After 10 months in a global pandemic, keeping classes Zoom engaging remains challenging. Though it’s impossible to simulate the energy from a classroom experience, there are tools and techniques to make learning virtually more optimal and enjoyable.
ATT’s Chani Friedman shared essential aspects of the remote environment from a physical and an emotional perspective with ATT teachers. These are factors that every teacher must consider when planning a Zoom lesson.
The physical Zoom environment
Teachers pour effort and energy each year into making sure their classroom is an appealing and effective learning space. With virtual learning, there is less time spent making bulletin boards and more time learning how to make Zoom learning more appealing.
You don’t have to get a green screen or spend hours perfecting your background. However, Zoom presenters must make themselves visible and interesting. Make sure to pay attention to your background, position and lighting. Adjust your camera position because how the audience sees you as the presenter affects their engagement in the presentation.
When missing so much of the energy from the classroom, your facial expressions as a teacher can still serve to keep students engaged. That means smiling and appearing approachable to minimize the feeling of being on autopilot for lessons.
Breaks are even more crucial during remote learning. After 15-20 minutes of instruction, be sure to take a break. This could be an exercise break, a question, poll or asking students to react to something. The more you can get them actively engaged, the more enjoyable the lesson will be.
Technology provides the ability for continued effective education during the pandemic. However, when there is a glitch or something isn’t clear, it can be frustrating for even the most motivated students. To enhance clarity, screen share your document, especially the daily agenda or lesson plan.
The emotional Zoom environment
The importance of connecting with students in any classroom environment cannot be over-emphasized. In the Zoom environment, this can be a challenge. Try saying each child’s name throughout lessons. Keep a daily checklist when you name a child or give them active roles in class that day to ensure that each student is participating.
Take time to promote questions, comments or reactions from students. The Zoom chat feature is excellent for getting students involved. Allowing students to be the presenter at times and share is a great way to get them to actively participate. You can make one student at a time the “chat monitor” on a rotational basis.
Students thrive with structure and routine, so create as much structure and predictability as possible on Zoom. By posting the schedule and needs for materials and texts on a daily basis, students will know what to expect and be more prepared. Especially with students in younger grades, ensure that parents are clear on directions and expectations.
While it’s important to create an organized online classroom, there should also be an emphasis on creating a warm virtual experience for students. Try playing music as the class starts or during attendance.
Choose words and phrases that are motivational. For instance, “You have several choices to consider,” “Your next challenge is,” “Here are three things to try.” In each of these instances, the pronoun “I” is intentionally omitted to place the emphasis on the student.
To make the virtual classroom feel warmer, use techniques to build community. One technique to try is when you join the classroom, have students turn on and off their camera as an answer to a question. For example, ask students to turn the camera on if they are feeling happy, tired, or any other emotion. You can also use an emotion wheel with faces to provide a visual for students.
Together as a class you can create a “gratitude slide” with an image to stress feelings of appreciation or thanks. Ask students what they are grateful for on an individual level, as a class or a community. You can use the chat feature to make this even more interactive.
Internal Zoom tools
Taking the time to familiarize yourself with Zoom’s capabilities will greatly improve the effectiveness of learning remotely. Set the Zoom meeting to mute microphones upon entry to keep it organized.
You can use the screen share feature and its tools such as the whiteboard, ability to annotate shared documents, share files and audio. Be sure to always check your Zoom meeting feature settings before you start your session. You can also use breakout rooms for short periods of time to have students discuss topics.
To promote active participation, enable the Zoom poll or ask a question with chat. Chat can be to everyone or you can have students send responses directly to the host when necessary. The chat must be monitored and it can be set to save automatically for future reference.
Non-verbal feedback within Zoom is a great way to get feedback easily from students. Students can give a thumbs up, show their paper to the camera or use a hand signal. In a 20-30 minute lesson, stop every so often and request some student participation to keep them actively involved in the learning. You can use a side by side view when you share your screen so the students can see both the teacher and material.
External program tools
Zoom’s built-in programs offer interactive tools to make learning more engaging. For even more engagement, there are many online programs that you can use to enhance virtual education:
Math and reading tools
- Mathematics Question of the Day
- Zearn: K-5 Online Math Curriculum
- Critical Reader Question of the Day: For this, you need to subscribe by providing your email address and you’ll receive a new question to your inbox daily.
- Would You Rather: A or B? Open up for discussion – live or chat. Plus hundreds of other questions.
- YouTube and Edutopia.org – browse the video library using their search tool.
- Artsandculture.google.com – This requires pre-searching to see what is applicable for your class. Here is an example: Anne Frank’s family home before she went into hiding.
- Google Earth: Search for any place and see its location and pictures.
- Khan Academy: You will need to sign in to use Khan Academy. Here is an example: Multiplying Two-Digit Numbers
- PBS Learning Media: hundreds of short videos and lesson plans for all grade levels and subjects in general studies. Here is an example: Photosynthesis
Make time for games or brain breaks during remote learning
When you need a break or want to incorporate some fun into learning, there are an overwhelming amount of games and online resources. We’ve narrowed it down to some favorites with some possible applications:
- Word-maker: How many words can you make from a larger word? Display your word on the shared screen.
- Whiteboard ideas: Hangman – using Hebrew or English words.
- Pictionary: Create teams with a designated drawer (rotate drawer role) Students draw a picture/scene having to do with the lesson and classmates guess it; the student needs access to the whiteboard and you can also use the private chat.
- Scattergories: Color with a letter, any category with a letter – Judaic or general studies.
- Four-square: Name, place, animal, thing in 4 squares – can use specific alphabet letters.
- Boggle: Points for words that are not shared.
- Fact or Fiction: A derivation of the 3 truths and 1 lie activity. Give students three facts and one false fact about a particular topic. Use the chat to have each student figure out the wrong fact. This can be used as a review activity or just for fun.
- National Geographic: Online ready-made trivia games
- Surveys and Polls
- Bingo: Use whiteboard or shared screen for visuals: create your own related to your lesson content. Create a BINGO board. You can use Hebrew fonts, as well.
- Dress up game: Relate this to your class content.
- Create a story: Open a word document on a shared screen. Teacher starts a story and types it. Go around the class. Each student adds a sentence. Teacher can type the sentence as it is said.
- Classroomscreen.com: You’ll need to sign in to use timers, stoplight, clock, choose students, dice, textbox, drawing tool.
- Kahoot.it: Multiple choice quiz maker.
- Triviamaker.com: Can use Hebrew fonts too.
- Read together: Put pages of a book (or find a story online) into your PowerPoint and read as a class. You can unmute student microphones that are doing the reading. You can actually read a book as well and use the camera. The website vooks.com allows teachers a free account for a year due to the pandemic.
- Show and tell: Using the camera can be very effective.
- Word find/search: You can create Judaic ones with Master Teacher in DavkaWriter – use your shared screen to annotate as an activity related to your lesson content.
- Eye spy: Google them or create your own related to your lesson content.
- Flashcards: Both Judaic and general studies. You can create your own related to your lesson content.
- Quizlet.com: Creation of flashcards, use of created sets of cards – free sign up, will take Hebrew fonts – create your own related to your lesson content.