Although it's great to have a range of personality types and temperaments in a classroom, teachers and parents naturally worry if a child is always quiet. Here are some ways to help a shy child shine in the classroom. And many of these tips will work in other situations, as well.
1. Figure out what your shy students are interested in. You can ask them, use interest inventories, notice what they wear (sports jerseys? T-shirts with dinosaurs on the front?), have them write a book about themselves, bring in pictures from home, and so on. Use the information you learn as a starting point for conversation or educational activities.
2. Assign them to work with other children in the class who are more outgoing. This may help promote interaction and new friendships.
3. Capitalize on strengths. If a shy student excels in math, have him or her tutor another child who needs help in this area.
4. Arrange desks or seats in such a way that shy children are grouped with either some children they know or children who are good at including others.
5. Teach children how to join in group activities. For example, on the playground, prompt the child to ask someone, "Can I play, too?"
6. Give them a task to do that will encourage moving around the room and interacting with others. Or, give them something to do that will make them feel important, such as erasing the blackboard or hanging up their work on a bulletin board.
7. Take time to check in with shy students each day. Engage them in conversation. If they're able to establish a warm relationship with you, they may feel more secure and able to take risks in the classroom.
8. Avoid placing shy children in situations that might be embarrassing or overly stressful for them.
9. Teach children to deal with teasing. Give them words to use to protect themselves ("Teasing is not nice. I don't like it when you tease. Please stop.") Be prepared to intervene. Although some teasing is inevitable, adopt a no-tolerance policy on bullying.
10. Maintain contact with the parents. Ask what the children are saying about school at home. Although a child may be quiet in the classroom, he or she may speak quite positively about school.
11. Encourage parents to volunteer in the classroom whenever possible. Having a parent visit the class, at least in the primary grades, can be a source of pride for children.
12. Keep in mind, though, that some of your shy children may have shy parents. These parents may fare better in the classroom if you have something structured for them to do. Something simple, such as cutting, would allow a parent to observe without the pressure of talking. Check it out ahead of time with the parent if you can.
13. Find out what resources the school counselor has. He or she may have books and games that can help promote self-confidence and social skills.
14. Watch for warning signs such as: the child never speaks or speaks only in a whisper, does not use the restroom, doesn't eat lunch, appears sad and withdrawn much of the time, looks visibly anxious if called upon, never or rarely plays with others, looks down at the ground when spoken to, complains of stomach aches or headaches, and so on. If you have concerns or are not noticing progress, ask the parents to consider seeking a consultation with a mental health professional.
Some of these tips for teachers were adapted from that Eric Digest (Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education), Working with Shy or Withdrawn Students, by Jere Brophy. ERIC Digest reviews are funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education and are in the public domain.