Ways to Engage Introverts in the Classroom

Michael T. Coleman
Michael T. Coleman
Elementary school principal; M.A. in K-12 Educational Leadership
A student sits away from her classmates by herself.

Every student has different background knowledge, life experiences, culture, family life, friends, and personalities. No one student is exactly like another. As a result, teachers can immediately notice that some students like to be the center of attention, and others do not want any part. Extroverts and introverts bring wonderful contributions to classrooms. It can just take a bit longer to find ways for our introverts to engage in class.

There are many aspects of a school that can negatively impact an introvert’s willingness to engage in class. The classroom environment and atmosphere, class size, daily disruptions, and content are just a few. Teachers need to be aware of these and adapt them to suite the needs of all of their students.

Classroom environment and atmosphere can be very intimidating to introverts. If there is not much structure or lack or rules, extroverts will take over the class and introverts will never engage. Teachers need to reflect on all of their students and find what might be barriers in the classroom that they can change to help introverts feel like part of the class and then be willing to interact with the content. On the other hand, class size, disruptions and content typically cannot be changed. But there are still ways to help engage classroom introverts.

Build a Bond with Classroom Introverts

Making connections with class introverts can help them feel more comfortable and motivated in your class. Teachers should get to know these students both inside and outside of the school. Find out what their interests are academically and socially. Use these interests in your class lessons to pique their interest and willingness to engage in the activity.

Survey all your students (both extroverts and introverts) on their likes and dislikes. In a non-obtrusive way, share how some of your extroverts and introverts like the same things. This will help introverts make connections and feel more comfortable in your class which will likely result in more student engagement.

Teachers should also try to make school/family connections for their introverts. Reach out to your students’ caretakers and find out from them where they feel their children struggle and flourish. The more connections and introvert has with their teachers, the more comfortable and willing they will be to participate in class. Additionally, teachers can take notice to see who their introverts are friends with. Maybe they have several friends in the same class that the teacher can sit the introverts next to. Any way to create a welcoming class environment for introverts will help immensely.

Let Classroom Introverts Pick their Groups Regularly

Forcing introverts to work in groups or be with certain students can make them less engaged. Through surveys, you can find what ways your students like to learn best. Perhaps your introverts might like to work in pairs instead of group work. By giving students choice, they will feel connected and be more responsive to completing the task at hand.

It will also help introverts by alerting them ahead of time of possible group work:

  • Ask them to stay after class
  • Let them know what the project details are and how they are going to work with other students

At this time, you can ask them if there are specific students they work better with and let them know you will put them in that group. This will settle any nerves and prepare them for what is coming.

Draw Out their Strengths

Engaging introverted students and all students happens when we know who our students are. Finding the strengths of your students and then using that in your class will completely change your classroom atmosphere for the better. You might have introvert students who love to make videos; allow them to do this for a class project. You might learn that you have introverts who love art; allow them to create a collage or painting for an assignment.

Universal Design of Learning (UDL) can help teachers think of different ways they can present content and allow their students to show what they have mastered. Creating multiple means of engagement will show teachers where and how their students can excel.

Quality, Not Quantity

Engagement does not always mean active participation. You may think that your introvertive student is not engaged in your class because they are not raising their hand or giving answers. But that can be completely false. Engagement can be done quietly. Students may be thinking and processing the information. They may be trying to make connections to their own lives silently.

At the same time, make note of when your introvert students do participate:

  • How did they participate?
  • Why did they participate?
  • For how long did they participate?

Then, you can start incorporating more of those lessons or activities into your class for that student. Introverts may not speak in every class and that is okay. Become aware of different types of engagement by reflecting at the end of each day on how your students interacted with the content of that day. You may be surprised to see the quality of engagement by your introverts that did not include raising their hand and giving answers in front of the entire class.

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