Quiet and Smart: Introvert Inclusivity in the Sexuality Classroom

An extrovert and an introvert walk into a classroom. One feels invigorated by engaging in group discussions while the other feels overwhelmed by the time the icebreaker activity ends. How can an instructor who strives for an inclusive classroom create an environment that fosters learning and growth for both the extrovert and introvert?

With group work, large discussion circles, and social seating arrangements, the classroom caters to the extrovert. Silberman claims that “placing participants in teams and giving them tasks in which they depend on each other to complete the work is a wonderful way to capitalize on their social needs” (1998, p.7). Silberman fails to recognize that not everyone has the same social needs. The active training he encourages may not meet but rather overwhelm the social needs of some students. In a classroom, one third to one half of the students are introverts (Cain, 2012). Introverts and extroverts have distinct methods of cognitive processing. According to Kline (2008), “extroverts think while they are talking [while] introverts must think carefully before speaking” (p.145). Introversion should not be confused with shyness, anxiety, or worse, unintelligence (Kim, 2002). Extroverts find social experiences energizing while introverts find them draining (Can, 2012). While Silberman (1998) claims that “the social component in the learning environment” is fundamental to adult learning, he neglects to recognize that misuse of social components may be detrimental to introverted learners (p.8).


Cultural Implications

While it is important to create an engaging classroom, an instructor is responsible for balancing the environment to meet the needs of both the introverted and extroverted students. Kim (2002) argues that introversion inclusion is a matter of cultural competency. European Americans have the tendency to think aloud, whereas East Asian Americans are more likely to process their thoughts silently. While that cultural difference may seem insignificant, Western culture associates talking with good analytical thinking. As a result, lesson plans, curricula, evaluations and social norms are formulated to encourage the cultural assumption that talking is thinking and thus that not talking is not thinking (Kim, 2002). This is a dangerous assumption for instructors to make, either consciously or not, as it can result in dismissing quiet yet bright students as less intelligent.

Discovering the Introverts

Being inclusive of introverts can begin before the class starts if the instructor has the opportunity to gather information about the participants beforehand. By “collect[ing] and reflect[ing] on the individual needs and the collective needs of the students,” an instructor can examine the introvert/extrovert make-up of the class (Estes, 2001, p.1). Questions which would indicate an introverted or extroverted learner should be included in pre-course information gathering. For example, an internet survey may be sent out before the course meets with true or false questions like “ I enjoy work that allows me to ‘dive in’ with few interruptions,” “I prefer not to show or discuss my work with others until it’s finished,” or “I tend to think before I speak” (Quiet Quiz, 2011).

Creating Ground Rules

Ground rules tend to include some version of the “move forward/move back” rule to encourage the talkative to take a moment to respond and allow the quieter to speak up more. An instructor must consider the best means of enforcing or implementing this rule. If the course structure requires a lot of participation, it may be valuable for the instructor to briefly explain introversion and extroversion and how the course will attempt to balance the needs of both.

Breaking the Ice for Introverts

Instructors should choose icebreaker activities that require pairs of people rather than groups (Stanchfield, 2007). Given that icebreakers are intended to increase the level of comfort, it would be in poor practice to always start by pushing introverts into an extroverted activity. Pushing an introvert too far outside of their comfort zone can result in loosing their trust (Stanchfield, 2007).

Participation Versus Engagement

Often a student’s grade is partially determined by participation. If an instructor views participation solely by the number of times a student spoke in class, the instructor is doing a disservice to introverts who may have participated in class differently. It is better to grade on engagement, which may include active listening, rather than just participation (Kim, 2002). While talking is often equated with thinking, this is not the case for the introvert who prefers silent thinking (Kim, 2002). Instructors should not devalue the students who prefer to engage in the classroom by listening.

Active Training and the Introverted Student

Two specific active training strategies balance the needs of introverts and extroverts. ‘Think-Pair-Share’ is a discussion strategy that incorporates individual contemplation, pair discussion, and large group work. Recent studies show that it is effective in improving critical thinking as well as group participation (Kaddoura, 2013; Kothiyal, Majumdar, Murthy, & Iyer, 2013). Bruess and Schroeder (2014) suggest using a fishbowl format for group-work. The fishbowl format uses “an inner group being observed by an outer group” (p. 184). Introverts may feel more comfortable talking in the inner group and more extroverted learners will have the opportunity to listen when placed in the outer group (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014).

Processing Time in a Sexuality Classroom

Being inclusive of introverts is important in all classrooms but should be given additional thought when addressing topics of human sexuality. These topics often require significant processing time due to their intimate nature. By arranging processing time to favor the extroverted, introverts may not feel they have had the time or space to process the material. Introverts need more introspective time to process material than extroverts (Cain, 2012), and instructors should be aware of this. It is the responsibility of instructors to provide the best opportunity for students, regardless of personality types and learning styles, to experience and process the material at hand (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011).


