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7 Ways to Help Quiet Students Find Their Voices in Class

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When it comes to talking in class, each student has a unique personality. There’s the chatty conversationalists, happy to contribute on any topic; more reserved students who can be coaxed into the conversation with some effort; and the quiet ones who shudder at the thought of speaking to a large group.

Unfortunately, the Talkative Teds and Gabby Gabrielas in class tend to dominate the conversation. But the students doing the talking are often the ones doing the most learning—so teachers need to find thoughtful ways to encourage reluctant talkers to take part in classroom conversations.

Here are seven strategies to get quiet kids talking:

1. Tell students in advance that you will be calling on them to give an answer. This is a way to establish the expectation that students should contribute in class and set them up to succeed. For example, in math class, you might ask Chatty Cathy to explain Problem #1. Then, as you ask students to review Problem #2 individually, mention to Reluctant Rob that you will be asking for him to help set up the problem.

You can ease students into this process by asking them simple questions: What numbers are important in the problem, which character was his/her favorite in that section, or to remind the class which question everyone is on. As you build success with structured scaffolded answers, reluctant students will become more willing to share their ideas and get more involved in classroom conversations.

2. Purposefully create discussion groups with only quiet students so talkative students do not dominate the conversation. Quiet students may be more willing to get involved in a small group discussion than in large-group situations. Creating groups with reluctant conversationalists pushes them to step out of their comfort zones to talk to one another—and prevents the more extroverted students from monopolizing the conversation.

End the assignment with a group share-out by a member who is chosen randomly (one fun way is to select the person whose birthday is closest to the date). Groups should share-out once with each group in the class, giving each member in the group a chance to participate.

3. Create opportunities for students to share their group work, either with another group or the entire class. When students are invested in the work they are sharing, they’re more likely to be enthusiastic to talk about it. Having some sort of prop, such as a poster, drawing, or model, can help students keep their thoughts organized while they speak.

One example is to have two quiet students work together to present on their group’s work. If possible, have them practice with just you or another student before presenting to the entire class. The security of knowing they’ve walked through the process once—and the comfort of having being partnered with someone who shares their fears—can lead students to success.

4. Allow students to move around and learn kinesthetically. A great activity to get kids talking is a gallery walk. Hang or stage several pieces from an assignment in strategic locations around the classroom and have students travel in small groups from location to location. Make sure to build in activities that require students to collaborate—such as adding the next step in solving a math problem, commenting on a quote from a novel, reading selections from historically relevant pieces of text, or brainstorming what they know about your upcoming science unit.

You also might use large poster boards to which students add their thoughts with markers and highlighters or sticky notes. As students move around the room, conversations will naturally occur at each station. For reluctant contributors, the movement and lack of one-on-one contact can make talking to others less intimidating. Again, large group share-outs at the end lend themselves well to encouraging contributions by students.

5. Have students use a document camera or projector. Projecting completed work and responding to guided questions is much less stressful than talking off the cuff. This strategy works well in any subject, but I particularly like to use it in math class. I project a student’s solution to a problem and ask the student to walk us through the steps, or I invite other students to critique the work. By carefully choosing quiet students to explain steps or problems that require less explanation, they are included in the process—but are less threatened than by long or more thorough explanations.

You can also use the projector to show writing samples from students and have them go to the board to highlight examples of a literary technique (similes, metaphors, vivid verbs, correct punctuation, parts of speech), give answers to specific questions on a map, or show how a diagram works. The process of allowing students to use a picture that they have already interacted with gives them power and confidence when explaining their answer. If getting in front of the class seems too stressful for a student, you can project their work on the board and have them comment from their seat.

6. Do a round robin or popcorn discussion. After a video, have students share one thing they learned, liked, or were confused about. Quickly call on students one at a time to share out, but subtly let quieter students know their turn is coming. For example: “Sam, I see you want to be next, and then we will go to Chris,” (even if Chris doesn’t look ready to share). Shorter answers are easier for students to come up with, and knowing their turn is coming gives them time to formulate their answer.

7. Set aside time to work with quiet students one on one. You’ll often discover quiet students know a lot about the material taught in your class—but are simply intimidated by the process of speaking out. Ask them ways you can encourage them to share with the class. Offer them opportunities to talk to just you. Have them suggest who they are comfortable talking in front of. Perhaps let them choose two classmates to present a project to at lunch time instead of presenting to the whole class. Or, allow them to choose a presenting partner, if that would that help their anxiety. If you give students multiple options for reaching success, you will find at least one that works for each child.

By using multiple strategies—and having much patience and encouragement—you will find ways to involve even the quietest students in your classroom. One day, you might even be surprised to find them volunteering to speak!

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