Quiet Students? 5 Ways to Get Them Speaking!

posted in: Building Confidence | 24

quiet students
Do you ever feel ‘guilty’ for putting one of your quiet students on the spot? Or do you find yourself regularly calling on one of your chatterboxes to prevent any ‘quiet-student-discomfort’?

What if you are landed with an entire class of ‘thinkers’?

I’ve noticed in observations that for many teachers, it’s their natural instinct to compensate for this with more teacher-talk to fill in the awkward silences ….which isn’t the answer either.


The good news is that there are strategies for encouraging quiet students to be more confident in their spoken production in class.  Do they work?  Yes!  Tried and tested!

 Get them Speaking!


  1. The Prepared One

The quiet ones are often reflective learners and require more time than an active learner, who thinks as they speak, to structure a response in their minds and formulate their thoughts before speaking out in front of their class.  Calling on quiet/introvert students and forcing them into the spotlight can be very stressful.  Give them adequate time to prepare their opinions before asking them to speak in front of the class.  Tell them that in five minutes, you will be asking them for their opinion so that they know what’s coming….

  1. The Unsurprised One

As well as outlining your lesson objectives and adding these to your whiteboard at the beginning of your lesson, why not inform your students of how you are going to structure your lessons in terms of class participation today?


1) pair work discussion on the topic of crime in your country
2) summarise your partner’s opinions for the class
3) group work discussion on crimes/punishments
4) group swap to share opinions/ideas with new group

By doing this, you are eliminating the element of surprise for your quieter students and giving them time to mentally prepare for a task they might not feel comfortable about, such as the group work discussion and in turn, creating a comfortable and non-threatening condition to express their opinions.


  1. The Informed One

It’s not a secret, is it? At the end of your lesson, inform your students of tomorrow’s topic.  This will give your less confident and quieter students time to go home and prepare their thoughts in a structured way so that they are not left tongue-tied when asked for their opinion on ‘Drink-driving’.   You could even start a discussion forum using MAILVU, an online tool to record audio messages.  You could set a lead-in question on a topic and ask your students to reply to you with an opinion, which can be expanded on the next day in class.  (Click here for previous post on tools you can use with students outside the classroom)


  1. The Relaxed One

Do you have one or two students who are first to give their opinion, ask and answer a question, jump in before you finish giving instructions? Try to become more aware of how you manage these students.  It’s very easy to let students like these take control of the class….while the quieter students relax, sitting calmly back, thinking, ‘Pablo will answer this.’  Don’t go for the raised hand each time; give others an opportunity to answer.  Maybe the quiet student who hasn’t said anything yet will come forward with her opinions she prepared last night….


  1. The Observant One

How well are you doing at ensuring all students are participating, that nobody is left out, that no one student is dominating, giving nobody else a look in?  Maybe your students are aware of participatory patterns/habits forming in the class that you’re not!  Use their feedback to inform your classroom management… (click here for previous post on student feedback)


Do you have any other techniques that you use in class to get your quiet students speaking? Give us your tips in the discussion box below…

24 Responses

  1. I like Cheryl’s strategy of making the quiet person the group leader, brings them into the middle of things organically.

    I think speaking assessments are making people more confident, generally, which is nice! It seems to give them practice at speaking in class.

  2. Julie Mizrahi

    In addition to the ideas above, I think it’s useful to point out that some students are reluctant to speak in class because of the cultural differences. I think most of us have experienced seemingly very shy Asian students who feel that it is disrespectful to speak up and participate and are often left out as more outgoing Spanish and Italian students cheerfully dominate any speaking activity. As a warmer or even getting to know you activity with a group of multi-lingal students I have in the past handed out a reading text to new students informing them of what is expected of them in class, including the fact that they should talk as much as possible. It points out that answering teacher’s questions is great and that they should feel free to (respectfully) interrupt and ask questions and express opinions. The students are then encouraged to discuss the text in small groups and find out from each other how this compares with their English classes in their own country.

    • Thanks Julie and Jo! I agree that much of the time this is down to cultural differences. Students not being familiar with the communicative approach and getting ‘stage fright’ when having to speak up. Jo, I would be interested in hearing how making one of these students a group leader would impact them…In my experience, it would be the last role they would want to take on. Maybe we could give each student in the group a specific role so that no one student can sit back while the more outgoing ones do all the speaking? But at the same time, no giving any one student the lead role? Role could be: THE INITIATOR who gets things going, THE OPINION GIVER, THE OPINION SEEKER, who asks for clarification, expansion, THE GATEKEEPER, who encourages and facilitates participation from all members of the group…what do you think?

      • Cheryl Malanek

        I think making a quieter student a group leader (they will report the findings) is a good thing. That way even if they are reluctunt to take part in the conversation they can summarize the argument- they are contributing. They know they have a task to do and can’t sit back and let other students take the lead. Also, telling them in advance that they are in this role means you aren’t putting them on the spot. I would generally change the ‘group leader’ for each task so that students don’t feel picked on. Giving everyone in the group a role is a good idea although I think students tend to ‘forget’ their role after a few minutes. Maybe something to encourage turn-taking would help. For example, give each group a ball, students must pass the ball around and can only speak if they are holding the ball. This would mean everyone had a more equal opportunity to speak and listen.

    • Any particular text Julie?

  3. Hi Aoife

    Like the article – some very good ideas there.

