Blog Archives

25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting

Now that we have all been thrust into the world of online learning, we have to figure out ways as educators to engage our students when they are online. Some of the first things schools did when shifting to remote learning was to hold regular video meetings with their students. These can vary based on the ages of the students and the frequency of when a teacher interacts with their students, but most teachers realized quickly that they can’t use the same behavioral strategies (like proximity) that they use in a physical classroom. This can lead to a lack of student engagement and involvement in what is trying to be taught regardless of age.

These 25 strategies listed here are not meant to take the place of deeper learning. That kind of learning is generally better when done with a mix of asynchronous learning. That said, in order to get our students to that deeper state of learning with greater depth of knowledge (DOK) levels, we need to make sure they are engaged when we have synchronous conversations and discussions. Some of these strategies take little set-up while others might take more time and energy to make them really successful. The purpose of these tools is to draw students into the lesson/activity and make them engaged and looking forward to your next virtual class meeting.

While there are a lot of video meeting solutions out there, I’m going to focus many of the tools around the Zoom platform as it has some of the best interactive features and seems to be the most widely accepted in K-12 schools across the country. However, as many of these strategies can be used with any video platform or device, I only focused on Zoom-centric ideas on the first 5 strategies, the rest you can use on any platform. Also, kids (especially teenagers) can say and do that darnedest things, especially when being remotely hidden behind a screen. As you would with the physical classroom, I would strongly encourage teachers discuss norms when it comes to interacting over video chat with their students prior to any of these strategies.

Here are 25 strategies to engage students on your next Zoom meeting:

1. Share your screen 

I’m going to start out with one of the basics. While you may be doing many of your chats with just video, don’t forget that you have the ability to share part or all of your screen with your students. This can be something as simple as sharing a question of the day to an entire slide show. If you have a slideshow that you’ve already created for use in your classroom, don’t recreate the wheel, just launch it on your share screen and use built in Zoom tools like ‘raise hand’ or the chat room to have a floating backchannel as you go through your slides. One bit of advice, check what items you have on your desktop and in your “favorites” bar of an internet browser before you share that with your students. There’s nothing more embarrassing than you students seeing your latest beach pic or maybe your bookmark for you favorite drink recipe.

2. Use the Whiteboard feature

Of course, if you don’t want to share your screen you can always use the built-in whiteboard feature that comes with Zoom. This feature can take some getting used to, especially if you are using a mouse or trackpad. To use it, simply go to share your screen and choose “whiteboard”. A little tip – if you have tablet like an iPad, install the Zoom app and then join the meeting with your iPad as well. This works better for drawing especially if you have a nice stylus or Apple Pencil. (just be careful you have one of the devices muted to avoid echoes) Of course, as you get more comfortable with Zoom and student expectations, let your students also use the whiteboard feature to share their understanding. If you are not using Zoom, a tool like Classroomscreen.com has a bevy of tools including a whiteboard if you share your screen with your students.

3. Enable the Annotation Features

Another feature that you could use when sharing slides, photos, or websites is the annotation tools. You’ll want to check your account settings to make sure these features are enabled by default. Having these tools enabled, you’ll be able write over any image, highlight certain features of a website, and make the viewing experience for your students much more interactive.

4. Create breakout rooms for collaboration

My favorite of all the Zoom features for learning is the ability to create breakout rooms for your students. Unlike whiteboard and annotation features, the ability to create breakout rooms are not enabled by default. You’ll want to go into your account settings to enable this ability before using it with your students. Once enabled, you can have Zoom either automatically or manually assign students into rooms. Even if it’s automatically assigning, you can swap students out depending on group dynamics (note: it helps to have your students put their name on their Zoom login). You can even rename the rooms depending on group names or topics before assigning certain students to each room. The great thing about these rooms is that it can create a more collaborative setting than the large whole-group zoom experience. As the moderator you can float around and join rooms to check in on the discussion, post an announcement to all rooms, or even place a time limit on them. Once you ask students to rejoin the whole group and end the breakouts, they’ll have 60-seconds to wrap-up their discussion and rejoin. A powerful way to enable collaboration remotely! Check out the video below for a quick how-to:

5. Virtual backgrounds can be more than just fun

If you’ve been in any Zoom meeting the past couple of months, you’ve probably seen all sorts of crazy and fun virtual backgrounds. These can be hilarious but also distracting so some educators have disabled this feature for their group meetings. However, there could be some productive uses of these virtual backgrounds. Some examples of using virtual backgrounds might be re-enacting moments in history with the appropriate backdrop, selecting a geographic landmark they might be studying or “visiting” virtually, or just having students select either a solid green or red background to quickly show if they agree or disagree with a topic (hint: use Grid view for this). No matter the reason, virtual backgrounds can be much more than everyone acting like they are a character from The Office.

