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How Introverted students learn in the classroom

To their beauty and detriment, schools need to serve everyone, however as systems go, school lends itself to the masses and the ‘loudest’ in the room. After the home environment, the classroom is where ‘formal’ learning and how we ‘should’ learn begins. However, school is by its very nature an ‘extroverted’ environment and teaching an introverted student is something that is not necessarily covered in teacher training.

Sophie Morris, Accredited Stress Management, Resilience coach and EMDR Practitioner, works specifically with introverted children and adults to help them find their voice and confidence without changing who they are. Here, Sophie answers a few questions for teachers and parents to understand how to teach and create an inclusive learning environment for introverted students in the classroom.

  1. What is an introvert?

While there is no scientific definition, what introversion boils down to is your internal supply of energy. Some people find they are drained by social interaction or stimulating environments – even when they’re having fun – and need time alone to recharge (the more introverted), whereas others gain energy from being with other people or in more stimulating environments (the more extroverted). Ambiverts are people who gain energy equally from both types of environments. It really is as simple as that.

Introverts are generally quiet (but not always – context is key), they are reflective, deep thinkers who are often super-observant. This can also mean that they prefer to learn by watching and are often creative solvers of complex problems with great attention to detail. They like to think before they speak and probably don’t enjoy being the centre of attention. It is also really important to understand that introversion is not the same as shyness; which is linked to social anxiety. Anyone can be shy – introvert or extrovert alike.

Our society, including schools, is set up to embrace the extrovert ideal, which can make being an introvert hard because you are constantly being told to speak up, to join in, to be more outgoing. Introversion and extroversion are temperaments that we are born with and are unlikely to change.

Did you know that around 50% of the population is introvert? They are not the minority they can be made to feel.

2. What behaviours should a parent and teacher look out for to help them identify introverts at home and in the classroom?

Introversion-extroversion is a scale and everyone has a comfortable position on it. Sometimes introverts will adapt to a situation and be a bit more extrovert: imagine they have to give a presentation. With the right preparation it’s possible for them to enjoy presenting. However, the important thing is knowing they can then return to their introvert status quo and have some quiet time to recharge. It’s like being a spring that can stretch when required, but will return to its original shape once the task is over.

It is important to add that many introverts pick up that there is something wrong with introversion and may act more extroverted than they feel comfortable with to fit in. In the long term this can lead to an introvert hangover – yes really – and ultimately burnout when the individual is worn out and has continually not had the quiet time necessary to recharge.

Introverts will probably have some or all of these traits:

  • A preference for quieter, less stimulating environments

  • Be more likely to recharge their batteries by spending time alone than by going out with friends

  • Prefer to observe before engaging in new activities or joining large groups

  • A preference to think before they speak

  • Find it easier to express their ideas in writing than speaking

  • Enjoy spending time alone

  • Dislike being asked a question in class or in a meeting

  • Find it hard to speak up in a group of their peers and often feel invisible

  • Don’t like being the centre of attention (this isn’t always the case as many famous actors and musicians are introverts)

  • Generally, prefer to spend time with one or two friends rather than a large group

3. Are there any stigmas attached to being an introvert that teachers should be mindful to quell and avoid?

Unfortunately, there are many common introvert myths. Dictionary definitions and synonyms are also generally negative and misleading, which do not help (particularly when compared to the extrovert equivalents). The most important things teachers can do is to understand introversion and extroversion and dispel any misconceptions and relating stigma.

Here are some of the most common introvert myths:

Introverts are shy

Untrue – and probably the most common introvert myth. Introversion is often confused with shyness, but they are not the same. Shyness is a type of social anxiety and can affect anyone, introvert, extrovert or ambivert.

Introverts don’t like to talk

Introverts generally prefer talking about deeper topics than just small talk and some don’t like to talk unless they feel they have something valuable to contribute. If you find something that they feel passionately about though, you will find it hard to stop them talking!

Introverts don’t like people

This is incorrect. Introverts may have smaller groups of friends than some of their extrovert peers, but they still need social connection and friendship. Introverts form deep connections with their friends and will likely focus on the quality rather than quantity of relationships. Introverts are quiet not hermits.