It is the responsibility of instructors to provide the best opportunities for students to experience and digest the material at hand. By being aware of the introverts in the classroom, instructors can set the classroom dynamics in place to allow all students to shine, not just the extroverts.


Bruess, C.E., & Schroeder, E. (2014). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. Crown Publishing Group.

Kaddoura, M. (2013). Think pair share: A teaching learning strategy to enhance students’ critical thinking. Educational Research Quarterly, 36(4), 3-24. Retrieved from http://0-search.ebscohost.com. libcat.widener.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=99990253&site=ehost-live

Kim, H.S. (2002). We talk, therefore we think? A cultural analysis of the effect of talking on thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(4), 828-842. doi: 10.1037// 0022-3514.83.4.828

Kline, K. (2008). Learning to think and thinking to learn. Teaching Children Mathematics, 15(3), 144-151. Retrieved from http://0search.ebscohost.com.libcat.widener.edu/ login.aspxdirect=true&db= aph&AN =34599176&site=ehost-live

Kothiyal, A., Majumdar, R., Murthy, S., & Iyer, S. (2013). Effect of think-pair-share in a large CS1 class: 83% sustained engagement. Proceedings of the ninth annual international ACM conference on International computing education research (pp. 137-144). ACM. Retrieved from http://dl.acm.org/ citation.cfm?id=2493408

Quiet quiz: Are you an introvert or an extrovert. (2011). Retrieved from http://www.thepower ofintroverts.com/about-the-book/quiet-quiz-are-you-an-introvert/

Silberman, M. (1998). Active training: A handbook of technique, design, case examples, and tips. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Pfieffer.

Stanchfield, J. (2007). Tips & tools: The art of experiential group facilitation. Oklahoma City: Wood ‘N’ Barnes Publishing.

13 responses to “Quiet and Smart: Introvert Inclusivity in the Sexuality Classroom

  1. This is a great way to think about inclusiveness. I’m a big fan of Cain’s work. I myself identify as an ambivert, in that I have many characteristic of both introverts and extroverts and much of what you wrote about would also work for me. I’ve been in sexuality classes where we had journaling time in order to process and it worked really well for me. I was comfortable and confident when I went to speak after having the time with my own thoughts. I prefer to think within myself more than processing out loud, so that gentle reminder really resonated with me. Journaling can be a great way to allow introverts the time they need to process.

  2. You are absolutely correct. Introverts and extroverts do participate differently. If introverts prefer to engage in class discussions by listening, they should not receive a poor participation grade. It is crucial to create a classroom environment that is inclusive and sensitive to both. It is the role of the teacher to be aware of differences in the classroom and tailor their lessons appropriately.

  3. I am definitely an introvert and agree 100% with the differences in participation that you described between extroverts and introverts. I think requiring and/or including class participation as a grade really puts introverts at a disadvantage because usually class participation means talking. And as you stated, introverts are more comfortable thinking about what they want to say before speaking, while extroverts can think and talk a mile a minute simultaneously. Another issue is that introverts may think, think, think and not have anything worthwhile to contribute to a class discussion, which again is a disservice to introverts when participation is graded. For me, when I have something to say, I’ll say it. Otherwise, if I have nothing to say, I’m actively listening and not just being quiet/shy. I’ll definitely be utilizing what you outlined in the future to be inclusive of introverts in my classroom. Thank you Mia for giving a voice to the introverts in classrooms everywhere 🙂

    • This is random, but Cameyerphd2019, I can’t comment on your post, so I’m putting it here in hopes you will see it:

      This is a very interesting post, especially what Betram & Crowley (2012) call the five forms of resistance in the classroom. They talk about the “false comfort of concern” – an intervention focuses on concern for the victim at the exclusion of other emotions that may threaten current power structures. Concern for the victim might be what motivates interest in learning about sexual violence prevention, but the facilitator needs to move through concern into sometime deeper. So how does a facilitator create the right amount of tension – or, as Hedgepeth and Helmich (1996) call it, disequilibration – to increase learning but not so much as to make learning impossible? I don’t have the answer, but it is something I look forward to exploring. This “false comfort of concern” can apply to so many other issues – race relations/police brutality, transgender inclusion issues, concerns around disability and sexuality.

  4. I am so glad that you addressed this topic here! Especially when it comes to sexuality education, which can give way to uncomfortable feelings and new ideas, introverts should by no means be overlooked. This is a matter of creating a comfortable environment for everyone so that effective learning can take place. I like that mentioned particular examples for creating more intimate manners of participation and processing (such as pairs, small groups, and fishbowl activities) as this gives introverts more opportunity to participate with less pressure. Additionally the intimacy of small groups can help ease the discomfort of the subject matter, which may further discourage participation on behalf of the introvert. I agree with Joli’s suggestion about journaling as it provides a great opportunity for processing and engaging, and can serve as an alternative way to measure participation than simply talking in class.

