Engaging students during online classes: strategies that work

For Teachers Oct 13, 2020

As learners head back to school in this reimagined and constantly changing year, we know it is critical to prioritize engaging students during online classes and helping them connect with you and their classmates.

We want to share some strategies to help you increase student engagement and connection in your online classes.

Setting the foundation for teaching engaging online classes

A strong starting point in providing engaging instruction is to set clear learning objectives for your class. You can do this in the class description or in the Learning Goals section of your class page.

When you set clear expectations for a class, it leads to better results for you, the learner, and the adults signing them up.

Then, once you are engaged in real-time discussions on our Zoom platform, we suggest you follow these tips to build engagement from your online learners on Outschool.

These tips have been shared by two of the popular partner organizations offering classes on Outschool.

3 ideas for making online classes fun

The team at ReadyAI shared these three tips for maximizing engagement while teaching online.

Use digital tools to make learning interactive

Mixing games and interactive demos with lectures is a great way to engage learners. Tools like Kahoot! add variety and offer learners a chance to discuss their findings with the teachers and each other.

There are valuable lessons in the way ReadyAI leverages games and competition for virtual learning.

Embrace friendly competition

We include coding challenges towards the end of our classes. These use the concepts we talked about during the class.

This works for two reasons:

  1. It offers a self-assessment opportunity. When students anticipate a coding challenge, they know to pay attention in class because they'll need to use the knowledge to solve a problem later.
  2. Students are encouraged to screen share and present their solution, and usually when one student shares, the others want to share, too.

Even if you don’t use competitions, setting up a clear end-of-class goal can help keep learners focused during class.

Leverage real-world projects and problems

Most ReadyAI classes end with a student-driven project. Students come up with an idea of how AI can improve our lives and code a demo in the programming framework. We've found that when students work on their own ideas they tend to be more engaged and ask more questions.

How can you make the skills and content taught in your class relevant to students’ lives or the world in general? If they can use the lessons from your class to solve a real problem or create something, it can help them be more engaged.

How to build a healthy, connected online classroom

The folks at Pretzel Kids Yoga offered these tips for making learning fun while also promoting learner wellbeing when teaching online classes.

After adopting our in-person yoga classes to a virtual environment, here are some things that we find work well:

Start with a solid instructional plan

Whether learning happens in person or online, it’s important to be clear on what students are learning and how they’ll learn it.

In this parent-submitted review photo, a learner poses after a Pretzel Kids Yoga class.

For example, we start each class with a centering activity and pranayama (breathing technique). Although we can't do this in a circle, we use our gallery video view as a rectangle. It’s as if we were right next to each other. From there, we move into a fun, engaging breathing practice. Then, we begin the movement part of our Pretzel Kids class.

Although the class is happening online, sticking to a structure that works helps make class successful.

Sometimes, ditch the screen

Although we're teaching on video, we like to take kids away from their screens. We want kids to stand up, back away and participate in class, using our teachers' voices as their guides. This allows kids to destress and feel good in their bodies.

Get to know the kids

It's important that we watch the kids closely and check in on them often, so we can offer guidance throughout the class. Regardless of whether we are practicing a set of yoga poses together or playing a game that we've adapted to video chat, the kids stay engaged!

Empower kids to be leaders in your class

This works really well in our classes. For example, after we teach a yoga activity or group of poses, we can then invite the kids to showcase their favorite pose. The kids love this. If you can invite kids to share, demonstrate, or lead their classmates at some point during the activity, it’s a way to engage not only the leader but the other kids, too.

Even if your class is not a health & wellness class, you can still consider opportunities to have kids get moving as part of a learning activity or a brain break.

Online or in-person, the fundamentals matter most

The surprising part about teaching online may be the parts that don’t change when compared to an in-person classroom. It’s still essential to set clear learning objectives, focus on what kids are doing during class, and make learning fun.

By remembering to focus on the learners’ experiences, and not get too caught up in the fact that you’re not together in person, you’ll be more likely to connect with learners, convey your own genuine interest in the subject matter you teach, and keep learners coming back to your classes again and again.

Gerard Dawson

Gerard Dawson is a teacher, parent and writer for Outschool.