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Virtual learning is here to stay through remote and hybrid classes. How do you keep students engaged in virtual instruction, though? Just like in-person learning, holding students’ attention in distance education is essential. It can be challenging, however, since there are more distractions. Whether it’s social media or their environment, learners can lose focus during virtual classroom activities.
That’s why it’s important for teachers to have many strategies in their toolbox. Building community, encouraging students to participate and keeping them interested in the curriculum are all important. So how can teachers do that online? Try these virtual classroom activity ideas to keep learners engaged.
Virtual classroom activity ideas
Virtual museum trip
Even when students aren’t learning in person, they can still take field trips to visit a museum. Many museums around the world offer virtual exhibits. Not only are they free to visit, but students can also view the exhibits from anywhere they’re learning.
For example, in addition to in-person exhibits, The British Museum has online presentations, including 3D visuals of some of their most famous objects. Another example is the Google Arts & Culture tool. It gives learners online tours of historical sites and museums such as:
- The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
- Musée d’Orsay in Paris
- Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam
- J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles
- The National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City
Virtual gallery walk
Gallery walks work just as well virtually as they do in a physical classroom. They help build background knowledge or can spark excitement about the start of a lesson or unit. One way to create a virtual gallery walk is to add text excerpts or images in a slideshow presentation.
Learners can then answer questions in a document or graphic organizer asynchronously or during a synchronous live session. You can also assign groups to discuss responses or hold a class discussion.
Engaging websites for learning
There are websites geared specifically to online K-12 learning that students love. These websites can be used for synchronous or asynchronous activities. They’re especially helpful for self-directed learning when students want to review or explore on their own. Here are some examples:
Online formative assessments
Formative assessments can take many forms, and there are engaging online tools that teachers can use. These tools are fun and interactive and help you instantly gather data about what students understand. Examples include Kahoot, Flipgrid, Socrative and Pear Deck.
Use digital polls to help learners connect with your lesson or content. Ask students if they agree with a historical figure’s decision or tell them to make a prediction about a story. Use a survey or poll creation tool to take the poll before, during or after class. Then display the stats and have a short discussion about whether or not learners were surprised by the results.
Every day there seems to be another national or international holiday. Think National Donut Day, National Bow Tie Day, National Video Game Day, World Smile Day or National Sock Day.
For this virtual activity, assign each learner a fun or offbeat national holiday that occurs on a school weekday. On the day of their holiday, the student can share a short background and history of the day through a live online presentation or a video. Learners can get creative with this one!
Quote of the day
Teachers often write a quote of the day on the board in their classroom, but quotes can be shared online, too. In fact, why not ask students to share a quote of the day? Assign each learner a specific day and ask them to pick a quote that is meaningful to them. Once it’s their turn to share, they can explain the quote’s significance and why they chose it.
Students can share verbally in the virtual classroom or create a short video. They can also share by writing on an online discussion board or in a Google Doc.
Show your pet
Everyone enjoys looking at pet pictures and sharing stories about their pet. This activity takes place during a synchronous session. Students with pets will show the online class their cat, dog, hamster, lizard or fish and present a short anecdote about their pet. This is an enjoyable way for learners to get to know one another at the start of the school year. It can also be used to break up a longer live class session.
Engaging students in the virtual classroom should include giving students real-life learning experiences. One way to do that is by inviting an expert to speak to the class during a synchronous class session. You will need to get approval from your school administration first, so plan ahead.
Have students prepare questions in advance. Or they can ask them out loud during the presentation or in the chat. An alternative is to ask the expert to film a video that the class can watch at any time.
Daily online journal prompt
Journaling is a way for learners to reflect on new concepts, texts they’ve read or projects they’re working on. Ask learners to make a copy of a digital journal that you create or ask them to start their own. You can preload journal prompts in a document or give the class prompts day by day. Make sure the documents are shared with you so that you can give learners feedback in their journals.
Another way for learners to stay connected to virtual learning is through self-assessments. Have students periodically reflect on their learning, focus and participation in online activities. Over time, students will see their progress and start to take more control of their learning. Learners can write in a graphic organizer or respond through an online assessment tool.
Virtual classroom games
How do you keep students’ attention in a virtual classroom when they start to lose focus? You can use games as a fun way to engage students when they need an attention boost. Games are also a great way to build community and excitement for reviewing concepts.
Virtual scavenger hunt
Send learners on a virtual scavenger hunt to create enthusiasm. Compose a list of internet sites, images, links and more that students should find. Learners will then take a screenshot when they solve the clue and add it to their scavenger hunt document. This activity can help the class learn about a new topic or research a topic more deeply.
Many teachers use bingo games the first week of school or to start a new semester. It’s a fun way for students to get to know one another and for teachers to learn about their students. While it’s often done during an in-person class, it can also work virtually.
Use a template or create your own and send a copy to students. During a synchronous class session, students can mark off or highlight their document when a square applies to them. They can also raise their hand on the live video as a visual cue to the class.