6. Play “I Spy” Backgrounds

If you really want your students to focus on everyone in the classroom, play a game of “I Spy” backgrounds. You can do this either with or without virtual backgrounds, but in essence you are describing things that you notice in the background of someone’s zoom call. Students then quickly have to search all the attendees and see which student’s background is being described. A fun, 5-minute way to get students hooked into their next Zoom meeting.

7. Scavenger Hunts

Probably one of the most popular games to play with students is a virtual scavenger hunt. The premise is simple, you have a list of items and then ask students to run through their house or apartment attempting to find the items and show them on the screen. A quick word of advice on this is to be sure you are not picking exact objects for them to find like “a toy cell phone”. Rather, create a category that could involve all sorts of different objects that qualify like “an object with numbers on it.”  This will reveal a lot of different interpretations of the clue as well as not limiting what students can find around them. You could also use software like Eventzee or Goosechase to do a virtual scavenger hunt throughout the day or week where students capture items you’ve identified with their camera.

8. Live Quiz or Trivia

Last week, I got to host a virtual trivia night via Zoom. We had over 150 people during the event that drew lots of positive feedback for keeping them engaged while also doing something fun during this stressful time. I used a pro-level software called Crowdpurr to run my event, but I could just as easily do something similar using a tool like Kahoot! or Quizziz. These quizzes or trivia can either be done live or student-paced. Having the scores decrease as time dwindles down on each question also prevents students from “googling” the answers as it will affect their score. Check out the latest “Challenge” feature within Kahoot to create more of a self-paced challenge for your students that might have limited access to technology or can’t participate synchronously.

9. Survey your students

In the classroom, we use the classic “raise your hand” to gather feedback from students. In Zoom, it’s no different as there is a “Raise hand” button available to students, but some savvy teachers have also figured out that the chat room can act as an impromptu survey as long as it involves brief responses. For better tracking, you could always use a tools like Nearpod, Polleverywhere, or Peardeck to gather feedback via a second screen or browser tab. Playing a game like “would you rather” would work well to test this out before using it more in-depth in later lessons.

10. Brainstorming ideas 

Gathering feedback in polls is one way to interact with students, but you could also use a shared collaborative space like a Padlet or Ziteboard to have students discuss and brainstorm ideas on shared spaces. You could also combine this with the breakout rooms (#4 from above) to have each group brainstorm a topic while you navigate from board to board. A tip here is to create the “walls” or spaces for the students to collaborate on so that you have a live link to what they are working on. Once you’ve split them into groups, share your link to each group to work on.

11. Interactive presentations

Yes, you can share your screen and even your slides with your students via a tool like Google Slides, Keynote or Powerpoint. But since you have them live, why not use a tool like Nearpod to actually guide them through the learning with you. Ideally, this would work best with two screens, but since everything these days is web-based you could guide them through the presentation on one screen while they follow along to your voice on the other. Doing this on an iPad? Share the join code with your students and then have them switch to the Nearpod app while leaving the Zoom app open in the background so they can hear your voice while following along. Of course, one of the best parts of using a tool like Nearpod is all the extra features like Virtual field trips, 3D models, Microsoft Sway, collaborative boards and more. One thing I’ve tried that worked well was embedding a PollEverywhere poll within my Nearpod. That way students didn’t have to jump out of the app ever.

12. Embrace the pause

Silence can be awkward in the classroom. It’s even more awkward when you are looking at more than two dozen teenagers on the screen. That said, it’s important to let students pause and reflect throughout the lesson. Using a countdown timer either on a slide, video or on a tool like ClassroomScreen.com helps students know when they should break from their pause or reflection. As I will mention on my next point, students need breaks from lengthy instruction throughout their day whether they be on a screen or not. If you are hosting a 50-minute lesson online, build in a 5 minute break for students to stretch or get a glass of water to keep their brain active.

