Engagement Strategies for Virtual Learning

Getting back to school is going to look very different this year, and students may be more distracted than usual. Here are some things to consider to increase student engagement as you start the year.

Check with your students before each lesson to find out if everyone: 

  • Has all the materials they might need.
  • Understands how to use the necessary technology.
  • Knows the expectations for participating online, such as when to mute, how to use the chat box, when you’ll be offering restroom breaks, etc.?

When students are anxious, distracted or upset, they are generally less engaged. Doing a brief “feelings check-in” will give you an idea of where students are at and who may need additional support. If many students are expressing similar feelings, you may want to incorporate other forms of learning, weave in more social emotional learning, practice coping skills or take more brain breaks.

  • Do a “lightning round,” asking each student to use one word to describe how they feel. They can each say it out loud or type it in the chat box.
  • Allow students to enter one emoji into the chat box to describe their current mood.
  • Let students pick any color they want to quickly identify their mood, or limit their choices to 3 options. Be sure to follow up with students who are struggling to offer them support. 
    • Green = I’m good to go! 
    • Yellow = I’m doing OK.
    • Red = I’m not OK.  

Never force a student to share. If not wanting to share becomes a pattern, check in with them individually to get a better sense of what is going on. And if a student shares something concerning with you, or you are worried about their well-being, follow your school’s protocol to notify the appropriate personnel.

Turn on your camera so your students can see your face, and encourage them to use video as well. Using the video function will help students stay focused, help you assess engagement and encourage relationship building between students. Some students may be insecure about people seeing their homes on screen, so consider teaching students how to change their backgrounds to an image or solid color screen.

Just like in the physical classroom, students are more likely to tune out the longer a lesson goes.

  • Try to break lectures into 5- to 10-minute segments. 
  • Follow lessons with interactive activities, including utilizing breakout rooms and group discussions. 
  • Try to present information in multiple ways (e.g., verbally and visually).

Using the chat box and poll functions can help keep students engaged throughout a lesson and allows students to respond all at once. Asking students to respond via a chat or poll gives you a good idea of who is actively participating. Ask students to respond by:

  • Giving a thumbs up or thumbs down.
  • Selecting an emoji.
  • Typing a one-word response into the chat box.
  • Answering a poll.

Assign students to breakout rooms to allow them to work together in small groups. Be clear about what the expectations are when you put them into the smaller rooms, and consider assigning roles, such as timekeeper and note-taker. Try as best you can to check in on each group throughout the breakout time.

Instead of quietly waiting as students log onto the virtual platform, put on some music. You can use the same music each day as part of the routine, or you can change it up. Music can also be helpful as a transition between lessons or to signal the start and end of bathroom breaks.

Sitting still for too long can result in boredom, disengagement and disruptive behaviors. Being physically active counteracts drowsiness, boosts energy and improves focus and learning. When you proactively meet these needs, students have a better chance of being engaged, focused and successful. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Play a fun, energetic game between subjects, such as Simon Says or Jeopardy.
  • Have your students pick songs to be played before each subject and coordinate a dance to go along with it. You can use existing dances, such as the Electric Slide or the Cupid Shuffle, or make them up.
  • Assign physical actions to certain words. Whenever the word is said throughout a lesson, or even during the day, have students act out the movement. Not only are you getting your students moving, but you are improving their focus and comprehension by engaging them and giving them more of an incentive to pay attention to what is being said.
  • Use imagination in lieu of actual props or objects when having your students be active, such as asking students to pretend to hula hoop or jump rope.
  • Encourage students to stand during certain activities, especially if they are just listening and don’t need to be writing at their desks.
  • Utilize existing resources to incorporate movement using quick videos and audio clips:

Sometimes our brains need a reset in order to focus on the next task. Use simple activities to help reset the brain and allow students to have a smooth transition to the next lesson.

  • Collaborate with the class to come up with a unique “call and response” chant for each subject change. 
  • Make up hand signals to signify a transition or change. 
  • Encourage students to “reset” their work spaces by clearing everything from the previous subject before taking out their materials for the next lesson or activity.
  • Use music to pick up the energy, and let students get their energy and wiggles out by dancing and moving to the next activity. 

Change and the unknown can cause students and adults to experience anxiety. Practicing mindfulness helps us focus on the present moment (or the here and now), rather than the past or the future. Use mindfulness to help students focus their energy and attention on the task at hand and to reduce anxiety or potentially disruptive behaviors. There are many free mindfulness resources available online. Here are a few resources to get you started:

Incorporate fun games, such as those found on GoNoodle, and allow students to share about themselves using FlipGrid or other platforms.

It is especially hard to gauge students' comprehension virtually. Use polls and other creative exit tickets to get a more accurate assessment of how much your students understand and what they might need more help with.