Remember this simple scenario? Johnny is having a hard time focusing on his work and is distracting the other kids, so you calmly walk over to his desk and just stand nearby. Johnny automatically responds by refocusing and getting back to work without you saying a word.
That scenario was likely something that happened many times a day when you were in your classroom, but what do you do now that you are not able to wander over and refocus Johnny simply by your physical proximity? Calling him out every time he is distracted will get old for you and for him, so what can you do to grab Johnny’s attention? In fact, how do you plan lessons that are engaging enough to keep Johnny’s attention, along with the rest of your class?
There is always a balance of setting up lessons with structure which your students can rely on and expect, while at the same time varying activities and keeping things novel so your students don’t want to miss what is coming next. You can set up your day so that they know there are routines to expect AND there will be surprises along the way. We know that being creative in your teaching can be hard work, so here are a few ideas to help you see the possibilities.
1. Welcome Students
Use the webcam as students enter the session and welcome them individually. Welcoming them helps make personal connections and reminds them that you know they are there.
Start your day by mimicking brick-and-mortar morning announcements by having students send you emails ahead time letting you know what’s going on in their lives. Then you can call on them to share, celebrate with them in their exciting news and help foster those connections that you would have in person. Encourage them to share even the little things, and make these announcements on specific days or as part of your regular daily routine.
3. Magic Word
Send an email message in advance telling them to listen for a specific word in an upcoming synchronous session. It could be a word you use more than once and they can keep track of how many times you use it. Then you can recognize students and let them celebrate when they hear it during the session, or at the end.
4. eBook Scavenger Hunt
When using eBooks with your students, you can use a technique such as the Magic Word listed above, but tailor it to be a vocabulary word within a section or a chapter of their book. They can highlight it, you can add a link to a video, or have a contest to see who can find the exact number of times the word appears in the chapter. It can be like a scavenger hunt for vocabulary, all using the tools within your eBook, keeping students engaged and excited about learning.
5. Show up in Character
Why not dress up with a hat or glasses, or put on an accent and talk to your students as a character. Make it humorous and related to your content area by dressing as a particular character or historical figure.
6. How’s My Pace?
Use polls within your lesson to make sure that your students are keeping up and staying with you. Throw out a pool that allows them to respond with things like “Can you slow down” or “I am getting it” or “I have a question.” The poll alone will reengage them as well as help you gauge if you are moving at a good pace.
7. Picture of the Day
Prior to the session, students can submit a favorite photo or drawing. Choose one to share at the beginning of the session.
8. Puzzles, Puzzles, and More Puzzles
There are great virtual puzzle making generators you can use to create puzzles that challenge participants, review for an assessment, or even provide for a fun activity while waiting for everyone to join.
9. Showcase Student Talents and Interests
Provide time at the end of a session for students to showcase their musical and artistic talents through the use of the webcam and microphone.
Varying the activities and having fun surprises mixed into your online lessons can be good ways to not only engage the kids, but also be an incentive for them to join and stay connected because they don’t want to miss out. If one or more of these really resonates with your students, begin thinking about if you can create a “tradition” that will be memorable for them and be something unique they share with their classmates during this season.
Miss the first in our new series of Tips to Engage Students Online? Click here to read Establishing Online Classroom Procedures.
For more tips for engaging students online, check out this PDF from Pearson with 45 ideas.