13. Brainbreaks

Taking breaks throughout a lengthy lesson are important whether it be for a reflective pause or just an opportunity to stretch. Using tools like GoNoodle, teachers can lead a virtual dance party in their remote classroom to get the kids up and moving. One word of advice here, if you are playing a video through your system speakers, make sure you don’t have headphones on or adjust the audio source in Zoom by clicking on the up-carrot symbol next to “Mute” to change your selection of audio output. (see image on the right)

14. Reveal your answer

With everything being digital, it’s also nice to take a break from digital as you already have a Zoom meeting occupying the students’ screens. There are a wide variety of analog strategies you could use with your students by using paper and pencil. One might be sharing a math problem on your screen while students work out the results. Then, countdown and have them reveal their answers to their cameras at the same time. I’ve also seen teachers have success doing a “directed drawing” by pointing their webcam or phone camera down to a sheet a paper while they give instruction and then have students share their creations at the end.

15. Box of Lies

A big struggle with online learning via video is keeping students focus and attention, especially to the finer details. The game “Box of Lies” was made popular by Jimmy Fallon (video below) and would be a creative way to see if students are paying attention. The premise would be that the teacher or student has an object out of camera view and then has to describe the object. You could do this with all sorts of other ideas from historical figures to using descriptive words in another language.

 

16. Monster drawing

Taking that directed drawing from #14 to the next level by doing a Monster drawing. In this activity, a teacher or student read aloud descriptions of their drawing but don’t let other students see it. They have listen for information like “my monster has a rectangle body” or “my monster has 5 eyes, one of them is big and in the middle” to figure out the drawing. This helps kids both with descriptive words but also with listening and translating. In the end, have students show their creations on the screen to see who got closest to the description. This activity could be used in other areas as well such as re-creating a story character or describing a graph in math.

17. Organize projects online

Distance learning doesn’t just have to be about kids filling out digital worksheets or playing online learning games. Students can still do long-term projects either individually or in groups even though they final results may be different than what was done traditionally in the classroom. Using online project management and productivity tools like Trello, MeisterTask or ClickUp can help students struggling with organization and timelines. Coupling those tools with video meeting check-ins can help kids learn how to collaborate and complete a project online over a length of time.

18. Breakout a Digital BreakOut EDU

BreakoutEDU has always been one of my favorite ways to engage students of all ages by creating a series of clues and challenges that the students have to uncover. For the last couple of years they’ve been offering Digital BreakOutEDU as an online version of their platform. Teachers could leverage the “breakout” room feature of Zoom with a Digital BreakOutEDU and have teams solve the challenges within a certain timeframe. The great thing about their platform is they have already done most of the heavy lifting in creating the BreakOuts for you based on subject and age level. You can also check out this “Build Your Own” resource if you don’t have the funds to purchase a subscription.

19. Who’s who?

A fun non-tech game to play is “Who’s who?”.  In this game, students privately message the teacher some facts about themselves and then the teacher reveals the clues. Students then write down their guesses as to who the person is based on the clues. This could also be turned into “Two truths and a lie” fairly easily. Other adaptations could be students sending clues about historical figures, book characters, etc. that the class has to figure out.

20. Play BINGO

Who doesn’t love a good game of BINGO? While this isn’t the classic game with numbers, balls, and clever calls, it is using the set-up of Bingo as a way to review facts, geographical locations, scientific terms, or even mathematical applications. Using the Flippity.net BINGO tool, you create what goes in the squares and then you read out the clues while students fill out their own digital square or by printing a game card. Flippity actually lets you send out the cards via link or QR code as kids can fill in their cards digitally. Then when it’s over, have them share their screen and review their answers to see who wins!

21. Host a Game Show

Amongst some of the other Flippity.net tools is the classic Jeopardy-like game show. A great way to review information for a unit or novel study, you can fill in the back-end answers using a Google spreadsheet and then share your screen with the game board. Students can play individually, or you could pre-assign teams and then send them to breakout rooms to discuss what they think the answer might be.

