Since so many school districts are looking at virtual learning as a solution during the Covid-19 pandemic, educators have been tasked with the huge challenge of creating dynamic and engaging online classrooms to educate students as well online as in person.
Luckily, technology offers plenty of options for teachers to craft a type of online classroom that engages students in active learning. One of the most common applications teachers can use for online education is Zoom.
If you are an educator looking at using Zoom for your online classroom environment, you should have a variety of options available to help you make your online classroom dynamic and educational for your students.
To help, below are five overall tips to consider while developing your Zoom lesson plans.
1. Start with a check-in.
Before starting to teach any class material in your Zoom classroom, consider beginning with a check-in.
You can ask a specific question and then unmute each student one-by-one to answer that question. This is also a good time for students to let you know if they’re dealing with any tough situations at home, like a sick family member, or if they’re feeling sick themselves.
One check-in question can be a fun, more trivial question, and then you can invite students to describe how they’re feeling in a sentence. If you need to spend more time with one student, you’ll know. However, this check-in can be relatively quick so that you can get to your lesson.
As the 2014 TIME article How to Start a Meeting suggests, check-ins allow everyone in the class to gain an understanding of the room and what emotions people are bringing into it. As the educator, these check-ins will also help you understand why one or more of your students might be having a hard time participating or paying attention.
These are very different times, so they require even more humanity and understanding than may have been required in an in-person classroom where you can speak with students one-on-one more easily or gauge a student’s state of being from their behavior.
When your students see that you care about them and how they’re doing, they will likely be much more willing to listen to you and participate in classroom activities. They will also be able to feel seen and heard when so many are going through tough times.
2. Make each lesson interactive.
Zoom has plenty of features that will allow you to make each lesson interactive.
For example, you can use the polling function to ask a question of each of your students and have them choose their answer. You can use this to quiz students and see how many are paying attention, or you can even use this function to take attendance and ask a silly question like, “What is your favorite dessert?” This will allow you to see who is on the call and maybe even learn fun new facts about your students!
You can also use the ‘Raise Hand’ function on Zoom to poll students throughout your class to keep them alert. You can ask opinion questions related to the class material like, “Who here agrees with X?” Or, you can ask students to answer questions or add to a classroom discussion and have them raise their hands on Zoom to wait for you to call on them.
Other features on Zoom can add to the interactive quality of the class as well. For instance, you can share your screen with students as you teach a lesson to help them visualize a concept or take notes. You can even tailor virtual backgrounds to match a history lesson or concept that you’re teaching.
For more specific ideas regarding Zoom functions and add-ons to use for interactive classrooms, check out this article with a long list of Zoom strategies.
3. Utilize breakout rooms.
Zoom breakout rooms are extremely helpful for educators as well. These rooms create small pods where students can discuss class concepts in small groups.
You can assign students to specific breakout rooms if you know you want certain students to work together or randomize the selection to switch up the groupings.
By using breakout rooms, you give students a chance to talk over a concept with their peers, work on a group project of sorts, or have a smaller group discussion to bring ideas back to the entire class.
Speaking in small groups will help keep students engaged, since they will need to pay more attention to speak in their smaller groupings and take more ownership of the material they’re learning.
4. Take fun brain breaks.
Adults and younger students alike need breaks from staring at a computer screen. Definitely schedule frequent enough breaks so that students do not have to stare at a screen and get too exhausted by the online classroom environment.
If you notice your students are getting especially antsy, you can take breaks when you feel the need from your students, as well as scheduling breaks based on your lesson plan.
You can even make these breaks fun by providing challenges to students while they’re on the break, like doing jumping jacks (making sure not to alienate any students who have physical disabilities), singing a song to themselves, or meditating.
Depending on your class, you might even consider allowing students to share their talents with the class, through show-and-tell breaks in which students can share a hobby, play an instrument, read a poem, etc. You can even assign days for students who want to participate so that they get especially excited for that day of class.
5. Collect student feedback.
In many cases, educators are just as new to online classrooms as students. So, gathering feedback from students will be helpful in creating a more dynamic and engaging classroom that students love to join.
Giving that kind of ownership to students will also allow them to feel more like a community in which each member has a voice, rather than a classroom in which the teacher is the only leader and decision maker.
You’ll be surprised at how much insight your students will be able to give, as long as you ask specific, focused questions about how they can work together to improve the quality of the online classroom experience.