Making every lesson engaging for all students was challenging during a normal school year. Now that many of us are teaching virtually or in a hybrid environment, it’s even harder to maintain student engagement in online learning.
We still have all the same standards and skills and content to teach. But we have to come up with new resources and new ways to do it.
Many of you who are teaching virtually have told me that one of your biggest challenges right now is keeping students engaged and participating. I struggle with this, too! And now that the first few weeks of back-to-school excitement have worn off, it’s more difficult to keep interest high!
But the good news is that there are some easy-to-use strategies to increase student engagement during distance learning. Let’s dive in!
1. Keep lessons short and sweet.
I won’t lie, 15-20 minutes into a virtual meeting, I start to lose focus. And if it’s hard for me to pay attention, I know it’s even harder for my students.
The problem is, there is so much content we need to teach. We always want to maximize that instructional time to pack in everything we can.
But I’d rather have an awesome 10-minute lesson where they’re engaged and excited than a 30-minute lesson where half of them are actually watching TV.
So we have to keep lessons short. This means planning to deliver less content at a time than you would have in your classroom. If you have a lot of material you need to get through, you can put a break in the middle of the lesson.
But then how do we find time to teach it all? Spiral review and cross-curricular activities! These are really helpful ways to return to previously taught content and skills so you aren’t having to jam it all into this one lesson on this one particular day.
2. Use apps and tools that allow for student voice.
Student voice is the buzzword of the year for a reason!
Any app or website that allows students to share their own ideas is a winner – especially if they can interact with each other while doing it. That way they’re also getting some of the social time they need and crave, which will help engagement.
Some of my favorite options right now are:
- Google Jamboard
And let’s not forget built-in tools like polls and the chat box. These are easy ways to encourage students to actively participate in the lesson without any advance prep from you.
3. Use movement in virtual lessons.
Movement isn’t just for brain breaks! We can incorporate physical movement into teaching and learning just like we do in the classroom.
I love using movement for informal assessment. But you can also use it to deliver content!
- hold up a number of fingers
- move closer to/away from the computer
- stand up if you think…
- turn your head to the right/left if…
- move your arms in circles if…
- point to the direction where…
- do a jumping jack if the answer is…
- touch your toes if you agree that…
- dance/stand like a statue when you hear…
One fun activity is a scavenger hunt. You can show a 5-minute timer on the screen and ask students to find an item at home that follows a certain rule (find a quadrilateral, find an object that is a compound word, etc.).
4. Provide options for active participation.
Sure, kids can raise their hands when they know the answer, but we can do better than that! If you’re just talking at them, you’ll lose them fast.
Here are a few ways we can get kids to take a more active role in distance learning:
- Google Slides, Forms, and Drawings
- Google Earth
- virtual field trips and museum exhibits
- digital escape rooms
- digital exit tickets
- Boom digital task cards
- breakout rooms for small groups
- research activities
- digital flipbooks or interactive notebooks
- virtual math manipulatives
- digital sorting activities
Participation can be low-tech, too! If you sent home whiteboards and markers, have them hold them up to the camera. They can even tilt the laptop lid down so you can see their work. Have them use some manipulatives to solve a math problem! Or have them use hand signals like the ones listed above!
Another strategy that’s guaranteed to get kids focused is having students help teach. Is there a slide they can read aloud? What word problems can they create? What are students experts on?
If you need to save time on some ready-to-use interactive digital resources, you can see mine here.
5. Build relationships.
I probably should have made this #1 because it’s the most important, but kids aren’t going to engage without a reason to. Taking some time each day for a virtual icebreaker, a digital game, or just a private phone call or chat is huge. This is especially important for our quiet and shy kiddos!
There are tons of great ideas for activities on social media. No need to recreate the wheel to come up with fun opportunities for social interaction!
My last bit of advice is whatever you choose to do, mix it up. Anyone would get bored if they watched YouTube videos in every science lesson.
Virtual teaching is hard. Some days we rock it and other days it’s a flop, and we don’t always know why. And sometimes you really feel like you’re talking to yourself. But as I hope you see from this post, there are lots of ways we can differentiate our virtual teaching strategies to keep our kids interested!
I hope you’ve found at least one new idea to try to increase online student engagement. What else is working for you? Let me know in the comments!