22. Story Progression

You remember the “telephone game” or maybe the game “one-word stories”? This is a similar concept where you start the story and have random students add the next line. A story could start with “Once upon a time….” and then you could select the student by unmuting their mic. By doing it randomly rather than in a specific order, you cause all students to be thinking of a response rather than just waiting until their turn. Mix it up with story recaps or historical fiction to see what they come up with.

23. Autodraw Slam

For those of us that are not budding artists or struggle with drawing with a mouse, I’ve long been a fan of Autodraw.com. This web-based application has you draw out a shape as close as you can while the AI guesses what it might be. When you see an object that is close to what you are drawing, you select it to place into your drawing. One fun thing I’ve tried with this is having students draw their favorite movie scene and then putting the picture on a Padlet wall for everyone to guess the movie.

24. Digital Flashcards

Flashcards can be pretty boring, especially if you are just using them yourself to practice terms, definitions or maybe even a foreign language. Now that we are remote, it becomes even more challenging to find a partner or group to practice with. Using tools like Fishbowl and Quizlet Live can be leveraged to create fun and energizing ways to have kids practice their terms either as a group or in breakout rooms.

25. Polygraph Questions

One of the hidden nuggets I always love showing teachers is the Polygraph feature contained within the free, web-based math app called Desmos. This tool acts creates a “Guess who?” like game where 2 students are randomly paired up via a join code you share with them on the screen. You create the cards and student A choses one of the items to be their “mystery item”. As you can upload any image, the mystery item could be a person, place, thing, word, math problem, etc. Then student B has to ask yes or no questions and decide which items they can eliminate. Polygraph creates a private loop between the students and the teacher can see the questions and guesses that each student is making to better check for understanding.

Additional Resources:

While most of these activities I either have done with students or teachers (both live and online), there are hundreds of other resources and games out there available to use freely with your students as you teach remotely. Here are two that I’ll give shout-outs to as I found them while writing this post:

TCEA Tech Notes – Zoom Games – This post came out while I was writing this post and contains many other games like the scavenger hunt and Pictionary that teachers could benefit from using.

Quarantine Games – This google doc compiled by @ihartnia has pages of board games, card games, and other things that you can play online.

I hope you enjoy my list and please feel free to share any other games or ideas you have in the comments below. Here’s an infographic with all 25 of the strategies (ironically) on a Zoom call. 🙂

Stay safe and stay sane!

 

Need a Team-Building Icebreaker? Try Team Trivia!

Whenever I get the opportunity to work with a team of educators for a day, I’m always excited for what the day will bring. Being an attendee at many a workshop as well, I know that there is a sense of dread when it comes to “icebreakers”. I’ve got a few up my sleeve that seem to always be a big hit, but lately I’ve been looking for something different.

If you know anything about me, I usually look for inspiration outside of education.  As some of you witnessed with the Silent Disco Presenting at last year’s LearnFestATX (coming back in 2019 too!), that idea was “derived” from a silent disco dance event at ACLFest here in Austin. This summer, my family and I got to go on a trip of lifetime and traveled on a 14-day Alaskan cruise. We enjoyed the sights, the scenery, and especially all the fun and interactive activities on board the ship. I befriended the cruise director (a former educator and owner of my dream job) and spoke with him about all the ways he tries to engage his audience. He shared a bunch of different games and interactive activities that would be easily applicable to a classroom or professional development setting. Games like “Majority Rules” where the right answer isn’t as important as picking the answer of the majority introduces some hilarious responses and creative thinking.

One event that my family and I repeatedly tried to compete in was the Team Trivia competitions. Some were music based, some were general, but all of them were fun, in large part because of the engaging MC and the collaborative thinking of our team.  I started to wonder if this might be a good way to have a team of diverse thinkers work together and quickly get to know each other rather than the traditional icebreaker.

Last week, I was lucky enough to have two opportunities to try out my theory.  I knew I was going to meet with a dynamic team of educators in Illinois and later in the week was playing co-host to my own teams’ beginning of the year retreat. What a perfect opportunity for some team-building while also breaking the ice!  What follows is a step-by-step run down of the activity with some takeaways if you would like to try this for your team, school, classroom or family!

The Set-up

As I didn’t want this to be solely random trivia, it had to include some information about the group. Things like “What is your greatest fear?” and “Would you rather be a little late or WAY early?” were some of the questions I sent out in advance in this “Pre-flection” survey. (Here’s a sample) While much of the data was easily captured into graphs to use, some of the open-ended questions take quite a bit of data digging to suss out which are the top responses.

