Building Relationships, Teach Middle School

5 Ways to Reach and Teach Introverted Students 

Have you ever had one of those moments in education that gives you chills? That moment you’re reminded why you do what you do, what your life’s purpose is, and why teaching matters. There is a difference between showing up and doing your job and showing up and making a difference. When a teacher is reminded of that, it can give them the motivation to keep going in this difficult career. 

5 Ways to Reach and Teach Introverted Students 

I recently had that moment when a former student reached out to me during Teacher Appreciation Week. She had since moved on from that school and so had I. I taught her for one year during sixth grade. In her email, the one thing that stuck out to me is she loved that I noticed her and praised her for her accomplishments when so many other teachers had overlooked her. The thing is, she was a very quiet student. She was introverted. 

A couple of days later, I ran into a mother of a former student. She said something very similar. She said that her son still talks about me and how I noticed him. He, too, was quiet and introverted. He still talks about how I praised him in front of the class for his writing. 

It made me realize that the common theme was I noticed them. It’s so fulfilling to just be seen and that’s what these two encounters reminded me of. 

As busy teachers, it’s so easy to overlook the well-behaved, quiet students. They aren’t causing any trouble. Our attention is needed somewhere else and we have a million things on our minds and plates. I always made it a habit to notice the quiet children, because I was one too.

I am a self-diagnosed introvert. I was always the quiet kid in the back of the classroom, observing and taking it all in. I was a good listener but rarely participated or raised my hand. I was shy. I preferred alone time, reading a good book, and writing stories. I had amazing teachers over the years that noticed me and some brought me out of my shell in a gentle way. As I grew older, I learned to raise my hand more and to become more confident in my opinion. 

I still am a huge introvert. I need breaks from social situations. I’m a homebody. I prefer to sit in the back and observe. So many family members ask how I could be a teacher as an introvert. When I get in front of a class, I become a different person. Teaching kids is different than being in front of a group of adults. Yet, at the end of the school day, I still need quiet time and no socialization. (This was hard to accomplish as a mom though!) Going out on a school night was a big NO for me as an introverted teacher.  

As an introvert, I’ve learned how to spot those same students. It’s like a quiet signal between our souls as I think to myself, “Ah. There you are. I’ve been you. I still am you.” 

If you’re a teacher that’s always wondered how to reach those quiet kids, the students that don’t raise their hands, the ones that want to slip in and out unnoticed, then here are some tips for you from an introverted teacher.

1. Build a Relationship on Their Terms

Oftentimes, teachers see the quiet students and they immediately want to make it their mission to bring them out of their shells. Maybe a teacher will call on them a lot. Maybe they will put them on the spot. Perhaps, you’ve asked the quiet kid questions in front of the class and that child looks like their skin is crawling if they have to answer that question.

It is our job to challenge students and to inspire them. It’s our job to instill confidence in them, but it’s not our job to change who they are deep down. With introverted students, I find the best way to help build that confidence is to first build a connection. Putting them on the spot will not allow them to forge a connection as they will likely not trust you and it’ll make them feel anxious.

Students can’t learn unless they’re in a safe and comfortable environment. They must trust the adult in the room. To forge that connection with those quiet students, I would talk with them one-on-one. If there is group work going on and the atmosphere is loud and bustling, I’ll use that as an opportunity to approach that student and talk to him or her about something, whether it’s their weekend, their hobbies, a favorite book, or anything else they seem interested in. I’ll talk to them after class for a minute or two or in the hallways or cafeteria. This was a way to connect in a low-pressure situation where the attention is just one-on-one, something introverts thrive on. 

5 Ways to Reach and Teach Introverted Students 

I’ve also noticed a lot of introverted students communicate so well through writing. Daily journal entries or quick bell-ringers with questions about themselves help build that trust and connection as they express their thoughts. I would take an extra minute or two to comment on their writing responses, giving them connections such as, “I love to do that too!” or, “I completely understand your viewpoint on this.” 

Even as an adult, I connect more with my husband and friends through texting. Introverts can sometimes find it hard to verbalize their thoughts, so writing them out and connecting with them through writing is a way to forge that trust and relationship to make them feel safe to take risks. 

2. Find Chances to Praise Your Introvert Students

While putting introverted students on the spot with questions might make them feel like a deer caught in the headlights, praise in front of the class doesn’t tend to have the same effect. Because introverted students are overlooked so much or because they behave so well, they don’t always get that recognition or praise other students receive and they deserve it just as much.