  5. Agree that often introverts get overlooked in a classroom. I think it’s interesting that in a field like sexuality where openness and understanding of many different kind of people is paramount that introverts are just as easily forgotten as in every other field. As someone who is extroverted, it is often hard for me to identify with introverted students, so this post provided a good window into what might be going on when one student participates less than another. These are really good strategies that I will certainly be adding to me repertoire. Thanks so much.

  6. I have never thought about this, sad to say! But you have a great point. As a teacher, I strive to be inclusive but this is definitely where I need work on. An interesting concept is that I personally am an introvert at some times and an extrovert at others. Some people may be introverts around a sensitive topic. For an example, some middle school kids are very extroverted during a recess type setting but when I bring up the word “puberty”! They ball up under their little shells.
    We need to do a better job at taking introverts into account because learning is best when one is comfortable. If one is sweating bullets, they are probably not thinking about the lesson. It’s kind of like being in elementary and the teacher makes the class read the paragraph, OUT LOUD. Personally, I wouldn’t care about the story. I just had to make sure that I wouldn’t mess up on my paragraph. Introvert during reading class!!!

  7. This topic grabbed my attention from the start. It is a topic I have not thought much about, despite being very introverted throughout most of my early school years. This helped me to begin to think a lot about ways to be inclusive in the classroom especially in a culture that relies heavily on grading based on participation. This is a hard thing to grade for introverts. I enjoyed reading about your creative way to evaluate introverts without grading on the number of times they share in a class.

  8. Thank you for specifically defining introvert vs. extrovert. Anxiety, shyness, etc. are certainly factors in a classroom, but the clear distinction about what defines an introvert is helpful; highlighting that one’s wiring effects the ways we process and participate in a social setting. I will be more cognizant now of including classroom activities that play towards the strengths of introverts, such as journaling exercises.
    Also, I never considered the harm that could come from determining participation scores by how often one speaks. It does a disservice to students to assume that active listening is not a form of participation.

  9. Mia, I really value this blog post because, as an introvert, I can find group work to be quite draining. I really enjoyed two of your suggestions: First, to do a pre-class survey of students including questions to understand the how students fall on an introverted to extroverted scale, and second, grading not on participation solely but incorporating active listening and engagement. Having a well rounded understanding of a group’s tendency to fall as either extroverts or introverts could have large implications on lesson planning, including small group work as opposed to large group work, or choosing to have students journal and reflect in replacement of group activities. It is important to make all types of learners feel comfortable in a classroom, and I think incorporating the comfort levels of introverted people is an essential and often overlooked aspect of the learning environment.

  10. I like Jolie’s observation that journaling time during class helps introverts. Our texts say sexuality education is most effective when there is an activity combined with reflection. We reflect within ourselves, but we also learn from other people’s perspectives. If Jolie didn’t have time to collect her thoughts, she may not contribute a perspective that would spark new ideas in her classmates. Anything we as educators can do to bring all voices to the table will increase our effectiveness.

    The post also made me think of reflection papers. They allow introverts to work through processing at their own pace without the pressure of performing in a classroom setting.

  11. I love how you set the tone of the blog with a scenario! I was very surprised to learn that 1/3 to 1/2 of classes are introverts. In classrooms that are heavily based on discussion and participation, a lot of the class would simply be miserable! I found the cultural piece very interesting. As a black woman and knowing the stereotypes of being vocal, I wonder if it translates in the classroom?
    I believe that a questionnaire that assesses what types of people are in the room is a great idea! I feel that the instructor could gain useful information why ensuring the comfort of the students.
    Being somewhere in between an introvert and extrovert, I have always appreciated the move forward/move back rule. It allowed me to contribute as much as I felt appropriate at a given time.
    Ice breakers in pairs seem to be an excellent idea! Although I have never tried it, pairs would seem to accomplish the same goal as a group icebreaker and also lessen anxiety for those who are introverts.
    I have always wondered how introverts were graded on participation. Are they punished? As a future educator, I intend on keeping 1/3 to 1/2 introvert fact in my head as in educating to create a positive learning space for all.

  12. Mia, I really appreciate your analysis of the active training techniques. You seem to have touched on a topic that needs a lot of help! I think your writing style is great for a blog. You did a really wonderful job on this. I like how you broke this up into steps-first explaining the differences between introverts and extroverts, suggesting ways to find the introverts within the classroom, and ultimately discussing ways in which to engage introverts in a sex ed environment. I often think (as I talked to you about the other night) that many individuals in this field are seemingly extroverted. That can leave room for the introverts to slip through the cracks at times, not allowing for their full potential. I believe that most of us are at least a bit introverted at times and I think that your suggestions can apply to most anyone. Really great work.

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