I also created the following trivia answer sheet (Link to Team Trivia PDF).  I know you could also do this digitally, but as the purpose of this was more team-building and collaboration, teams were instructed to “use your noodle, not your google.”

Finally, for the trivia portion, I printed a couple of different cards or “life-lines”.  One was a “Text a friend” card and the other was a “Google” card. Teams were instructed that they could use these cards one time and for one question only. If they didn’t use the card, they received a bonus half-point for each card. It was interesting to watch teams use strategy around when or if to use a lifeline card.

Also, just for fun, I created a playlist that included the songs they chose when answering the “my go-to karaoke song is…” on the Pre-flection survey and had their songs playing as they entered the room.

Create your team

For this challenge, I didn’t want teams to just be people you know or members of your campus. In fact, in some ways, this would put your team at a disadvantage if you knew everyone on your team really well. As the last sections were about the group and their answers, it actually is better if you have a more diverse group so that you can poll your team on what they answered. I awarded bonus points for creative team names (and told them to cater to the judge as it was all subjective 🙂

The Trivia Section

There are tons of websites that have trivia out there, so don’t rack your brain coming up with questions. I looked at pop-culture, technology, current events, and school related trivia as my go-to questions. I also tried to pull in some “local” trivia for some of the questions (about the town, school district). For the audio clue questions I included song samples from their Pre-flection Survey for “go to karaoke song choice” and they could earn a point each for listing artist, song title, and year it was released.

Finally, while you could totally do this verbally, I liked having the visual of the question on a screen so I built all my slides in Keynote. This is helpful in large spaces where they might not be able to hear you and it reinforces the idea that we understand and remember much more if we hear AND see it.  I then copied  all my questions slides and repeated the questions at the end of the deck with answer slides in between when we got to the scoring part.

The “Survey Says…” Section

This is a “Family Feud” like section where the team is trying to pick out what they think the number one answer is of the group.

Team Trivia in action! Pic courtesy @ASharpTeacher

I awarded 5 points for the top choice and down to 1 point for the 5th choice. A word of caution here, when building your Pre-flection survey, shoot for one-word answers as it makes tabulating top responses easier to find. Some fun questions here are “What’s your number 1 place to visit on your bucket list?” or “What was your favorite cereal as a kid?”

Remember, it’s not about what you answer, it’s about what you think the group’s top answer will be.

The 50/50 Section

These questions were based on a series of “would you rather” questions at the end of their Pre-flection survey. Questions like “Would you rather lose your hearing or your vision?” or “Would you rather go on a cruise with a spouse or your friends?” were some fun ones and prompted quite a bit of laughter and discussion. Again, don’t re-invent the wheel here. I found this list and many others on the inter-webs to pull these questions from.  For the teams, they had a two-part answer on their scoring sheet. First they had to decide what the majority of the people in the room chose, then they had to guess a percentage for how many chose that as their answer. (i.e. “Lose Hearing…90%) When we get to the scoring section, I awarded points for those that got it right AND got within 5 percentage points in either direction.

Scoring Round

After all the trivia was completed, I awarded bonus points for those that didn’t use their lifelines and for team name.  I then randomly distributed the answer sheets to other groups to do the scoring round. Note that competitive teams can really hung up on some answers. For the most part, if it was close to the original answer, I would allow it (this is supposed to be fun people).

This part should be super engaging. Ask the audience to shout out what you think the answer is and reveal the answers on the screen with some suspense. It’s always amazing to me how competitive teams can get and how disappointed they are when they get an answer wrong.

Summary

All in all, these team trivia contests were a hit at both events. It allowed the teams to get to know each other in a competitive and collaborative format. It took about 6-8 hours to do all the set-up (creating the google form, the answer form, gathering the data, creating the slide deck) and the actual event took an hour.  Now that I’ve done this a couple of times, I can re-use my slide deck and just change some of the questions based on the group so set-up won’t be as labor intensive.  Also, I’ve shared the Pre-flection survey and answer sheet in this blog, so feel free to borrow and remix it yourself. Would love to hear from you if you try it with your team. Tag me on twitter @mrhooker or comment on this post!