10 Ways To Encourage Participation Online

Teaching online comes with its own special set of challenges, none more problematic than fostering meaningful student participation. Looking for ways to increase online class participation? Veteran virtual teacher Tara has 10 tips you can start using today to get all your Zoom students involved.

Updated on: October 20, 2020

How to increase participation online classrooms

As you look around your Zoom “classroom," you see black screens, empty chairs, and blank faces. Teaching online comes with many challenges, but one of the biggest problems is a lack of participation from your students. You can’t just walk over to their desks to redirect them and make sure they are paying attention. In a virtual classroom, you need a new set of strategies to keep them focused and engaged. Let’s examine ten ways to encourage participation online.

1.  Cameras On

There’s nothing worse than teaching a bunch of black squares. When your students turn their cameras off, you have no idea whether or not they’re paying attention. You don’t even know if they’re actually sitting at the computer. Make it a rule that students must keep their cameras on during your lessons. That way, you can make sure they are really listening to you. Their facial expressions can also help you see whether or not they understand the concept you’re teaching.

2.  Safe Space

Just like you spend time building community during a regular school year, it is very important to make sure your students know that the online classroom is a safe place to share their ideas. Take some time to discuss the benefits of making mistakes and appropriate ways to treat your classmates. This will make everyone feel more comfortable, and they’ll be more likely to volunteer and participate. Use these tips to build community in your online classroom. 

3.  Hand Signals

While you’re teaching, you may choose to mute your whole class. That way, students won’t be able to talk during your instruction. However, you still want them to participate in your lessons. One way to garner engagement is with hand signals. If you ask a yes or no question, your students can give a thumbs up or thumbs down. If it’s a multiple choice question, they can hold up their fingers for the answer they chose. For example, they would hold up one finger for A and 2 fingers for B. This allows you to see which students understand the content without everyone trying to talk at the same time. Or, if you want to get your students up and moving, you could even give them an action to do to choose the correct answer. They could jump up and down if they think A is correct or pretend to swim if they think B is correct. This will allow you to check for understanding, while giving them a small brain and/or body break.

Online platforms like Zoom also have “raise hand” or allow access to emojis in their Chat feature -- you could have them use those functions. However, if you do allow emojis (depending on grade level), make sure that you discuss appropriate emojis to use beforehand!

4.  Name Selectors

Sometimes you ask a question that you just want one student to answer. You can use a random name selector to make sure all of your students are ready to participate. Since they don’t know when their name will be chosen, they all have to be prepared. For example, when you were in your physical classroom, you may have used popsicle sticks with your students’ names on them. This could also work in the online classroom. However, if you want something a little bit more high-tech, websites like Flippity allow you to put all of your students’ names on a wheel. Just click the wheel, and one of your students’ names will be randomly picked to answer your question. 

5.  Google Collaboration 

When you want all of your students to respond to a question simultaneously, you can use a shared Google Doc. Just create a Google Doc with a slide for each of your students. You can type one student’s name at the top of each slide. Once you’ve created this document, you can use it all year long every time you want all your students to respond. 

Make a copy of the document for each of your students. You can easily do this in Google Classroom. Then, ask your students a question. They can each answer the question on the slide that has their name on it. Since all of the work is in one document, you can easily see who is participating and check their progress. 

This is an especially useful strategy for questions that don’t have just one correct answer. If there’s only one right answer, the students can look at other slides to see how other students are answering the question. However, if you ask an open-ended question where students need to support their answers with evidence, they can’t just copy from someone else.

 

6.  Breakout Rooms

In your classroom, you probably use small groups to encourage all your students to participate. The online equivalent of this is a breakout room. You can put small groups of students into breakout rooms so they can work together and have discussions. This could work especially well for small group learning, such as literature circles in ELA, or experiment groups in science. However, make sure you set clear expectations for your students the first time you use breakout rooms. They should have a specific job to do, and they need to be held accountable. You can seamlessly move from one breakout room to the next to check on students and see how they’re doing. 

7.  Video Response

Since you’re not face-to-face with your students, the next best thing is to have them record videos. This allows you to hear their thoughts and assess how well they understand new concepts. One great website for this is Flipgrid. Some other platforms, like Seesaw, allow students to record videos and submit them to you. This is a great way to hear your students reading aloud, or to have them explain their thinking as they work through a math problem. You can even record a response video giving them feedback. 

8.  Student Conferences

It can be hard to get to know all of your students in a whole group online meeting. During independent work time, you can schedule individual conferences with each of your students. This will give you the opportunity to talk to them, do assessments, and get to know their strengths and weaknesses. Some of your shy students may be more willing to participate during a conference than during a whole group meeting.

9.  Group Games

Even your most disengaged students will love playing whole group games. Online games, like Kahoot, allow you to create questions for any subject area. When you share your game code with the students, they will be able to join the game. During these whole group games, EACH student will answer the questions. This will give you data to see who understands the concepts and who needs more practice. 

10.  Participation Rewards

Sometimes your students just need a little bit of motivation to participate online. Be sure to praise students who volunteer to give answers. You can also use ClassDojo or another platform to give students points when they volunteer to share during your lessons. My students love earning Dojo points for participation!

Using a variety of these strategies will keep your students engaged and participating actively in your lessons. When you mix it up and choose different ways to have your students participate, you will keep your students on their toes and your lessons will be exciting and fun. All of these participation strategies will also allow you to collect data on your students so you can differentiate and meet all of their needs through online learning.

Tara Dusko is a third grade teacher in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. She's spent the past 14 years finding engaging ways to make her students love learning. When she's not planning lessons for her classroom, she is spending time with her husband and two children or trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Get some tips for reducing the stressfulness of teaching on her blog, Teach Without Tears.

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