Do You Shy Away From Shy Students?

It goes without saying that teachers of teenagers often worry about how fun and dynamic classes must be so as to keep students engaged and motivated. So pervasive is this concern among professionals who teach youngsters that we sometimes tend to disregard the importance of taking into account the quieter and shyer students in our classes.

Before suggesting how teachers can deal with shy students in the classroom, we would like to talk a little bit about shyness. Heitz, D. (2019) explains that ‘shyness is a feeling of fear and discomfort caused by other people, especially in new situations or among strangers. It’s an unpleasant feeling of self-consciousness – a fear of what some people believe others are thinking. This feeling can inhibit a person’s ability to do or say what they want…’

Having this scenario in mind, can you imagine how difficult it is for a shy person to face a language lesson? Language students are, after all, invited to communicate, participate and speak most of the time during a lesson. At least this is what teachers usually expect if they follow a communicative approach. The fact of the matter is to what extent teachers of teenagers are willing to adapt activities in a way that embraces the shy students.

These students don’t want a boring lesson, but they don’t want to be on the spotlight either. They might dread what type of interaction they will be exposed to; moving their bodies, singing and role playing are likely to threaten their well-being, thus their readiness to attend our classes. What we see as a fun activity might be perceived as something that crosses their boundaries. We teachers have to be careful whenever we ask them to perform a task in front of the others. One of the main things teenagers avoid at all costs is getting embarrassed. The best thing to do, then, is to find a common ground in which activities contemplate all students in the group. 

One way to prevent discomfort from happening is to make sure we are providing students with time to prepare their answers before speaking. Another must is to monitor their production carefully, to help them correct any mistakes; by doing so, they’ll feel more confident while being asked to participate. When the moment of feedback with the whole group comes, these students will feel better able to express their ideas. 

There is also another kind of shyness we have to consider: some students are talkative in their own language, but they behave differently when demanded to interact in this learning environment. To illustrate, during activities in which they have to share their opinions, it’s very common to hear they talk in their L1. Lack of language skills notwithstanding, there are students who will access L1 to get away with the task, as if expressing their thoughts were more relevant than attempting to do it in English. If their vocabulary range isn’t enough to say what they want, this kind of student tends to prefer completing their idea in L1 rather than taking the risk of saying it in L2; probably because they are afraid of sounding silly if they express it with more simple words from L2. Their talking just in their L1 might represent they fear experimenting with L2.

One possible strategy to tackle this issue is by encouraging students to give it a try, no matter how many mistakes might appear. If we constantly help them see that mistakes are opportunities to learn, and if we are supportive any time they come up, chances are they will feel gradually in the mood for trying.

Truth be told, there isn’t a magic formula when it comes to dealing with shy students. Being able to recognize they deserve special attention and that our planning can’t exclude them from activities is a start. Also, keeping an open space for them to talk to us about their struggles means we’ve been building rapport effectively.

We would love to delve deeper into this topic if you’re interested. Feel free to contact us at or! Thanks for reading!


What You Should Know About Shyness, Available at <>, Access on October 13, 2019.


A licensed Biology teacher who fell in love with English language teaching in 2011, Michelle Hudson holds the CELTA, TKTs Modules 1-3 and a TESOL certificate from Languages International (Auckland, NZ). She is now based in Seville – Spain, teaching at English Connection and also private students.

Henrique Zamboni has been in ELT for more than 10 years, having worked for different language schools. He holds the CPE and the CELTA, a degree in Letras and a degree in Marketing. He is the founder of Inglês Para Adolescentes, where he is a teacher of teenagers and teacher trainer.

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