10 Ways to Keep Students Engaged Online

  You’re teaching virtually. Using both  synchronous or asynchronous (are you sick of those words yet?), there are proven instructional strategies and best practices to take into consideration while planning. Keeping students engaged in an online environment has it’s challenges. Here are 10 ways to keep students engaged online:

Keep it Short

Whether it’s a pre-recorded video lesson or you are teaching live on Zoom, Meets ect., keeping your direct instruction concise is key. A good rule of thumb is taking the student’s age x 2 = how many minutes they can sustain attention. Now, obviously, this varies and some students might not be able to focus for that long. But, in general, keeping lessons short and to the point will benefit all learners.
When you are planning, make sure to narrow down your specific objective. If the objective had multiple components, break it down into even smaller chunks. Teach it in multiple mini-lessons instead of one longer lesson.

Include Students’ Interests

This is one of my favorite tips! You know how excited students get when they see their name (or even their cousin’s name!) in a word problem? Including students in the learning materials is the perfect way to get them to re-engage with your lessons. It’s as simple as adding their names or interests! Search free interest surveys for collecting information about what your students like.
In this game, I picked 8 celebrities/popular characters (it was 2015–ha!). We were practicing 2 digit addition with regrouping. Students solved problems on whiteboards. When they volunteered to share their work, I’d choose a student. They would get to put an x in one of the boxes under a picture of their choosing. The last person/character standing was the winner. This was perfect because it was kind of a game but without the competition between students. I had high levels of participation because they wanted to eliminate their least favorite. I focused on positively reinforcing sharing problem solving strategies over having the right answer.
Choosing books your student are interested in reading is free and easy. Find out what they like or are curious about. Pay attention to what they get excited about. Try to find books that match those interests. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper into certain topics by reading multiple texts about the same topic.

Elements of Interactivity

Lesson emphasis should be on students constructing knowledge–not just the teacher delivering content. This is more challenging than ever because active learning typically looks like partnerships, group projects, movement and discussion. Not all of these research-based strategies translate well to an online environment. But there are still ways you can include interactivity in lessons:
  • virtual manipulatives
  • stop and jot
  • doodle notes
  • physical response options (thumbs up, down, stand up, arm/hand movements)
  • using digital spinners and dice

In this fiction story retelling activity, students can move the check mark as they retell each part of the story. Any type of visual movement can help keep students on track with the task. This activity can be found in my Digital Guided Reading Activities resource.

Whole Class Incentives

Sometimes keeping students engaged requires a little bribery extrinsic motivation. Rewarding positive behavior, especially when your entire class works together to achieve a goal, helps build morale and class community.
These digital rewards are perfect for your entire class or individual students. Work together to develop a goal and choose a reward (read about all 18 reward ideas here!) Share student progress each day by screen sharing during your live meeting or posting in Seesaw or your Google Classroom. You can focus in on one specific behavior like participating during live lessons or simply award an incentive token when students are on point.

Tech Help Procedure

Having to stop to deal with tech issues is inevitable. But, proper planning and preparation for what individual students can do to troubleshoot independently when they run into issues can positively impact the flow of your lessons. The less you have to stop, the better your students will be able to stay engaged on what they are learning.
I made this troubleshooting center to share with students and their families. They can click on any of the problems to take them to a suggested troubleshooting steps page. It’s free AND editable! Click here to download it from my TpT store.

Provide Choices

Allowing students to make decisions affecting their learning helps build autonomy and accountability. Sometimes it’s a simple as asking students if they’d like to read one more chapter of a book they are clearly very interested in. Or, it can be more complex like allowing students to choose which mode they will use to present information to the class. Choice in online learning is still relevant and a great tool for student engagement. Here’s some options:
Providing opportunities for students to work together is always important. It’s definitely trickier in an online environment but not impossible. One of the best options if you are using Zoom is breakout rooms. If you haven’t tried them, I highly suggest you do! There are a few tips for making sure kids aren’t unsupervised within breakout rooms:
  • Invite another teacher or two to come help out with the lesson you plan on using breakout rooms with. I did this when my students were sharing their writing in the spring. I had two reading specialists and the math specialist come and oversee some of the rooms.
  • Use multiple devices so you can oversee all rooms at the same time.
  • Ask parents at home to monitor/facilitate a breakout room
If breakout rooms aren’t an options, students can still collaborate virtually on a shared Google Doc or Slides. You could set up times to meet with small groups and allow students to work together on a common goal (multi-step word problems, writing a shared story). If you are interested in more online collaborative tools, Wabisabi Learning shares 6 more ideas.
If you’ve been a reader here for awhile, I’m sure you will see this is a theme. I LOVE GAMES! I love playing games with family and friends. I try to make learning a game whenever possible. Online learning doesn’t hinder my love for playing! I’ve creating a handful of interactive digital games to play during virtual class meetings. These can be paired with any topic, skill or subject. I suggest using a set of task cards you already have!
In this game, after a student or team answers a question correctly, they move an apple from the tree. Under each apple is a number of points. The player or team with the most points at the end wins!

One way to keep your students engaged in your lessons is to share what the goals and activities will be. When students know what to expect, they are less likely to drift off. You can share the agenda before the lesson or display a slide at the beginning of the lesson to show students what will be accomplished. You could even assign an approximate time to each activity or use a timer to help keep things brief. (Perfect class job especially for off task students!)

Bite, Chew, Savor

We know that there are definite limitations with teaching through screens. But, I think it’s important to remember that good teaching has definite main components that are the same in and outside of the classroom.
Bite, Chew, Savor is a foodies’ “I do, You do, We do”.
Bite–small bites of instruction and information are more effective
Chew–allow students the opportunity to eat it up, sitting and passively listening is not chewing
Savor–one of the literary definitions of savor is “the quality that makes something interesting or enjoyable” this is the reflection, discussion, extension piece that will make the lesson impactful, don’t forget to allow time to soak in the “why” of the learning
I hope you are finding success in your online learning and that these tips can help you in your journey!


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