Introverts are rude and aloof

There is a lot of pressure to fit in and this can exhaust introverts. Also, they can find it hard to talk to people that they don’t know, but this awkwardness is sometimes interpreted as being rude and aloof.

Introverts want to be alone all the time

Untrue. Introverts need time alone to top up their energy levels, but that doesn’t mean they don’t like people. Introverts generally enjoy solitude –some of the time – but just like the extroverts and ambiverts they are wired for connection. There is a difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude can be restorative for an introvert, whereas isolation is damaging for all.

Introverts can’t work as part of a team

This is incorrect. Introverts can be great collaborators as well as working well independently. In a loud group introverts may struggle to be heard, but this doesn’t mean that they can’t collaborate. Maybe it is the group dynamics that need to change and not the introverts within the team.

Introverts can fix themselves and become extroverts

No, no no! Introverts do not need fixing, they just need to be able to be themselves. This is where they will reach their full potential. Extroversion works brilliantly for extroverts, but introverts need their own way of doing things. This is, without doubt, the most damaging introvert myth of them all.

4. A classroom is like a stage for a teacher and practices such as group work, raising your hand and contributing are very common in the classroom. How can these acts be adapted to enable learning for introverted students?

Here are some small adjustments that I hope can help make classrooms more inclusive for all students:

Group work

Think about other ways to encourage collaboration. Introverts can find it hard to contribute in a group environment, particularly if the conversation is being dominated by louder voices. I would suggest working in pairs to begin with, and then joining with other pairs to make a larger group. That way the introverts will likely have shared their opinion with one other person and their thoughts and contributions will make it into the class even if they are not the ultimate spokesperson.

Allow time for silence.

Introverts need time to think to process information. Giving the class a few minutes to consider their opinion before diving in will benefit the quieter in the class and take the pressure off having to have something to say immediately. Because they are super observant and notice things other members of the class may not see, their contributions are likely to be valuable.

Give time to prepare

Give advance notice of a discussion topic to the students, this way everyone and not just the introverts will have time to prepare what they think and be ready to contribute. Introverts often want to contribute, but they often don’t have enough time to process their thoughts to be ready to speak.

The chat function for online learning is particularly suited to quieter students and they can add their thoughts without needing to speak. Alternatively, students could email their thoughts after a particular lesson. This can help check engagement levels and understanding, especially with older students.

5. A teacher always wants to bring the best out of their students. Are there any practical tips you have for teachers to do this for introverted students – especially as students look to go back to the physical classroom in the UK?

Have patience

Allow the quieter members of the class time to reflect and think before calling upon them. Students may have mixed feelings about being back at school. For the introverts it will be mean being able to see their friends, but also spending a lot of time with others, which they will find particularly draining having been at home for so long.

Encourage introverts differently

As I have mentioned previously, introverts and extroverts are wired differently and this is particularly clear with regards to the comfort zone. Often students are pressured to step out of their comfort zones and to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. This approach, again, favours the more extroverted students. For them stepping out of their comfort zone is actually within their comfort zone as they crave the adrenalin that is created in that environment. Not so the introverts. This will likely make them retreat further. Extroverts are often unable to understand how things that seem simple for them are difficult for the introvert. A more successful approach for introverts is to allow them to take things slower, stepping into discomfort and pushing themselves little by little. This doesn’t mean they can’t achieve anything they set their minds to, but they need to do it their own way. Think tortoise rather than hare, but the end result of the introvert is just as impressive as any extroverts.

Allow them to speak

When the quieter students do speak, please don’t make a big deal out of it as this will likely shatter their confidence and make them less likely to contribute in the future.

And finally, please phase out feedback during parents’ evenings and in reports along the lines of “Sasha is a lovely student, but she really needs to speak up more”. This phrase implies that the amount a child speaks in class is a measure of achievement and only contributes to introverts feeling that they need fixing and are less worthy than their more talkative peers. Equally, parents of introverts need not put pressure on their children to ‘speak up’ or see this as an area of ‘improvement’. There are so many other ways an introvert can ‘show up’ in a lesson and eventually, in the workplace.

For more information about supporting introverted children, please contact Sophie at [email protected]. You can find out more about her work here You can also get in touch with Sophie via LinkedIn


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