the fastest way to get your shy students participating and learning.
These are just a few ideas to help you deal with shy and introverted students in your online ESL classes. I’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite techniques for getting quieter children to open up? Tell me in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.