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We are more than halfway through the semester, so hopefully you’ve been able to get most of your students speaking up during class discussions. If you’ve done a Midterm Chat, then you also have a good idea of what students consider to be stronger and weaker elements of your teaching style. But, there are probably still some shy students that you are having trouble getting to speak up in class. They sit quietly in their seats and seem to be listening to your lectures and the class discussions, but you have no idea what their voices sound like. In today’s post, I go over three strategies for communicating with shy students, or those who are just too self-conscious to ask questions in class. If you’d rather see a video version of these strategies, that’s an option for you, too.

In today's post, I go over three strategies for communicating with shy students, or those who are just too self-conscious to ask questions in class. #edutwitter Click To Tweet

Strategy 1: Exit Cards

Exit cards are a popular tool in the K-12 classroom. In case you’ve never heard of this term, an exit card is an index card that students turn in to the instructor before they exit the classroom for the day. On the card, students usually answer a specific prompt or two given to them by the teacher. These cards can be anonymously submitted, but more often, students write their names on the card before turning it in.

How can we use an exit card to help us communicate with shy students? At the end of a class period, pass out index cards to your students. Have them answer prompts like, “What’s your biggest takeaway from today’s class?” and “What elements from today’s class do you want more clarification about?” If you have them write their names on the cards, then you’ll be able to get a sense of whether or not your shy students are following along well and/or have any questions that they are not willing to say aloud.

This free resource can be found in the Ever Educating resource library. It includes examples of exit cards and online discussion forum ideas.
Google Slides Resource

In today’s free resource included in our resource library, I have two example exit cards along with examples for the next strategy on this list. You can sign up to access the resource here, or head straight to the library if already signed up.


Strategy 2: Online Discussion Forums

As someone who loves using the LMS class websites to help students outside of the classroom setting, my second strategy for getting shy or anxious students to “talk” is creating online discussion forum activities. Starting on day one, I show students the optional “Discussion Additions” forum. In the forum, shy students or absent ones can share their thoughts on the days readings, discussions, etc. with their classmates and I through one of the forum topics I’ve created for them. The full list of topics are in today’s free resource, but here are a few ideas of what topics to add: “Thoughts on Primary Readings” “Thought on Secondary Readings” “Thoughts on Class Discussion” and “Thoughts on How Our Class Connects to Current Events.” You should have a “MISC Connections to Class” forum, too, in case students have something they want to share but don’t feel it matches any of the preexisting topics.

I tell students on the syllabus that they can use these optional forums to make up participation points for being absent or being silent. Of course, students actively participating in class discussion can also chime in. They just don’t need to if they are always present and often speaking up in class. Along with including this information on the syllabus, I also mention it aloud in class on day one and throughout the semester.

[Here’s a full blog post and video series on how I design my first week of class.]

In addition to this optional discussion forum, I also make sure to create required forum activities every once in a while for homework. With these small online activities, shy students can share their thoughts and observations without feeling like they are being specifically targeted. They might feel like they are being called out if they reply to the optional forum posts. But, that’s not likely to cross their minds when it’s just a homework assignment everyone needs to complete. For me, these activities are counted towards their participation points, rather than towards a unit or major assignment grade.

For examples of the types of online activities I create for my students, see today’s free resource.

Strategy 3: Individual Conferences

Finally, there’s no better way to get to know your students than by meeting with them one-to-one at some point in the semester. I try to have these conferences occur before the first half of the semester passes by, but better late than never. I cancel a class to balance having my students meet with me outside of class time. Individual conferences are time consuming for the instructor, but they can really help you better understand how students are doing with the class material and assignments.

To help shy students or anxious students not feel overwhelmed by the thought of meeting with you one-on-one, I suggest giving students a list of questions or a checklist at least a week before you’re set to start meeting with them. Students can use these tools as a guide to help them feel prepared to meet with you. Just telling them you’re having a 15-30 minute meeting without providing specific examples of what’s going to be discussed can be frightening to many students, especially freshman. But, if they know what to expect, they can prep for the meeting.

To help shy students or anxious students not feel overwhelmed by the thought of meeting with you one-on-one, I suggest giving students a list of questions or a checklist at least a week before you're set to start meeting with them.… Click To Tweet

Final Thoughts

Communicating with shy students can be incredibly difficult, as pushing them past their comfort zone in class can backfire terribly. I’m someone who often practiced saying my comment internally before feeling comfortable raising my hand and saying it aloud in front of my classmates and teachers. My passion for my education helped me overcome my nerves when speaking in class, but that’s not the case for every or even most shy or anxious students. So, use these strategies to help strengthen your connection with shy students. The strategies can also help with students already willing to talk in class or meet with you outside of it without any external reasons to do so. So, everybody benefits!

Comment below: Which of these strategies do you think will help your shy students the most?

>>If you found these ideas helpful and want to make sure you don’t miss any future content on my blog, here’s the link to subscribe to my blog’s email list. As a subscriber, you’ll receive access to my resources library, which includes all my blog-related PDFs.<< 

Digital Bullet Journal for Teachers
Shy students or anxious students often don't talk in the classroom. To help students feel more comfortable communicating with their teachers, try these three teaching strategies. #highereducation #teaching
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