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Keeping Introverts Engaged

Full disclosure: I am an introvert. As a young student I was the student that followed all the rules and never raised my hand or spoke out. I did not want attention called to myself. In a group, I rarely spoke and never took charge.

I am fairly certain I would not have enjoyed STEM class.

Shocking, I know! How can I be the teacher of a STEM class now? Funny how that works. It seems odd, but I am so glad that I had this problem. It makes me completely understand the students in STEM class now that do not want to participate. Maybe, I can give you some ideas!

STEM Class: A blog post about those students that are quiet and shy and some tips to make sure they feel included.
Keeping Those Shy Students Engaged

I have a few thoughts I can share about those little shy, non-participating students. My strategies work usually, but there are many reasons students are not actively engaged. More about this later. For now, we will tackle a few different areas that I notice unengaged students and what I do about it.

  • Sharing Ideas
  • Performing a job in the group
  • Talking with teammates
  • Taking part in the sharing of finished projects

Those are the main times I do notice that a student is sitting quietly, doodling, or just not taking part.

Sharing Ideas

We follow the steps of the Engineering Design Process in our classroom. This starts with learning some background for the challenge and imagining what we can do to build the structure or solve a problem. It is at this point that students on a team begin to talk with one another.

It is normal for introverts to hesitate to speak up and I usually do not intervene at this point. I think organizing their thoughts and deciding what they want to contribute hinders the shy student. I personally will not speak until I have practiced (in my head) what I am going to say.

There comes a time in our procedure, however, when sharing becomes important. I ask that every student sketch an idea for the task and then share it with the team. Two things are likely to happen:

  • The shy student will not sketch anything and will tell me they do not have an idea.
  • The shy student will show a sketch but will not talk about it with teammates or will just not speak at all.

So, what do you do? I approach a student that is not sketching and ask questions. It might sound like this: “What is your idea? Oh, you are not artistic and just don’t want to draw. Well, tell me what you are thinking. Okay, you know, that is a great idea. Instead of drawing it, can you just jot down the most important parts?” Keep in mind that it is possible the shy student has a great idea, but drawing it means they must share it and that is the scary part for them!

So, what happens when it is time to share? When I notice a reluctant student I approach that student quietly and ask them what they are thinking. They may explain their idea but let me know they do not want to share. They may also tell me they just do not have an idea. Here is the response I usually give: “Okay, that’s fine. I understand, But I think you need to be supportive of your team. So, during the sharing idea time you should tell your team that you do not have an idea today but you will help them build whatever is decided.”

This places some responsibility on the shy student. They will participate but can use my guiding words to do so. It also lets the team know they have a teammate that will be helpful.

Do you have a job?

This is the next step of the design process in our procedures. After a design idea has been adopted each team must make a list of jobs that will be needed for the task. Then each team member takes on a job. The shy student has a built-in system to have a job without the anxiety of being left out of the job choices because of not saying anything.

Does this always work? Of course not! These are third, fourth, and fifth graders! So, as I make my rounds I will stop and ask questions when I see a student sitting and doing nothing. I usually say, “Hey, what is your job today?”

If the student indicates they do not have a job, I ask the team for their job list (yes, they must jot down the jobs and assignments). I can speak with the whole team and rearrange the assignments and make sure the shy student is included and understands what he or she should be doing.


Talking with teammates is always going to be the hardest part for introverts. They naturally get left out because others are louder, more vocal, or more active.

This is why we stop and take brain breaks. When I see groups getting frustrated or groups struggling I will give a signal and have every group stop. I will then mention what I am seeing and ask every group to talk about how we can solve the problems we have encountered. Then each group shares a possible solution.

Not only does this help the struggling group it allows some conversation to take place on teams that have someone that is not speaking up. When I know which student is being left out I will sometimes go to the team and listen to their talk and try to pull in the shy student by asking what they are thinking. This can be tricky because it puts that student on the spot, but I will preface the question with something that I have observed, “Hey I saw Alice using the tape in a new way. Alice, what was that you were doing? Maybe that is something that will help the team that is having a hard time right now.” (This is just an example of something that might be happening.)

Presentation Time

At the end of our class, we have a sharing time. This is when the class moves to stand by the table of one team. The team shows what they have built and tells us about it. Then we rotate to the next table. It would be ideal if every student on the team speaks during the sharing. But, the introvert is not comfortable with this! Speaking to three teammates is completely different from speaking to a large group. I do not insist that the shy person say something.

But, if I have noticed something the shy student did during the building time I may ask them to share that. You can consider asking the student before share time if they would be willing to do so.

What about unknown reasons?

There are so many reasons that students might not participate during STEM class. It can be due to shyness, but it can be problems at home, problems in their regular classroom, not feeling well, and so much more.

It is important that even specialists know about anything that might be affecting a student. I rely on regular classroom teachers. Many of them will whisper something to me when dropping off their students and I know to watch a student during class. After class, I will sometimes ask teachers about a particular student that I have observed behaving differently than normal.

Overwhelming, I know!

This was a lot of information to throw at you in one sitting! It is overwhelming. But here is the good news. This is all natural. You do it all day long. It is a practice teachers use every single day. We try to reach those quiet shy students and those troubled students. We want them to feel safe and included as a member of the team- whether it is small group or a large class.

I’d love to hear how you encourage your introverts!

STEM Class: A blog post about those students that are quiet and shy and some tips to make sure they feel included.
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