In any modern ESL learning environment, there is a huge focus on communicative learning and using the language being taught almost immediately. As teachers, we often judge a student's participation or contribution in the class by how much they speak or “stand out”. This puts more extroverted students at a particular advantage in an ESL classroom. Below I'll share some tips I learned teaching English in China.
We have been weaned on the idea that the more extroverted a person or a student is, the better, often underestimating the contribution of those who may take longer to process information before they choose to give an opinion or produce a grammatical structure. This is often the “problem” introverted students may have, there is constant pressure on them in the class to produce immediately, as they will definitely be graded on this.
As teachers, we need to be mindful of using different methods to encourage our students to participate. If you are frustrated that one of your students due to their introverted nature is very reluctant to take part in classroom discussion or raise their hand, you may need to start thinking about methods which favour their nature.
For example, an introverted student may often want more time to think on their own about a topic, so you can try the “think/pair/share” method. Allow students to have time to think on their own before they share their ideas with another student, then share with the group. This can often give a quieter student more confidence in sharing their ideas because they have had time to formulate them.
Be more aware of who you pair introverted students with, try not to pair them with students who may get frustrated with them because of their reticence. When you are thinking of tasks to help the students practise their language skills, try not to keep favouring constant interaction with others – this can often drain an introvert, as mentioned earlier the “think/pair/share” method is one way of varying activities. Giving students more choice as to how they might want to work could encourage an introvert. Do they want to work on their own or with another person?
Writing a story or short dialogue can be done collaboratively or individually. Drawing a comic strip based on a story they have just read and later presenting it to the class is another task that can be done individually or collaboratively. It is important that quieter students do not feel that their way of learning is a hinderance to the class or the teacher.
Even though I am cheering for the introverted student, we often need to do tasks that are out of our comfort zones, and so will introverts at some point in the course, which are sometimes out of the teacher's control. They may have to give presentations as part of the school policy, or they are graded on the participation in the lesson. You can help by giving them plenty of warning as to when they do their presentation – an introvert may often over plan, which makes them feel comfortable, or they might conveniently “forget” so you need to ensure that they receive some gentle reminding is given to them and that what they have to do is very clearly stated.
If they do have to give a presentation make sure that praise is given not just for whether they spoke loudly enough, but also for the effort they may have put in or the organisation of the presentation, and hopefully, this will build confidence for the future.
In China, parents often become very anxious if they think their child is not participating enough in the classroom. This is understandable, they send their children to schools such as EF to improve their English speaking skills. However, it is important to highlight an introvert's strength and how their strengths will improve their English in the long term.
Perhaps the student is strong in reading and comprehension, emphasise to the parent that this skill can feed into speaking, as this enlarges their vocabulary and helps to consolidate grammatical structures. In EF, it is normal for Progress Advisors (PAs) to record speaking activities, ensure that you have evidence of the quieter students taking part in smaller group discussions or in pair work. In this way, you can show the parents evidence of speaking progress.
It is important that quieter students are supported in the class by a better understanding of what motivates them to speak and showing them that there are ways in which they can also positively contribute in a lesson without the need to feel they are in constant competition with more confident students.