6 classroom engagement strategies to reach introverted students

Young woman hiding behind leaves

Inevitably, every class contains a handful of students who are eager to answer every question, dominate the debate, and lead all the group projects. It’s easy for teachers to allow these exuberant students to carry the whole class, but then you might be overlooking some of your most gifted students. Experts suggest that a quarter to half of your students could be introverts. Just because they don’t speak up doesn’t mean they aren’t listening or that they don’t care about learning. As a teacher, how can you implement classroom engagement strategies to reach your introverted students? You can start by learning more about the inner world of the introvert.

Who are introverts?

The concepts of extroverts and introverts were first developed by the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung in the 1920s. The idea took off, and these days many personality tests, including the famous Myers-Briggs test, incorporate extroversion and introversion as major personality traits.

In a nutshell, extroverts thrive in large groups, fast-paced environments, and active pursuits. They tend to be the life of the party, love to meet new people, and gain energy from others. Introverts, on the other hand, need space and solitude to recharge. They are not necessarily shy (a common misperception), and they can even put themselves in the spotlight in small doses. What sets them apart from extroverts is that they often enjoy and prefer time by themselves. They aren’t usually the first to raise their hand in class and they tend to take longer to open up to new people. While introverts can be excellent group leaders, this is often a duty conferred to them rather than voluntarily requested.

Introverts can be incredibly intelligent, thoughtful, and creative, though they tend to keep these traits hidden. Teachers need to appreciate the differences between their extroverted and introverted students and find ways to help their introverted students share their gifts with the class.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingsuggests that schools (and much of U.S. society) are optimized for extroverts and reward students who are outgoing, friendly, speak first, and participate. This puts introverts at a disadvantage, especially in classrooms where grades depend on active participation.

That doesn’t have to be your classroom. Here are six classroom engagement strategies to help even your most introverted students bloom.

Institute “Think Time”

woman in gray dress resting her hands on white table

Teacher Patricia Clendening Buzzerio explains that adding “think time” into her classroom is one of her favorite strategies for engaging her introverted students. As Buzzerio explains, “Ask a question, but ask for a minute of quiet (think time) before answering the question.”

Think time allows introverted students to gather their thoughts and also prevents extroverted students from immediately answering the first thing that comes to mind.

Write Down Responses First

Another great way to give introverted students the time and space they need to fully think out their answer to a question is to ask students to write their answers down instead of raising hands and answering out loud. Expand on this task by asking students to share their written answers with a partner and then, if the student is comfortable, with the full class.

Pairs, Small Groups, Singles

Introverted students can feel overwhelmed when thrown in with a large group to work on an assignment. This is especially true if the group contains a strong extrovert who “takes charge.” To make sure your introverted students participate equally, consider putting together smaller groups, doing more partner work, or even allowing students to work alone if they choose.

Offer Different Paths to Complete an Assignment

You decide it would be fun to divide your students into four groups and assign each group to record an alternate ending to the book you just read as a class. While it’s easier for you as an educator to create a minimum number of groups (less grading) and to assign everyone the same task, this isn’t a good scenario for your introverted students who might get overshadowed in a larger group.

Instead, consider outlining a general assignment—create an alternative ending to the novel—and then allowing your students to take that concept and run with it any way they wish. Your extroverted students may love teaming up and creating a fun, entertaining video while your introverted students may prefer to work with a partner or alone. You may be surprised by what they come up with, possibly offering an animated video they drew, a short story they wrote, or an interactive slideshow to complete the assignment.

Be Available

Just because your introverted students don’t raise their hand in class or participate in the group discussion doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged in the material. In fact, they could be brimming with questions, thoughts, and unique perspectives.

Give them different options for sharing their opinion by making yourself available in a variety of ways. Reiterate your office hours and invite your least talkative students to stop by and discuss the material with you one-on-one. Give out your email address and encourage students to ask you questions directly. Even a class message board or group messaging channel can help introverted students feel more comfortable participating.

Perform Anonymous Polling

With Poll Everywhere, our software offers you the perfect way to engage your introverted students. Now, you can ask questions and your students can answer anonymously through their phones or laptops. The answers will aggregate on the screen, so everyone has a chance to participate. Ask multiple choice questions, have students vote on several options, or ask open-ended questions. With Poll Everywhere, all of your students—extroverts and introverts—can participate in the discussion and be heard!

Learn more about Poll Everywhere including our pricing. We also have a great blog on how to keep your students focused during the summer.

With these classroom engagement strategies in mind, you can make sure that everyone in your classroom is learning and participating in the way that suits them best.