Quiet pupils


Lina is 8 years old. She has been in a transitional class for a few weeks now. Despite the fact that she often smiles and always reacts when spoken to, she has not said a word in class since going to school in the Netherlands. According to her older sister, Lina does speak at home, in Arabic. The teacher did not worry at first, because it is not uncommon for a pupil to not speak at first, but now Lina is starting to fall behind her classmates. However, the teacher does not know exactly how to figure out what the problem is.

According to Le Pichon and De Jonge (2015), the fact that a child does not speak at school can have a number of causes: there can be a social-emotional cause, such as a stressful situation or a lack of confidence in the second language; the underlying cause can also be of linguistic origin, for instance if the child has trouble suppressing the first language when producing the school’s language, or when they have a general linguistic disorder (Boerma et al., 2015).

When you have a ‘quiet pupil’ in your class, it is important to ask the right questions: what can and should you do? Try to find out how long this ‘quiet phase’ has been going on for. Does the pupil speak in his/ her own language(s)? Does he/ she have any friends? Has it been going on for longer than three months? If so, that is too long! There are a number of tips you can use: try to work with the pupil in smaller rooms and with fewer pupils; do not draw attention to the pupil in the large group and let him or her know that you will not do so; ask pupils who speak the first languages to work with the pupil and encourage the use of those languages in class; once the pupil notices that it is safe to speak, they will start speaking in the school’s language more easily (Le Pichon and De Jonge, 2015). But first you need to rule out a hearing impairment!

Quiet pupils

Have you ever had a ’quiet pupil’ in your classroom? Was the pupil totally quiet or just too quiet? If so, what did you do? Who did you speak to and/or ask for advice and help? Do you find it difficult to have a quiet pupil in your class? If so, make sure that despite the lack of response you engage in sufficient interaction with the pupil. How do you do that?


When it comes to quiet pupils, does your school have a protocol? If so, please describe it below. If not, describe what you think such a protocol should entail.