Get Kids to Participate in Lessons
Some of your students will be so outgoing and extroverted you'll sometimes have trouble getting them to stop talking. They're bursting with ideas, opinions, pronouncements, and free advice. Then there are the kids in the middle, who are a remarkable blend of silence and eloquence, reticence and courage, wariness and boldness. Finally, you have the students who are so introverted that if you don't call their names and practically force them to speak, you'll almost never hear their voices. For all of your students, participation in classroom lessons and discussions is crucial for their academic success. Make sure that all students join in your lessons so they can get the maximum benefit from your teaching.
An excellent way to get a shy kid to participate in a lesson is to ask the child to lead a mini-lesson, as if she were a bona fide teacher. You shouldn't feel nervous about such an idea because you're not expecting a child to lead your class in a complicated lesson for a full instructional day; you're just asking the student to try to conquer her shyness by doing a few minutes of teaching. Your shy kids are probably afraid of public speaking because they automatically assume they'll be ridiculed as soon as they open their mouths. Here's where you, as the teacher, can help.
The fear of public speaking, afflicting kids and adults alike, is called glossophobia, from the Greek words glossa, meaning “tongue,” and phobos, meaning “fear.” Fear of public speaking is believed to be the single most common phobia, affecting almost three-fourths of the population.
First, begin your lesson normally by distributing materials, stating the lesson objectives, relating the lesson content to the students' lives, etc. Then, once the lesson has begun, introduce a subtask a student can lead the class in for a few minutes, under your guidance.
For example, during a lesson on adjectives, you'll define an adjective as a word that modifies a noun. However, you'll generally spend time reviewing the topic of nouns first as a lead in to the somewhat more complicated concept of adjectives. Under the whiteboard heading “Adjectives,” you can write the subhead “Nouns” on the instructional whiteboard. Underneath, write “What is a noun? A noun is,” followed by a long blank line or sufficient white space to complete the definition of a noun.
At this point, explain that one of the students will come up and provide the already learned definition of a noun; in other words, a student will briefly lead the lesson. Draw three wide columns on the board, labeling them “People,” “Places,” and “Things.” Explain that students will be coming to the board to write words naming people, places, and things in the proper columns — under the supervision of your temporary student teacher, who will keep this review portion of the lesson running smoothly.
Next, deliver a mini-speech telling students they are supposed to treat each other fairly and that you won't tolerate any ridiculing, verbal abuse, or insults. Explain that the consequences will be severe for such misbehavior. Remind students that if they can't encourage each other, they should remain silent. Then request a volunteer.
Unless there's a safety issue involved, don't use the full weight of your authority to force a student to perform an academic task that seems to terrify him. If he's genuinely fearful, just skip it; he may have unpleasant memories associated with that particular exercise. Discuss the matter with his parents to discover possible solutions.
But here's what you won't tell all your brave volunteers: You're not actually looking for volunteers; you've already decided to draft someone — the shyest kid in the class. Among the raised hands, there he sits, possibly with his hands folded, slumped a bit in his seat, hoping he'll never be noticed. You smile, and gently explain that you need him to come up for a minute. Once you've skillfully gotten him out of his seat, tell him that he will lead the class, selecting a volunteer to write a noun definition and selecting other volunteers to write five nouns in each column. Encourage him with a few well-chosen words of praise and a parting smile. Then move to the side or the back of the classroom, nodding to offer additional encouragement.
Of course, if you note any real resistance on the student's part, or the onset of trembling or tears, immediately excuse the student from the task and quickly pick one of your more-than-willing extroverts. But remind the shy student you hope to have him lead the class during another lesson. Keep planting those seeds until he resigns himself to the inevitability that he is going to lead the class one day soon. With a bit of luck, he may eventually begin to look forward to the idea.
This tack is not without risk, as your shy kids may prove noncooperative — paralyzed by fear. But the potential rewards are well worth the risk. Helping your shy kids face their fears in this way may constitute the first step toward helping them conquer such fears. Otherwise, their continuing lack of participation may jeopardize their grades and hold them back forever. Take a chance — the heart of a lion may be beating within that gentle lamb.