How To Help Shy Students Participate in Spanish Class

How To Help Shy Students Participate in Spanish Class

As Spanish teachers, we all have students who are shy or hesitant to participate. However, we know that students must try using the language and work with others to build their proficiency. So here are some ideas on how to help shy students participate in Spanish class!

Build Relationships

Teens are often self-conscious. Asking them to speak in a new language in front of peers is asking them to take a big risk. The first thing we can do to help all teens, and especially the shyer ones, is to help build a class camaraderie. Here are some of the ways I try to help build a safe-feeling environment with peers.

  1. Let students sit with friends at the beginning of the year. I observe…. it will become obvious very quickly who is social and is distracted by being near friends, and who needs a friend nearby to feel safe.
  2. Create a lot of activities that require partner or group work that are not threatening. For example, games and competitions where they need to work together under a time limit really helps to break the ice!

Get To Know Them

It’s also important for teachers to get to know their students. The shyer ones are harder to get to know, but also very important. Building a little trust from teacher to student will help the student feel a bit more confident in class. They will feel seen and understood, and this helps them to be more willing to come out of their comfort zone and more likely to want to please their teacher. Here are some ideas for how to get to know a shy student.

  1. I use these interview questions with all of my students during the first week of the year. (I use the answers to start conversations with kids at the beginning of class.)
  2. I write short notes to students. Using something they told me on the interview questions, or maybe something their parent/guardian told me (I use these documents for parents/guardians) I write a short note and ask a question. I ask them to write back to me. They almost always do!

Help Shy Students Participate in Spanish Class by Holding High Expectations

Sometimes I have caught myself being guilty of having lower expectations for students when they are not fully comfortable with something. I can tell other teachers also have this problem, because some of my students come to me expecting to be exempt from things because they don’t like to do them.

For example: when we practice ILS activities (Integrated Listening and Speaking) there are always a few students in each class who ask:

-can I just do this at home?

-can I do this in the hallway?

-or, who pretend that they’re completing the activity, but don’t record any answers.

An important way to help shy students participate in Spanish class is by holding them to the same expectations as the non-shy students. (I am of course not talking about students with 504 plans or other documented needs.) We need to build up their confidence, express our certainty that they can do these things that feel uncomfortable, and give them room to make mistakes without penalty. I always make a point to tell my classes that I understand that speaking gives many people anxiety. But then I explain that learning a language includes being able to communicate with speech. I will need to assess and grade them eventually, and it is my job to provide them with enough feedback and practice to do well. I also tell them that doing these activities gets easier with time.

Getting Results

I have found that doing these 3 things gets me pretty great results! To be honest, at the beginning of the year, my shy students’ participation rates are often low. By the end of the year, everyone is able to participate, particularly in speaking tasks, in a way that promotes their learning and growth! And as we move along through the year, I ask them to reflect. Remember what it was like at the beginning of the year for you? And they can feel proud of their progress. That is always a win!


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