How to Make a Shy Student More Active?

By: Maha Hendawy, 12 Oct 2017


As a former English instructor who taught English as a foreign language to adults for more than a year, I have come across some shy students who didn’t want to participate in any activity. They isolate themselves because they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the whole class if they said the wrong answer. You could say that they lack confidence and in order to help those kinds of students, you need to do the following:


Do NOT put them on the spot


If you want them to express themselves, putting them on the spot is not the way to do it. If they do not want to participate in a particular activity such as giving a presentation, do not force them. It is not an easy thing for a regular student to give a presentation, and one can only imagine how difficult it is for a shy student to put themselves out there and talk in front of a group. They might end up hating you as a teacher and hate whatever it is that you teach. Instead, you could ask one of their classmates to help them present it together. Or you, the teacher, could help them yourself and do the presentation together.



Make them cooperate with their classmates


If you want them to share a personal piece of information in front of the class you can engage them in interactive group games. For example, give each student a piece of paper (choose four different colors of paper), gather the students who have the same color of paper in a group, then ask them to draw symbols or write numbers or words which represent something about themselves or their lives, (e.g. the year they were born, their favorite season or clothes item). Then, let others in the same group guess what that symbol or drawing or writing is about. This exercise will definitely make them speak more and make friends inside the class. It’ll be a fun activity for the whole class to get to know each other and create something like a small classroom family that will make them feel safe and speak more with no fears or worries.  



Show that you really care


If those students felt that you genuinely care about them and want the best for them, they will love you and respect you and therefore, trust you to help them overcome their shyness and be more active inside the class. It is important to do this without making them feel nervous that you’re around and watching. I used to walk around the class whenever they were doing an activity, just to see if they needed any help.

Memorize all their names from day one. If they do not have a partner in pair work, be their partner. Ask them to be a student with them for a little while. They welcomed it every time I did so. Also, always ask them if they need any help but make sure it doesn’t happen in front of the whole class. It’s like telling them that you are always here to answer their questions and solve their problems and that they can trust you. Don’t forget to smile at them whenever you make eye contact and always reassure them that it’s okay if they got the wrong answers, because we are all here to learn.


Mention their great work in front of the whole class


When I was an English instructor, I used to mention a student’s name whenever they answered a question correctly and add motivational words, and always had any kind of sweets or chocolate or maybe small presents to give to them as a reward and encourage them to participate more.

Mentioning their great work will definitely boost their confidence. Use words like “Excellent!”, “Well done!”, “Good job!”, and “I am proud of you!” and mention their names in front of the whole class. Give them rewards and prizes to acknowledge their success and always, always highlight their progress.


Do these four things with all your students and not just the shy ones. Remember, you don’t go to class only to transmit some information and then disconnect. You are there to care about your students, help them reach their best potential and show them that you want the best for them. Teach and care. Best of luck! 😉



Maha Hendawy

Maha Hendawy is a former content creator and English instructor. She taught English as a foreign language to adults at ASEB Academy for more than a year. She also has a passion for writing scripts for short animation videos and has done over 30 video scripts. Maha is a graduate of the Faculty of Arts, English Dept. with a passion for language learning, writing, and translation.

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