Differentiation for Introverts and Extroverts

When I was a student, I often felt crowded by the crowd. The noise bothered me. The constant shift between groups and seating charts exhausted me. The moment I made a friend, teachers felt the need to move students away from one another and ultimately, being a quiet kid, the teachers would place a loud trouble-maker next to me.

I wasn’t a silent student. In fact, I often joined class discussions. I participated in the group projects. I played sports on the playground. However, I craved additional space. I wanted alone time to process what I was learning. I wanted a chance to write and to solve and the dream in a space that I could call my own.

I was an introvert. I still am. Social, yes. Gregarious, sometimes. However, I find myself tired at the end of a party. I find myself overwhelmed by new relationships. I find myself gravitating toward a few close friends rather than developing a massive social network.

I had friends growing up who were the opposite. If I felt shamed for being introverted, they were shamed for being social. Teachers expected them to be silent and asocial through hours of lectures. They were called bossy for being strong leaders or nosy for knowing what was going on.


So, it has me thinking about a balanced approach to introversion/extroversion. In general, I structure lessons with the following time allotment:

  • 30% individual learning: individual assignments, personal processing
  • 20% partner learning: partner projects, student-to-student discourse (also teacher-student conferences and tutoring)
  • 30% group work: shared projects, small group discussions
  • 20% whole class: class discussion, direct instruction

Given this opportunity, many introverts thrive in the partner structure, individual structure and whole class direct instruction. They don’t get overwhelmed, because they have that necessary processing time. Extroverts enjoy 30% group work, a chance at class discussion and the chance to interact with a peer.

It’s not a matter of “letting them off the hook.” Introverts are still asked to be social and extroverts are still asked to process things internally. However, the teacher can still respect student identity and protect each person’s weaknesses while building on student strengths.


After creating a balanced approach, teachers can create loosely-designed lessons that allow students to choose methods that fit their level of introversion and extroversion.  For example, when developing literary circles, I allow for four types of grouping (on top of the silent reading and guided reading groups):

  1. Shared read-aloud: the students read the work aloud and discuss it throughout with their literary circle
  2. Silent reading with discussion: the students spend the first part of literary circles reading silently and then share their insights with a small group
  3. Reading Pairs: students read quietly and then go really in-depth with one other student. The pairs then meet every so often with another pair to share their insights. 
  4. Online lit circle: the students read silently and then share their insights in a shared blog or on Twitter (using the group’s hash tag). 
In each case, the students still access the same material and the same standards and have the chance to engage in meaningful discourse and critical thinking. However, the individual student has the opportunity to choose the grouping format. 

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

21 responses

  1. I am curious; as an introverted teacher, how do you cope with the noise and the chaos of a 8 hours +/- of classes plus the after school expectations.

    I love your analysis here and, although this is my first comment, I think, I am often inspired by your reflections. I'd love your insight on how to survive as an introverted teacher. I currently work as a tutor but I taught for three years in the classroom and it about did me in. I'd go back to it if I could figure out how to avoid that situation because I do love the teaching part. When it happens.

    1. Honestly, I don't handle noise or chaos well. However, when students are really engaged, there is little chaos. It's no more chaotic than a living room or Starbucks. (Perhaps I'm jaded, though, with three kids at home). The noise, however, can be hard. It's why I structure quiet or even silent activities (five minutes of silent problem solving, twenty minutes of quiet blogging, thirty minutes of silent reading) and some whole-class discussion. It allows for an ebb and flow of noise and silence that will allow both quiet and loud kids to feel comfortable.

      The other part of this is that I ask students to stay away from being crazy-loud. If the class gets too loud, I will redirect them by saying, "I know you're on task, but the noise level is getting too high and that makes me really anxious." I hate to make it all about me, but I know that if the class gets crazy noisy, I will snap at a kid and that's not helpful to anyone.

    2. Perhaps I am just teaching the wrong thing. I never figured out how to get my hands on science classes to keep it down from being crazy-loud. And you're right, after a while the noise does make on snappish and that it's never helpful. I think it is a post waiting to happen: surviving as an introverted teacher in an extroverted classroom.

