Although in general, shy students feel more comfortable working in pairs, pairing these students up with outgoing and dominant classmates may not be a good thing. The shy or struggling student may fall into an overly passive role allowing the dominating student to “take over”. So, although I want to pair struggling students with more advanced ones in this activity, I think about how my students “tick”, and pair them up carefully as I hand each a pairing card.
Once students are paired I walk by each pair and give the group certain “suggestions” to avoid one student “taking over”. This could be a preliminary task like asking the shy student to do the writing, or telling the group that this student will be called on to explain a problem at the end of the activity. Another thing that must be done is helping these students’ self-confidence by saying things to the group as you walk by, which lets the more outgoing student know, that their partner has qualities that should be respected. I would say things like “You know Tom is usually very quiet, but he’s got a lot to contribute and knows what’s going on”, or “Don’t let Lisa’s silence during class fool ya, she is on target with everything”. I do try to be sincere about the comments, but always very positive.
In general, students in some way or another seek acceptance from peers, and working in small groups is an opportunity to achieve this, so providing an environment in which they can participate without fear of judgment or embarrassment is crucial.