I would try to find common ground. Engage them in something that they are interested in. Find out what books they read, shows they watch, musical groups they like.
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I agree with Jasmine. Start with trying to find a connection to your student: an interest, hobby or sport he or she might do outside of school. Something that makes them happy and gets them talking.
I think the easiest way to engage in conversation is find what their hobbies or likes are. At the beginning of the year they could fill out forms about their likes and dislikes so you can know. You can then ask them about them and engage them in telling you about this hobby they enjoy that you do not know much about. Also after finding that hobby or like maybe you could show a video that has to do with the hobby and connect it with the lesson. Maybe you could even find a picture of it and hang it in the room. Another thing you could do would be to use the names of what they like in your lessons. This could bring up a conversation between you and the sixth grader.
I feel like I am repeating others but they are correct! Finding what each student is interested in whether it be sports, books, pets, or any other hobbies will help to build rapport with your students. I find it easy to start a conversation with anyone but for them to easily talk back to me is another conversation. When they seem distant, I try to tell myself to just smile and be friendly and they will eventually open up to me. I also find that when I tell a story about my own life they seem to connect with me a bit more. They then see that I am a normal human being just like them. :)
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