      1. Beth,

        I too am an introvert. At the beginning of last year, I spent some time talking about the introvert-extrovert continuum and how we all have different learning preferences including me. Taking the time to help my students learn about me and each other helped with classroom management of noise. We had an awareness of each other’s needs and reacted accordingly. I’m not saying that at times my class didn’t get loud, but if I shared my students passion on the topic, it didn’t bother me. Read about the Free Trait Theory which might help you think further about this.

  2. I too am an introvert. My strongest memory of elementary school was the stress about the noise and randomness of school life.

    If I think back to my own schooling, I especially appreciated a well-defined role in group work. I also like something like think-pair-share, where there is an individual contribution to a group process rather than a noisy negotiation of initial process.

    1. I love your points about the noise and the randomness. Those were both pretty tough for me as well. Thanks for adding some practical ideas as well.

  3. Interesting. I just placed an order for the book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking." As an adult, I know those vague feelings of shame for introvertedness all too well. I think it's fantastic that you're acknowledging and honoring students' introvert/extrovert personality traits in your class structure. Kids need to know they're a-ok whether they're naturally outgoing or naturally quieter.

    1. That sounds like a fascinating book. I'll have to check it out.

    2. You might find the TEDTalk by the author, Susan Cain, interesting, as well. It is more brief and easier to share! You can find it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c0KYU2j0TM4.

  4. When classes were split into groups, I remember that teachers "secretly" tried to balance the teams. I think this ended up solidifying my status as an introvert, because it guaranteed that there was always at least one extrovert dominating our group. I could have developed my extrovert skills among a group of my fellow introverts, but I never really got the chance.

    1. The whole "needs to be balanced" part drives me nuts. Let leaders emerge. Let group dynamics happen. If there is a "low group" why can't that be a chance to provide meaningful intervention?

  5. I printed off this voice level chart.
    It does help the students to have a reference on where the level is and getting it lowered.

  6. Thanks for this post. It's really excellent. As a fellow introverted teacher I can see where you are coming from. Unfortunately I haven't quite got the hang of really giving my extroverted students enough outlets. I'm working on it though. Your ideas are really helpful, and I start thinking about how I'm going to tackle next year when I'll have a whole new bunch of 4th graders (having taught 3rd grade last year and 4th this I was blessed with not having to learn all about all my students this year), I'm thinking I need to work some ways of catering better for those extroverts! I have a "noise-meter" in the classroom, which is a visual reminder for my students about noise levels, which really helps and I tend to have recess and lunch breaks in my classroom for 15 minutes sanity breaks!

    1. I think that concept of working on it, of recognizing that your students learn differently than you do is significant. Ultimately, that's where the balance happens.

  7. Thanks for a thoughtfully written post. I'm not a teacher, well not in a formal sense, but have taught as part of my role as a mentor and careers adviser. I realise that my style of teaching and facilitating groups can be put down to three things – my training and experience, but also my personality. As an introvert I see the value in reflection and individual learning so it's more natural for me to integrate these activities into the learning.

    You seem to have found a good balance in the way you structure your lessons – something to suit all learning preferences, and I think being an introverted teaching can be a positive that gives you a greater appreciation of how to better engage your quieter, more introverted students.

    1. Thanks! I agree that the sense of individual learning and reflection are things that sort-of come natural to introverts.

  8. Great piece. I identify with your introverted streak and desire for processing/daydream time. I'm reminded of this piece via ASCD, there are a lot of overlaps: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jun11/vol68/num09/Let-Me-Learn-My-Own-Way.aspx


    1. Thanks for the link!

  9. I am participating in a writing workshop and would like to use quotes from your post in my professional piece which is on introverts in the classroom. Of course I intend to give proper credit for the infomation used.
    Thank you!

    1. I would be honored. Everything on this site is Creative Commons, so you can use it, quote it, etc. whenever you like without having to ask permission.

  10. This post is helpful in understanding the behavior of the extrovert and introvert people. This could probably enlighten other people’s mind especially the introverts who wants a degree in college that requires a lot of personal interaction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *