Watching grown-ups tease, joke and chat to each other helps quiet children learn how to join in, according to a scheme being introduced around the country.
The 6s and 7s Programme, for "invisible" children who do not cause problems but fall behind in Years 1 and 2, is designed to be delivered by two teaching assistants to a group of six children in six 45-minute sessions.
This term, schools in Gloucester, Cambridge, Essex, Sandwell and Birmingham have signed up.
Gail Bedford, one of the trainers, said: "The teaching assistants are role models. They will tease each other so children learn that it's OK to gently tease and you can do it to a friend. They may also use puppets or work from prepared scripts."
Julie Powell, a teaching assistant at Adderley primary in Birmingham who has carried out two sessions, said: "I'm astounded at the progress. I had one girl who was very shy who came to the sessions. Now she is putting her hand up and speaking loud and clear. She's a completely different child.
"The children love coming. It's their unique club and they feel special. When all is said and done, we (the teachers) can do Year 2 again next year, but this is the children's only chance of being in Year 2 and they've got to get as much as they can out of it."
The programme was piloted in Birmingham after a group of heads - including Sir David Winkley, former head of The Grove primary in Birmingham and non- executive director of the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust - got together to do something to support underachieving children.
Mrs Bedford, an education consultant and former head, was called in to evaluate the programme three years ago. It was she who suggested that two teaching assistants, rather than one, should take the groups, so they could demonstrate social skills to the children. She also introduced an assessment tool, based on work by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
"These are children who don't draw attention to themselves, their conduct might be quite good, but their self-esteem may be low. They may be model pupils, but they don't put their hands up, they don't offer answers and they don't take risks, so they don't reach their potential," she said.
Children are picked for the programme based on an assessment of their learning and emotional development and conduct. The six sessions cover how to communicate, how and when to ask questions, active listening, sharing feelings, learning how to be self-confident and raising self-esteem. At the end, if children haven't progressed, they are referred to the school's special educational needs co-ordinator.
The programme is run by the National Education Trust, a charity that works to improve the quality of education, with funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and the Heart of Birmingham Teaching PCT.
CONFIDENCE FOR KIDS, CPD FOR STAFF
"It sounds a bit awful," says Denise Drew, head of Ivy Chimneys Primary near Epping, Essex (above), "but these are the sort of children you would miss. They are easy to miss. They don't push themselves forward."
Mrs Drew is introducing the 6s and 7s scheme to her 250-pupil school this year. She said: "We have found, over the past few years, the number of children with these problems had increased in Year 3 and Year 4.
"We had a number of strategies . but they were aimed at key stage 2 children and we were interested in targeting children slightly earlier.
"At ages 6 and 7 not putting your hand up is not a major problem, but if not tackled, such problems can get worse by Years 3 and 4."
Angela Jackson, the scheme's national programme manager, said that, as well as benefiting children, the programme provides professional development for teaching assistants.
"Heads are pleasantly surprised about the level of excitement among the teaching assistants we are training," she said.
Mrs Drew is all for it. She plans to run the classes three times a year and hopes teaching assistants will pass on their skills to other staff.