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Bringing Shy Students out of their Shells in the Drama Classroom

We asked drama teachers: What are your tips for bringing shy or hesitant students out of their shells? Do you let them have the time they need to get comfortable participating, or does it work better to put them on the spot and show them they can do it?

Let’s hear from teachers on the front lines.

Build trust.

Jim M. says “Ask the student what he or she cares about, loves to do, etc., and then see if you can find a play about that subject. Let the student read it and pick a character she or he would like to try out as an acting exercise.”

Josh H. says “Kids need to trust that the environment is safe. In my experience, shyness is a defense mechanism so I always work to build relationship to figure out what the needs are and then how we move forward from there.”

Focus on the ensemble, not the individual.

Eileen H. says “Build a strong sense of ensemble then start physical skills. We do a lot of ensemble building games where no one has to stand out and then our first performance unit is pantomime in a group.”

Kathy D. says Give them opportunities on stage in a scene that they don’t have to drive the action but be a part of a scene that is well received in class helps to build their confidence.”

Give them time.

Kayla W. says “We start the year with improv games and I won’t call on students at first. Students will volunteer and the hesitant students will take it all in until they are comfortable.”

Kathy D. says Be careful not to label a student as shy because you don’t know their underlying spirit. Give them a safe stage and let them learn to love acting. It might be that they are not as shy as they are afraid of being laughed at and ridiculed.”

Embrace the goofy.

Denise E. says “I demonstrate and get them laughing. If they see me being a goofball they’re more likely to give themselves permission to do the same and not make so much of it. Play the play.”

Rachel W. says “Try exercises/games where everyone is doing the same action, silly or not, at the same intensity.”

Take the lead.

Stephen H. says “Don’t ask for volunteers….ask that particular student to lead an exercise, or be the lead…”

Debb A. says Give the students honest, specific feedback with a strength and a weakness. And to some students, the strength would be the courage to do X (you pick) or lack of hesitation when getting on the stage, etc.”


Cassie M. suggests “Explain the difference between fear and danger – when you’re new to something as socially risky as theatre, your brain gives you the same panicky signals as if you were being chased by a bear. The bear is danger; being on stage is fear. The more you get on stage and stay there, even when you’re afraid, the more the brain learns that you don’t die being up there.”

Join the chat on our Facebook Page and add your own experience to our list!

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