25 great ways to engage students in your Zoom online classroom

Article by Rachel Bush

How do you engage dozens of students — logging in from their own homes, with varying facilities — through a computer screen? This is a question teachers and instructors across the globe have been grappling with. As the pandemic continues and virtual learning becomes the de facto model, this question would become more and more pressing in the coming academic year.

We’ve brought help. In this blog post, we discuss 25 ways in which you can make your next Zoom online classroom more engaging.

1. Set yourself up for success: Students won’t feel engaged if they can’t see and hear you clearly. Before you begin, check whether your webcam, microphone, speakers etc. are all working. Wear clothes that you’d generally wear to class to ensure continuity.

2. Get your students ready too: Make sure that the entire class has Zoom on their device, knows their way around the product, can access course presentation and other materials readily.  

3. Set ground rules: Hosting students online can be a chaotic experience if the rules are not laid down clearly. Decide how you want to run your class and let your students know. Some rules teachers typically set are: Only one student can talk at a time, students need to raise their hand and wait for their turn to speak and questions will be answered at the end of the lecture, no interruptions allowed.

4. Collaborate with the whiteboard feature: In addition to using the whiteboard as you normally would, you can also invite your students to collaboratively solve problems and share ideas on it.

5. Annotate on documents and presentations: Use the Zoom annotation feature to let your students discuss existing materials such as scanned pages of textbooks, class slides, maps, diagrams etc. 

6. Use breakout rooms for group activity: With Zoom’s breakout rooms feature, you can split the class into smaller groups and encourage group activity. You can also hop over, monitor and control different breakout sessions.   

7. Use screen sharing creatively: Show and tell with the screenshare feature. Use it to demonstrate processes, for instance. Allow students to share their screen and watch it to understand their experience.  

8. Include interactive presentations: Look beyond standard slide templates. Design interactive slides with graphics, illustrations, stories, videos etc.  

9. Use storyboards: We know that stories engage better than any lecture could. Create and share online storyboards, with tools like Padlet, for better engagement and retention. 

10. Seek feedback with polls: Use polls to ask questions, get feedback, or even make lesson plans. You can also allow anonymous polling for sensitive questions.

11. Have organized student interaction with the raise hand feature: Allow students to raise their hand — like they would in class — and speak to you.  

12. Include live quizzes: Include pop quizzes in-between the sessions with apps like Kahoot! 

13. Use in-meeting chats wisely: Students talking to each other might not be ideal in class. In virtual classrooms though, this might be a good way to encourage a sense of community among your students. Use them wisely for greater engagement. 

14. Welcome non-verbal feedback: Non-verbal feedback and emoji responses allows students to express themselves more freely.  

15. Provide audio transcriptions: Zoom allows the host to offer transcriptions for their recorded videos. Use this to give students the opportunity to revisit lectures, without having to watch the video in full.  

16. Spotlight your students: When the spotlight feature is enabled during a Zoom session, the current speaker’s video will be expanded to fill the screen. Use this feature to spotlight students who are excited to share their stories.   

17. Turn on the gallery view: This shows the whole classroom as thumbnails. Use it for activities that require every student to answer in sequence to emulate the in-person class.   

18. Set virtual backgrounds: Use your background to offer additional information, spark a conversation or even just remind your students of something. For instance, your custom background can have the test dates, pictures related to your lessons, or even just moving between red and green backgrounds to command attention.

19. Encourage minute paper: Minute paper is a technique where students reflect and write their thoughts about the session on a piece of paper. Create a Zoom equivalent of it encouraging students to share their reflections on chat or message boards.   

20. Try the flipped classroom model: Shake things up occasionally by flipping the learning model — invite students to watch pre-recorded lectures before coming to class. During the Zoom class, discuss their learnings and questions. 

21. Account for Zoom fatigue: A well-engaged online class is the one that considers the natural distractions and Zoom fatigue that sets in. Break the lecture into multiple segments and let the class break for some time away from their screens.  

22. Give a “catchup pause”: While sharing images or materials in-between presentations, consider the varying internet speeds of the students. Pause regularly for everyone to catch up. 

23. Include fun games: Zoom-friendly activities and games, like bingo, Pictionary etc. can help break the monotony of a serious academic session.   

24. Beware of Zoombombing:  Lance Gharavi, professor at Arizona State University, found himself Zoombombed in the middle of lecture.. Read through Zoom’s guidelines to avoid unwarranted audience into your classes.

25. Track and review attendance: An important way of ensuring student engagement is attendance tracking. Monitor absences and tardies regularly, and proactively reach out to those who are in need of support. Automate this process to ensure no time is lost in roll call. 

All said and done, lack of in-person interaction leaves instructors with no way to gauge body language and behavioural changes in their students. For things such as these, look for answers beyond the Zoom classroom. Use office hours for 1:1 telephone calls, encourage email communication, and regularly stay in touch with your students.