collaborative learning

How to Structure Your Lessons For Introverts Without Compromising Collaboration

Stop! Before you do anything, refer to this post to read my background of learning my introverted tendencies and how they affect my outlook on teaching. It is the beginning of my journey into making introverted teachers like myself feel more at home in the education world.

Disclaimer: This is not a post about learning styles. I believe in best practices that utilize multiple modalities to balance needs of all learners. Everyone learns through a combination of discussion, writing, and reading. Dewey said to get to know your students to provide student-centered learning. So, let’s start thinking about who they are–inside their brains.

Let me start with saying that working in groups, for myself, can be amazing. I value the ideas of others and don’t think working in silos produces the best work. Working with my English department buds is some of the most rewarding PD I’ve ever had. It doesn’t hurt that they are all brilliant, wonderful people. With that, I also understand that it can be too much sometimes. My first boss taught me that the key to everything in education (and life, really) is balance. We cannot satisfy everyone. Depending on the learning outcome, students will have to work individually and together. Students will have to bend to what we ask them at times. Students need to know how to collaborate. Understanding personalities of introverts and extroverts and how to balance those with the task at hand has improved my relationships with my students. They tend to bend when I ask them because they know that I have their best interests at the forefront of it all.


How to Structure Your Lessons For Introverts Without Compromising Collaboration

1: Know your introverts! Do a class survey to figure out who is an introvert and who isn’t. This will help you when thinking about what’s best for which lesson. It’s also just good practice in general to know more about your students. I have used Truity Typefinder, which has a free test and a job-like focus where it tells students what careers may interest them based on their Meyer’s Briggs type. Please handle this with a grain of salt. Many times students haven’t even reflected on these ideas and may choose a ‘middle of the road’ answer when going through the survey, but I have found the Extroverted/Introverted typing is fairly accurate. Mainly, I just have them focus on that part. You may have them do a little reflective writing about how accurate they think the MBTI is for themselves. You may also want to do a more overarching survey, and this resource looks amazing! So many Google Surveys. I love the internet. Here is one I found that I think would be a good template for a personality type survey. For some reason it won’t let me actually import the file, but it could be used as a guide if you want to create your own Google Forms survey.

2: Arrange your desks into groups. You may be thinking this isn’t a good idea because introverts hate groups. However, the point is not to avoid other people—although sometimes we want to—but to foster collaboration effectively. I had my desks in a big circle for a long time and it put me in a rut of silo-work for my kids. It was ok for whole-class discussion, because students were all facing each other. Grouped desks can be easily used for collaborative learning and individual learning. When students are squirrelly and need to be silently reading, then I’ll have them go sit somewhere else—the floor, on an exercise ball, etc. Be as flexible as you can for seating, and you can keep your desks in groups for home base.

3: Figure out what your group structure will be. Whether you let them choose their groups or not is up to you. I tend to mix up groups once they have been established, and introverts usually pick to sit next to those they’re comfortable with. Depending on your class’s maturity level and ability levels, it’s up to you. I have used Fisher and Frey’s Productive Group Work as a guide to understand how to create groups and keep every student accountable. If you want to learn how to teach with groups, then read this book. It is a quick but effective read and it demystified grouping for me.

4: Play a game or two to get students working together for something. Don’t throw introverts into a high-stakes academic situation right away, especially if they don’t know anyone in their group. Games that aren’t the painful ‘icebreaker’ types usually help them get more comfortable. I offer an extra point or a snack to the group that wins so they have incentive to play. These games are low-key and require little large-class interaction right off the bat, which is great for introverts.

My favorite game: Blanket the table

Why do students love this game? They get to write on their desks. Well, maybe not if you don’t have a bunch of dry erase markers lying around. For some reason writing on tables is so exciting, so I let them write on their desks (which were made for writing on anyway) but you may have them write on anything. Scraps of paper, portable whiteboards, etc. The premise of the game is simple: I give them a words, then they, as a group, come up with as many synonyms as possible in one minute. The group who has the most gets a point, then we do as many rounds as time allows and I give them some little reward for winning. Why is it great for introverts? They have to contribute in writing and not speaking. I let the extroverts share out the words as we go around the room 🙂 

5: Think about your unit plan–does it offer some individual and reflective activities? It is tempting to throw students into groups and make them present all the time. Especially in STEM. After all, that’s what the working world is, right? Not so much. Plenty of jobs require people to independently think and write. Why wouldn’t we require them to do that during a unit of instruction? Individual activities like writing reflections, writing blog posts, etc. will allow introverts time away from the group to recharge in a productive way.

6: Begin almost everything with a quick write or quick draw. Do not underestimate the power of “write before you speak.” It will help introverts get their ideas on paper before scary talk time comes. I also love Google Classroom’s Question option. Students can respond to each other and it fosters digital citizenship because they have to interact with each other face-to-face and online. This post has a lot of good ways to use class comments on Google Classroom.

7: During a lesson, know when to collaborate and when to not. This is less based on personality type and more on the side of good instruction.  The type of work being done–like writing big pieces or nose-to-the grindstone work like research or reflecting on very personal topics doesn’t always lend itself to collaborative groups. What does lend itself to collaboration? Problem-solving and creating.

8: Ease them into whole-classroom sharing. Introverts can talk in front of big groups. In fact, they should be expected to because it can increase their confidence and get them world-ready. But know that they will probably not want to yell out ideas or possible answers in a whole-class note-taking environment, and may shrivel if you call on them at first (for the record, Extroverts can shrivel too. Especially if the environment isn’t emotionally safe). Your students do not always need to be sharing out in groups or as a whole class. (Also, that gets really old and irks me when we have to do it after every activity in PD as it eats up time and we’re all tired and have talked our heads off). I’ve seen my introverted kids start to volunteer their answers. Build on that willingness because you’re creating a welcoming, risk-taking environment. How to do this? Sentence starters are my favorite. I throw them up on the board all the time. A frame for their thinking will get them confident and will take the anxiety out of “what do I say?” Check out this page for some good academic sentence starters for high school.

9: Let them give you feedback. Introverts are skilled at noticing social situations and can be very intuitive. Use that to your advantage with asking for their feedback on what’s working and what’s not in class. Obviously this should be with all students, but don’t forget about getting feedback! I do sometimes because everything is rushed and I forget. I also probably don’t want to hear the hard truth from them sometimes (although they rarely hold back the hard truths—gotta love ’em ;))

Here are three questions you can ask students for feedback, focusing on how it’s going:

Explain what does/does not make you feel like you can take academic risks in a group. 

Explain whether or not your teacher is being fair when she/he calls on students to speak. 

 Explain whether you feel the ‘talking load’ in class is balanced (this means you have a good balance of discussion and writing, and you are not holding back in discussion). 

Check out the first tip to find links of surveys and how to create your own Google Form survey, which can give you a spreadsheet of all of your responses and visual data (charts and graphs, y’all).


Teachersphere, give me your ideas! Do you do anything that works that I didn’t mention above? Comment below!

Curling up now and reading a book true to introvert form,