As many teachers become comfortable with online instruction, they are discovering that it is not always easy to keep students’ attention or find ways to involve students in collaboration and engaging activities. This leaves teachers searching for ways to boost participation in the virtual classroom.

Within the virtual classroom, there will need to be time for synchronous and asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning refers to the time spent together in learning. The teacher and students are engaged through a virtual platform and are able to ask and answer questions in real time. Asynchronous learning refers to the independent learning and activities. This might occur through pre-recorded lessons, instructional videos, or assignments that allow the student to progress through activities at their own pace.

Strategies for Synchronous Learning

In order to feel more like a traditional classroom, teachers and students like to be engaged in synchronous learning. However, to keep students’ attention, this needs to be more than just a virtual lecture. It is also the fear of many educators that virtual learning could lead to cheating as parents try to help students more or students are able to use the internet to find answers. For these reasons, teachers could use any of the following strategies to check for understanding and boost participation during virtual meeting times.

Create Time for Small Group Collaboration

Some virtual meeting platforms, such as Zoom, allow the teachers to divide students into smaller groups for collaboration, sometimes called breakout rooms. The teacher is then able to move in and out of each small group to monitor student discussions. The teacher may post questions in the chat box that need to be answered or provide guidance for the discussions. Because the teacher is able to visit each group, the groups are more likely to stay on-task. If the virtual platform does not allow small groups, partners may work together through the chat section by typing the name of their partner before their statement.

Encourage Think-Write-Share

Teachers in all grades have discovered that they can monitor student progress by posing a question and allowing students time to think about it, write it down on a white board or piece of paper, and then share it to the camera. Some teachers have made screen shots of the share-time so they can go back and see who mastered the skill or what mistakes were made in the process.

Participate in Daily Review

Just like in the traditional classroom, teachers may want to set aside some time for a daily review of the previous day’s work. Teachers may take this virtual meeting time to go over parts of the assignment that were missed by several students, and then provide a chance for students to ask questions and modify their answers with the new understanding. An online poll or survey may be another easy way to incorporate review and check for understanding before students begin independent work.

Engage through Brainstorming Activities

Prior to starting asynchronous activities, classes may want to brainstorm together. Teachers may model on a shared document while students write their own ideas on paper at home, or everyone may want to brainstorm through the chat feature together.

Offer Incentives

Because students are working from home, they may have objects around the house they want to show off. Teachers can use this to their advantage by allowing students a few minutes at the end of the discussion for a virtual “show and tell.” If students know that on Friday they can show their favorite pet, Lego creation, or other object if they participate in the week’s virtual meetings, they may be eager to earn this reward. Just be sure to set some parameters as to what is acceptable to show. This also helps build relationships with others on the virtual meeting screen.

Participate in Online Competition

Just because students are learning online, does not mean they can’t have fun through learning games such as Kahoot, Jeopardy, scavenger hunts, or other interactive games. These can be used to learn vocabulary, remember important historical events, or review skills from previously taught material. For a virtual scavenger hunt, students may find items around the house that connect to a word or idea, then the first three students back with an item may get to share their connection.

Strategies for Asynchronous Learning 

Although it would be ideal to engage in synchronous learning all day, teachers need to plan for engaging asynchronous learning. Just like within the classroom, students need some time to work independently so the teacher can check for understanding and monitor mastery of skills. There are several ways to boost participation in asynchronous learning.

Allow for Group Work

Providing activities that can be performed with a partner or small group on students’ own time encourages students share ideas and collaborate. They may want to meet over the phone or through email to discuss ideas. Just like in the classroom, you may want to assign jobs so each child has a responsibility to the group.

Virtual Field Trips

There are many online sites that students can visit and participate in virtual field trips. Then at the next virtual meeting, spend a little time in discussion about what they learned during the “trip.”

Offer Office Hours

Teachers should provide a time during asynchronous learning when they may be reached to answer questions either through email or some form of interactive chat. This will encourage students to do their work and reach out for clarification prior to the next day’s virtual meeting.

Offer incentives for Work Completion

You can easily boost assignment completion by offering an extra five points for work turned in by a certain time. This will encourage students to stay on-task during school hours and stop procrastinating until the last minute.

Create Virtual Book Reports

To encourage independent reading, students may be encouraged to participate in virtual book reports. They can prepare their own slides to share with classmates by following a set of guidelines and posting in a shared drive location.

Whether it is through synchronous or asynchronous learning times, there are many creative ways to boost participation in the virtual classroom. Teachers can continue to promote collaboration, monitor progress, and encourage students to have fun while learning. Traditional classroom activities just take a little modification to adapt to engaging virtual learning settings.