Student Engagement

Creating Paths to Participation for Introverts

These tools and strategies can help introverts show what they know and participate in class in ways that are comfortable for them.

A student filming herself talking on a DSLR camera

Who are you hearing from in your class? As a sixth-grade teacher, I used to encourage my students who didn’t speak up in read-aloud discussions, morning meetings, or whole class lessons. I would write comments of encouragement and cheer moments of participation. And when it came to pondering how they did on certain standards, such as “participates in class discussions about literature,” I had plenty of data to support my scores.

But was I really giving the introverted students a chance to show what they knew and could do if I only considered whole class participation data?

We know students learn in different ways and are working to develop in their zone of proximal development. Teachers regularly differentiate and personalize learning for students’ dispositions, abilities, interests, backgrounds, and personality types. But it has taken the education community quite a long time to consider introverts.

The good news is, there are practices, assessments, and procedures that support introverts in an often extroverted world.

Successful Experiences for Our Introverted Students

1. Participating through Google Docs collaboration: A teacher named Sam Nelson shared this with me. He created a Google Doc discussion tracker and would share it with his students a few days before a class literature or civics discussion. He asked students to post in-depth questions about a shared reading to the doc. Students could respond to their peers’ questions, and Sam read some of the questions and answers aloud in class, thereby avoiding some of the stress so many introverts struggle with when they fear they may be called on to respond on the spot.

This technique allows a teacher to see a student’s level of understanding—through both their questions and answers—without waiting for them to speak in class. Sam says of this approach, “Students can use the digital discussions as a basis for approaching, exploring, processing, or reflecting on content. While we can review the discussion trackers out loud, we can also use small groups or independent review protocols to get students following the digital discussions. And best of all, those introverted students who struggle with out-loud participation can shine as digital participants—when you look at the editing history of the doc, every word they’ve contributed is tagged with their name.”

This is a low-risk way for introverted students to participate and feel important and valued in a discussion. And the student responses can be used as formative assessment.

2. Participating through Google Classroom: In literacy class, I used to have students respond to questions and prompts about their reading in literacy journals, where they worked on developing their reading strategies and author’s craft, and reflected on themes in their reading.

Some students wouldn’t feel comfortable reading their entries in small group discussions. But when I started posting the prompts on Google Classroom and asking students to respond to each other, my introverts rose to the occasion, posting comments and questions. It’s like they had been waiting for this tool.

Journal entries in Google Classroom make a great formative assessment, and I could record students’ comments and questions to track participation.

3. Digital brainstorming via Padlet: For an introvert with a great idea, trying to be heard can be an uphill battle. Kids call out, interrupt, and finish your sentences. During brainstorming sessions with the class about projects, solutions, ideas, and plans, teachers can use a digital space such as Padlet to have students post their ideas, and everyone’s contributions can be seen by all. This is a great tool for all students.

4. Using digital choices for reflection: Sharing their innermost thoughts about a learning experience or current event can be terrifying for introverts. Yes, we need to encourage them to use their voices, but students need to take small steps and be encouraged along the way.

Giving students choice in how they reflect on their learning can promote more engagement from introverts, and it provides more opportunity for expression. Students can doodle their thoughts in Google Draw, record their voices on VoiceThread or Flipgrid, or caption a photo or artwork, for example.

5. Providing choice in presentations: All students need to showcase and present their work to authentic audiences to feel relevant and important. Introverted students benefit from some choice here, too. Speeches, news broadcasts, interviews, or TED-style talks can be recorded and shared in lieu of a live presentation.

What matters is that students demonstrate their learning and challenge themselves in meaningful ways.

6. Practicing social interactions: All students need to learn life skills like talking to community mentors and experts in the field. This can be particularly stressful for introverts, so they might need to write a script for the communication and to practice it with a trusted adult or peer. This step can create a positive social experience instead of a potentially scary, unpredictable one.

7. Providing down time: One of the mistakes I regularly make as an extrovert is planning too many activities with lots of stimulation, with no downtime or reflective time in between. With our busy school days, this is an easy mistake to make. It’s no wonder that my students valued 30-minute blocks for choice reading and 15–20 minutes of read-aloud time. These were the only times during the day when students could take a true breather—just pick a spot to sit and engage with a personally meaningful text. Providing more time like this throughout the day, particularly on hectic days, can be calming for students.