    One technique I find very useful is to draw on the learner’s life experiences – even the quietest of students is usually willing to talk about something that relates to them directly. it works especially well with adult learners and can be of benefit to us the teachers too. It is amazing what you can learn from your students! You can start the discussion by giving an example from your own experiences and usually it takes off from there.

  4. Appreciate all the suggestion.
    First i think we hv to find out the basic reason of child quietness n then try to solve it, like in my society i found, the reason of being quietness is:
    They feel if something wrong or false answere, will make whole class laugh n make fun of them.In other words they feel insulted.
    Solution is,
    1.Guide the kids to respect each other opinion.
    2.Discuss on kids interest topics.
    3.Make it simpler so every child could understand.Means use the vocabulary that is of their level.
    4.Make a groups n put them in their friends group where they feel comfortable to share ideas.
    5.Teacher should’nt use any words or sentences that demoralize or hurt child’s self esteem.
    6.Teacher should create an enviornment where child feel free to express his/her ideas.
    7.Have one to one separate discussion

    • Thanks Tani, some really good suggestions there. Yes, in many cultures, students are conscious about making mistakes infront of their classmates and ‘losing face’. You make a good point about teachers creating a comfortable environment for students (of any age) to express their opinions.

  5. Florence Ito

    Thank you for sharing your awesome ideas. I will try those procedures too enable to improve my teaching strategy and to help quiet students to be more active in class.
    At school we’re doing Talk and Talk with pair and move within a row. Students take turns of asking and answering the question. After each turns they have to assess and give feedback towards their pair.

    • Hi Florence, thanks for your comment. I like your idea of ‘talk and talk’, moving around class and then students giving feedback. Do your students enjoy giving each other feedback? Pair work is also less threatening for quiet students than group or whole class discussions. I’d like to hear more about your activity…

    • Florence Ito

      My students really enjoyed pair feedback because gradually they can improved their English communication ability. Also, during the talk and talk, students have had a chance to correct each other and they appreciated this.

  6. Thank you everyone for sharing your thoughts on how to make quieter students speak.

    I have been trying hard to help my students speak especially ones who are low on English skills, but it doesn’t seem to work. Basically I give topics in advance so that they jot down their ideas. Also, I direct them to practice speaking at home and while speaking make a video. The idea is to help them gain confidence; however, it seems I have been trying in vain. And just to make it clearer, they have only 1 English class every week. So, they have enough time to prepare.

    Any ideas about motivating students, especially when they have become laid back because of the way the system works at a school?

    • Hi Kash,
      Your ideas for encouraging them to speak are good ones. It must be difficult that you only see them for one class a week. It’s very little time to really make an impact and build their confidence in speaking English. Have you thought about pairing them with a classmate and giving them communicative homework where they have to meet and communicative complete an activity or if they can’t meet face to face, maybe they could Skype? I think the key here is getting them to continue speaking in English to each other outside the classroom, but giving them a reason for doing this, a project or task to compete in pairs/groups. Anyone else have any other ideas?

  7. Hari prasad pandey

    Very nice I likr

  8. Hi, I have two classes where there are only quiet students. They are in groups of 12 people so it gives us a lot of space to talk and express opinions. However, they wait untill I call their name and then they say “I don’t know”. They are very good at English, when they are asked to work in pairs, they talk a lot and they are very fluent. Sometimes I want the whole class to discuss something and that’s really nightmare. Other classes are different and they speak very naturally. Anyone has ever experienced something like that?

    • Hi Andrea, thanks for your comment. It’s difficult when you are trying to get them speaking and you are getting no response. The fact that they fully engaged in pair work makes me think that it’s ‘stage fright’, afraid of making mistakes in front of their peers. Maybe you need to slowly get them used to speaking in front of more people by doing more group work? And then when ready, class discussions. Maybe you could forbid ‘I don’t know’ from class vocabulary and make it into a game. I also find that the more students are engaged in a topic or discussion, the less conscious they are and the more willing they are to communicate. Anyone else have ideas?

  9. Rebeccah Rothwell-Jackson

    Every teacher should read Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’ and watch her T.E.D. talk too!

  10. Hi Rebecca. This is a great book. I have it on my shelf and her TED talk is amazing. Introversion is certainly one of the reasons students don’t speak up but these strategies do help quiet students feel more comfortable and in control and in time, it becomes easier to talk in front of the group.

  11. Hi,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on Saturday’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.


  12. A colleague who is himself quite reserved suggested I not leave the shy student to the end when going round the class for contributions: he says waiting for the attention to fall on you is awful for shy people. Seems to be excellent advice.

    • That’s really interesting – thanks for your input Alva. It’s something that is often overlooked as teachers feel giving the student more time to formulate their thoughts would help and not cause extra stress. Really good point…!!

  13. I think that the best way to make quiet studends more active is by using warms up games,songs, etc. This will be helpful and more enjoyable.

  14. Christine Thabet

    A lot of quiet learners try to keep a low profile so that the quicker ones jump in and answer in their place. I have reintroduced miniwhiteboards into both kids and adults classes so that I get to see eveyone’s answer, even the slow and quiet learners. It is not the same as participating in a discussion, but it encourages them when they know that their respose is just as welcoe and valuable as the others. I find that they don’t switch off and day dream when we have the whiteboards on the tables. It is ony a partial solution, but it is a beginning!

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