5 Ways to Keep Students Engaged When Teaching Remotely

Teaching remotely during the pandemic can often make you feel like you’re a first-year teacher all over again. It’s frustrating, challenging, and exhausting, but it can also be rewarding if you give it a chance.

In our current situation, lessons and activities need to be adapted like never before. As teachers, we have to get out of our comfort zones and reimagine our curriculums in completely new ways. Below are tips to keep students in elementary school and up engaged in remote learning so you can see that spark of excitement in your students again, even if it is via webcam. You can adapt these strategies to meet your needs across grade levels.

Student Engagement Tips for Remote Learning

1. Keep Cameras On and the Chat Open

A simple step you can take is to allow students to talk to each other. Online school can be isolating, especially for children who are used to socializing. In my classes, I promote keeping our cameras on so we feel like we’re all together. I also sometimes leave the chat function on so students can ask questions or respond to their classmates. While not everyone is comfortable with this, I find that students become more willing to share and participate in class discussions this way.

2. Comment on Student Work in Real Time

I was surprised to see that students really enjoy sharing their work through Zoom’s screen-sharing tool and providing feedback to one another. For a recent project, I gave the students a peer-feedback sheet that included a rubric and an area to write a “glow-and-grow.” I allowed each student to present by sharing their screen, and the others filled in the feedback sheet for them. Then we shared our feedback for the presenter aloud. One student even told me that the experience was fun. I hadn’t expected it to go so well, but I think they enjoyed the social aspect of this activity and seeing each other’s work.

You can also see students’ work in real time through Google Classroom. Once you’ve assigned work on a Google Doc, you can use the Comment or Suggestions tools and highlight areas of improvement. I usually leave comments while I have Zoom going so students can ask me questions aloud if need be. This really helps keeps students on task and accountable for their work.

3. Assign Creative Projects

Every teacher knows the best way to boost student engagement is through a well-planned lesson. I have found it easy to edit old worksheets and lessons to fit the needs of my students in the virtual format, but I have also come up with some new projects that springboard off of my units.

For instance, I asked students to create their own type of money featuring a historical or modern-day figure who has greatly contributed to our country. They then wrote a researched-based argumentative essay explaining their choice. Many students used the free website, Pixlr, to create fake dollar bills featuring the person’s face in the center, while others chose to draw it. I allowed some of my tech-savvy students to explain how to use Pixlr, giving students a chance to interact with each other more.

Additionally, it recently snowed, so I told my classes they could use the snow to create something that symbolizes the person they researched for that project and then upload a picture—for instance, a snow angel to represent Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s peaceful mindset, or a snowman dressed in a collar to represent Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This can be a creative outlet for their stress and anxiety and focus their minds on something other than the pandemic.

4. Play Games or Hold Contests

Thank goodness for Kahoot!. My middle schoolers love this tool and taught me how to use it. This free website allows students to play interactive trivia games about any topic. You can create your own game or choose from a variety of pre-existing quizzes. Students don’t need an account to join, but if they create a free student account, they can make their own quizzes.

"As teachers, we have to get out of our comfort zones and reimagine our curriculums in completely new ways."

During my virtual after-school program, I sometimes give students a topic to research, and they create their own quizzes. Then, we take turns sharing our screens to “host” the Kahoot! we’ve created with the rest of us. The activity is not only fun but also promotes good research skills.

Kahoot! seems like a go-to for many teachers, but there are plenty of other interactive games out there, including Quizziz, Pictionary, Hangman, or Scattergories. I sometimes play games like Charades and 20 Questions with the students, where they guess out loud via webcam. Games like Oregon Trail or virtual scavenger hunts can be fun and promote teamwork.

5. Celebrate Small Victories

It’s important to acknowledge that this has been a tough year for everyone, and I understand attending class on Zoom just isn’t the same. Choosing to celebrate small victories with students can be a way to boost everyone’s spirits. I’m fortunate to work at a school that hosts a lot of creative activities like Zoom parties or photo contests with the students. In October, we held a pumpkin-decorating contest followed by a recent cookie-decorating Zoom party.

If your school doesn’t offer these types of activities, you can host your own. You may hold a Zoom party if students complete all of their missing assignments or reward them by playing Kahoot! for working hard in the last unit. You can also create “silly awards” for each student that represent something they have done well. For example the “announcer award” goes to the student who likes to read aloud the most. Taking time to celebrate how far you have come as a class and rewarding students for their hard work during COVID-19 can help them (and you) feel valued, respected, and appreciated.

This school year really been unlike any other year. While we all feel isolated and overwhelmed, remember that our students are missing out on the social aspect of school. Thinking of creative projects and games can keep students engaged in remote learning and even help them make new friends. It may surprise you to see how much your students end up enjoying some of these activities, and they may end up teaching you something too.

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