Ways to Make Your Classrooms Introvert-Friendly

How to Engage the Student Voice of your Introvert Students

Full disclosure: I am not an introvert.  In fact, I’d tell my life story to the kid in McDonald’s drive-thru.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had a thought or feeling that did not get expressed verbally.

That being said, for some strange reason I gave birth to three introverts.  And since I teach college courses, I see plenty of introverts every day.  And I have been busy trying to determine the best way to teach these strange, foreign creatures that I encounter.  😉

I started with this TED Talk from Susan Cain, and followed with her book.  There’s no doubt, the world gives credit to extroverts.  And that is very evident in our classrooms.  We can spot the Hermoines right away.  The introverts, however, tend to answer in their heads first.  Or perhaps they have a great response but just don’t feel like sharing it.

This afternoon I talked with Son #1 extensively about how he feels in his university classrooms as an introvert. Here’s the money quote:

“The fact that class participation is a part of my grade really burns my butt.”

Gets to the point, huh?  We’ve all had Hermoines in our classrooms.  We can spot them on the first day.  But what about those who are thinking, yet not necessarily talking?   I resolved last year to make my classrooms more “introvert-friendly”.

Here, in no particular order, are some ways I tried to make my classes more comfortable for introverts:

  • Twitter:  Ever had a class discussion on Twitter?  Those introverts in the back of the room who shy away from eye contact will come to life when they Tweet.  Trust me.  I’ll post a question using our class hashtag and then ask them to respond via Twitter using the same tag.  I’ll put up Tweetbeam or Twitterfall so that our tweets show up on the screen in front.  Twitter discussions give students time to really formulate a response. Time to think.  There’s no rush to be the first to respond.
  • WheelDecide is a fun little site where you can enter options on a wheel and then “spin it”.  Each semester I do a wheel for each of my classes with each of their names on the wheel.  The wheel spins for 5-6 seconds or so….but once we do the wheel, anyone in class knows their name could come up.  It catches no one off guard.  (Although, it is slightly embarassing when the first couple names have actually skipped class that day….but I digress.)
  • QuizIzz is a fun online quiz game.  But here’s why introverts like it better than Kahoot: it’s not speed based and they can move at their own pace.  Kahoot is perfect for the speed-thinking, ready-to-answer extrovert. But with QuizIzz, you get the same vibe of an online quiz game without the stress of being timed in your responses.
  • Meme and Sign Generators  This link will take you to my Livebinder of fun classroom tools where I have a tab for meme and sign generators.  Why not ask students to create a sign or meme as some sort of “exit ticket”? You’ll see those quiet creative types go to town with this kind of thing.
  • Answer with your Feet – Ever hang “answers” in the corners of your room, and then have your students move their bodies to the corner that represents their “answer” to whatever question you have posed?  Not only does it get them up and moving around (much to the chagrin of my 9am Monday morning classes…) but it means that introverts can answer without doing so verbally.  Engaged in class without having to talk?  That’s a win-win for the introverts I know.
  • Poll Everywhere  is a great assessment/discussion tool that engages students thru their phones.  You can create a question or quiz in advance, and when the students answer, the results are shown in real time.  Another example of ways to engage the non-talkers but still get their opinions and/or responses.
  • Poster-Sized Post-Its  These are SO MUCH FUN.  Put a few up around the room, pose a question, and then set the students loose with markers.  You’ll see engagement, but you’ll also be able to see your introverts in action as they move at their own pace.  Give them a set time so they know there is no rush, and you’ll be amazed with the results.  At the end of class?  Tell them they can take notes by taking photos with their phones.
  • You can help your introverts out in a very simple way as well:  pose a question and then ask the class to write their response to the question down.  This gives them time to really formulate a response, and it also means everyone will have a response ready when you call on them.
  • The Beach Ball   basically strikes terror into the hearts of introverts but at least when the beach ball is bouncing around, they KNOW there’s a chance they might end up with it.  It’s not like calling on them “cold turkey”.

These are just some ways I’ve tried to jazz up my classes in addition to making my introverts a bit more comfortable.  I typically have 60 in class, so it’s easy for one to be anonymous if one chooses.  But I feel like we have so much to learn from each other – that if we’re only learning from the ones who are talking, we are missing out.

Student voice is so important.  Remember that “student voice” doesn’t necessarily mean verbal activity.

Next time you create a syllabus that gives points for participation,  please give a thought to the introverts in your classroom.  They are thinking, even if they might not be talking.  Remember, still waters run deep.

2 thoughts on “Ways to Make Your Classrooms Introvert-Friendly

  1. Julie,

    Awesome post!

    As a learner, I tend to think more like an introvert most of the time. I need time to process information, think about it and then respond. I typically revise my responses many times. I love the idea of a “gallery walk” type activity where everyone is engaged at the same time. I have also loved the interaction through Twitter chats where I can lurk and learn, or participate as much or little as I want.

    In the same respect, as a teacher, I tend to be more of an extrovert thinker. I can switch gears on the spot in lessons and think on my feet extremely well. The same holds true for providing professional development to adults. However, I am not afraid to say I need to think about it and “get back to you” either.

    In my personal life, I tend to be both depending on the day or my mood. I can be extremely outgoing and chatty, while other days I like my “me-time” and am more quiet.

    I think it is critical that we recognize both types of learners in our students. My 8th graders often had the misconception that if they didn’t “talk a lot” they weren’t contributing. We had an important conversation about the power of extroverts and introverts.

    Thanks for the post!


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