Image courtesy of Bill Bradford

A topic that has been on my mind a great deal lately is in the area of extroversion and introversion as it pertains to the language classroom. Confession time, I am a extrovert and I tend to dominate the conversation. I am also married to an introvert who is kind enough to gently let me know that I am talking too much. As a result, I have become more conscious of how myself as an extrovert affect those who are introverts, particularly those of whom are my students. Watching Susan Cain give her TED Talk was a pivotal moment for me as it started my consciously looking at how introverts are treated as language students.

For those who have seen the video I was just mentioning, you need to understand that introversion is NOT the same thing as being shy. In the same way, introversion is NOT something that needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘taken care of’. Introversion is NOT about being quiet or being a loner, but it IS about a way of thinking, especially in how information is processed.

Extroverts tend to think on the spot (and not always that well). I am the kind of person who just needs to start talking or writing in order to activate my mental processing. Talking or writing seems to help me to put things together, otherwise I have multiple pieces, images, and thoughts randomly floating around. It might take me twice as long to say or write something, but I find it helps just to get something out there in order to see what I have.

Introverts tend to take time to process things internally before putting them out for the world to see or hear. Ask them a question and they will take time to put together a response before giving you their reply. For me, their answers tend to me more direct and logical than the immediate response from the extrovert. I know, I know. This is VERY subjective and may be a bit over-generalized, but it does give you an idea of the way each person tends to work.

There have been numerous articles and books written about extroverts and introverts in the classroom, but it mostly seems to touch on one or two elements. In time, I would like to compile some of this material into a more comprehensive text, but for now, I will share the bits and pieces I have found and why I feel they are important to note.

A while ago, I found an interesting article on language testing on Professor Glenn Fulcher’s website that talked about the different ways that introverts and extroverts handle paired speaking tests. For those who aren’t familiar with paired testing, it involves an examiner sitting down with two students and asking them as set of questions, some are answered individually and others together in a conversation style. The purpose of this test is to see how students are able to produce the language necessary for what Fulcher (2009) refers to as ‘interactive competence’. I have been involved with a large number of these tests as we used them on a monthly basis at my last place of employment. This is also used in standardized language exams such the FCE.

Fulcher raises an interesting point about whether these tests are biased against introverts. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it much, but I think it is a fair question. After talking it over with my wife, I think the issue could be related to two things:

  • Introverts can be intimidated by the speaking ability of the extrovert and shut down.
  • Introverts are not given the time to process the information internally before speaking. Some tests give students a short time, such as one minute, to gather their thoughts, but for most introverts, this is done under stress and takes away any help this time would normally give.
So how how can we make these test more balanced? It might involve giving students a list of possible questions a day or two ahead of time and then using one or two from the list during the test. Another idea might be to pair students by personality types. Fulcher mentions a study done my Berry (1994) which showed that introverts did better when paired with another introvert. Lastly, we could do more longitudinal testing where we take samples from various situations over a longer period of time.

This isn’t the last time you will hear from me about this topic as I feel it is a critical component that is missing from many classrooms. We talk about learning styles, multiple intelligences, and so forth, but many of us don’t take the time to think about how students process information.

I would love to hear what you have to say on this topic. Feel free to add your comments or send me a tweet. Let’s keep this conversation going.

Thank you.


Berry, V. (1994). The Assessment of Spoken Language under Varying Interactional Conditions. Washington D.C.: ERIC Document ED386065. Available online:

Fulcher, G. (2009). Motivation and language testing. Retrieved from

4 thoughts on “Processing

  1. In my Grade Three classroom we have a saying: “good thinkers are not always fast thinkers”. And so, if during discussion, I keep in mind that the non-contributors might just need a different time and space to explain their thinking. I have found that this is often in the playground, so chatting to my students about the topic as they climb on the monkey bars is a productive moment. Setting up spaces on our class blog to comment also provides an opportunity for responses.
    I am now wondering if I can provide other opportunities for contribution. Ideas?
    I really appreciate the link and explanation for paired testing. This is definitely something I will try soon.

    1. I love your saying! I will have to ‘steal’ that for my classroom. Thanks!

      You have a great way of dealing with the students’ differences. Even though I deal with adult learners, I can see how the things you do could be adapted to my situation.

      Thank you for taking time to share your experience. Come back often!

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