I have asked permission from these students to read their amazing writing pieces aloud. Most of the time, they give me permission. After I read them, the class will often say, “Wow. That was fantastic.” I would then reveal it was that student. Even if their faces turned red, they would reveal a smile as their classmates see how gifted they are.

If a quieter student has an amazing project, I will point out what they specifically did well and praise how awesome their work is. More than once, those introverted students would come back to me and say, “Hey, thank you for saying that about my work. It meant a lot.” Sometimes, even new friendships have been born after these praise moments, because another student will see this classmate and their talents and what they’ve done or written and connect with them over it and approach them for the first time. 

Praising these students also reaches beyond the classroom walls. I have emailed those students’ parents before to let them know how great their child is doing or something they did specifically well. It means the world to parents to know their quiet child is seen and recognized. 

3. Respect Your Introverted Students’ Wishes

I love collaborative work in my classroom. I think it’s great to get ideas and help from peers while giving them a chance to talk to each other (mainly, so they’re not trying to chat while I’m teaching). However, as an adult, during workshops, if I have to work with a partner, I dread it. I prefer working alone which is maybe why I chose teaching as a profession. I was always the only adult in the room and I loved that. I didn’t like group work in college or even now. So, why was I forcing so much group work on my students, especially those introverts that relish and shine while working alone? 

So half the time, I would ask if there are any students that would like to work alone. I didn’t ask this every time as I do believe working collaboratively is advantageous for a variety of reasons and students should learn how to work together. Yet, by splitting the number of times I required partner or group work, it gave those introverted students a break. It gave them a chance to just be by themselves and to concentrate. It gave them a break from the constant pressure to socialize while working. It gave them room to breathe and made them feel more comfortable and safe in my classroom and that was my goal. 

4. Inspire Them to Safely Leave Their Comfort Zone

After forging a connection, a trust bond, and making them feel safe, I would then gently help introverted students to come out of their comfort zones. I had many teachers that did that with me and I am so grateful. Those teachers didn’t try to change me. They simply inspired me and made me feel safe enough to show up as I truly was and to relish in my uniqueness, and not be ashamed of it. 

I helped students do this by calling on them once in a while to answer a question about an area I knew they were knowledgeable in. I didn’t do this too often as I didn’t want to break that trust by putting them on the spot, but if I knew my student was really great at grammar, I would call on them to answer a grammar question because I knew they knew the answer and it would boost their confidence to participate more. If we were discussing a character in a book that liked a particular hobby and I knew that quiet student took pleasure in that hobby as well, I would call on them to expand on it.

Any opportunity I could take for an introverted student to confidently share an answer or information, I would bank on it. If I knew a student went on to read a sequel of a book we had read in class, I’d ask them to share about it. Introverted students, when given an opportunity to share what interests them, can become confident enough to leave their comfort zones and participate more.

5. Give Them a Chance to Explore Their Passions

Introverted students can also participate more when given an opportunity to learn through their passions. I love to give options and choices to students whenever possible. If a project can allow it, give students the opportunity to choose to demonstrate their knowledge through their interests.

For instance, when teaching sixth graders Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, I had them design their own Terabitha or fantasy place. Some students loved LEGO blocks, so they designed their Terabithia out LEGO pieces. Others loved to draw, so they chose to show their artistic skills on a poster or canvas. Other students’ passions were writing so they wrote a descriptive piece about their Terabithia. Others loved building, so they used popsicle sticks. Some students were great at technology so they built a Minecraft Terabithia or showed their work through Google Slides. When introverted students can demonstrate their knowledge through their passions, they come alive, step out of their comfort zones, and their peers can learn more about them, as well.

I love assigning our Independent Book Project for that reason. Given 10 options, students can show their understanding of a novel through their passions and interests.

Grab yours today.

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By building a relationship, praising, respecting wishes, inspiring, and giving choices, introverted students can feel safe and comfortable learning in your classroom. Remember not to try to change who they are deep down. Give them chances to shine all on their own so they feel confident enough to show their true selves in the classroom. If all else fails, picture yourself in their shoes. Think from their perspective. Even if you are an extroverted teacher, challenge yourself to learn more about introverts, their preferences, and their needs. By learning more about introverted students, you can reach and teach the whole child and classroom well, and that’s always our goal. 

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