Learners love playing trivia games to review material before an assessment. This can easily be done virtually by creating a trivia presentation and sharing your screen. There are several free trivia templates online that K-12 teachers can use, such as Flippity and eQuizShow.
Improv games are another example of activities to engage students in online learning. Improvisation helps learners think quickly and be creative. It may take some practice, but the process will be enjoyable nonetheless.
One example is to create a story as a class. One learner begins with the first line of the story, and a second learner adds another line. Each student continues to add a line to the story until it’s complete. Go over guidelines with the class so that they stick to your goal. For example, you may want the story to follow a plot structure, retell an event in history or explain a scientific process.
Vocabulary charades are a way to engage students with a kinesthetic activity. Teachers in any subject can incorporate this game during a synchronous class session. Learners play by acting out a vocabulary word without sound. The rest of the class then tries to guess the word. You can also divide the class into teams and keep track of team points. Before learners begin, be sure to model how to play charades so they can see an example.
Virtual music, video and audio activities
How do you keep students engaged and motivated with visual and auditory learning styles? One way to do that is by using multimedia such as audio, music and video. You can connect to what students know and reach different learning styles. It personalizes learning, which means you’re more likely to engage your class.
Karaoke is an entertaining way for learners to practice reading skills and fluency. Create your own song list or ask learners for suggestions. Be sure to check the lyrics and approve any song suggestions in advance.
Once your song list is ready, search for the karaoke version on YouTube. The karaoke version includes music without primary vocals, and the lyrics are printed across the screen. Share the lyrics with the class so that all students can follow along. One or more students can volunteer to sing the lyrics, but feel free to have all students join in during the chorus. You can also take the activity further by having the class analyze themes, metaphors or other literary devices.
Video clip of the day or week
Sharing a video clip of the day or week is a fun way to connect with learners. Share a cute, silly or funny video clip to give learners a brain break and a chance to laugh. It can be a teacher’s favorite video clip, or learners can contribute their own favorite clips.
A podcast is a way to present a lesson using audio. Use a tool like Audacity, which is a free platform for recording audio. It’s easy to start recording, and you can make edits and add music and sound effects. Once your podcast is ready, download it and share with students. They can listen to the podcast during asynchronous learning. Unless the podcast is specific to a current event, once you create it, you can reuse it in years to come.
Another way to present a lesson for asynchronous learning is to make a screencast. Instead of presenting live to students, you can record a presentation through a screencast of your computer screen. You can also record your voice as you present. Examples of tools include Screencastify and Loom.
Teachers can share a lesson, but learners can also create a screencast. Assign a screencast as an assessment or give students the choice to select screencasting for a project. You can also create a private YouTube playlist with screencasts so that learners can visit them at any time.
A playlist of songs or videos is another way to involve students in the curriculum. Each student contributes a song or video they found on the internet, relating to the unit of study or lesson. The songs and videos can connect thematically, relate to a person or character, teach a concept or review math problems. You can then add them to a playlist, which learners can access anytime. It’s a way to create a deeper learning experience and help students connect to the topic.
Virtual communication ideas
How do you keep students engaged with virtual learning, especially when some are more reluctant to participate in discussions? Communication is just as important in an online environment as it is in a face-to-face environment. Teachers should be intentional with communication so that virtual learners are clear about expectations and curriculum. To help, there are several communication tools teachers can use during online activities.
Whether using Google Meet or another online platform, take advantage of the chat tool. This is a great way to formatively check for understanding during synchronous class time. Using the chat tool ensures that each learner has a chance to respond, rather than calling on one or two to answer. Students who are reluctant to chime in verbally are more likely to respond by typing a quick response in the chat.
Once they respond to a question, you can quickly see which learners understand the material. You can also spot areas that you need to review. Be sure to explain class expectations for responding in the chat, though, to keep students focused on learning.
Collaborative learning can happen even during remote instruction. Students get a chance to use critical thinking skills when they discuss in groups or with partners. Online breakout rooms give learners voice during a lesson and allow teachers to differentiate instruction.
It’s critical, though, to set expectations beforehand and revisit them when necessary. Ask groups to discuss a prompt, take notes in a shared Google Doc and report back to the class afterward. Periodically pop into breakout rooms to observe discussions or answer questions the groups may have.
Online discussion board
Online discussion boards are a way to involve students in learning at any time. They also build community and teach students how to have meaningful conversations. Learners who are more reluctant to speak up in class may be more likely to engage in the virtual discussion.
On the discussion boards, encourage them to discuss class topics and give each other feedback. It’s important to communicate guidelines for the discussion and use of the platform. You can also work together with the class to create norms for using the discussion board. Decide on etiquette, such as ways to give constructive feedback and whether responses can include emojis.
Google Docs discussions
Learners can also hold discussions through shared Google Docs, giving any student the chance to contribute ideas. Create a prompt or topic on a document and share it with a group or the whole class. Learners can then add their responses directly in the document. They can also develop a written assignment in a Google Doc and share it with others for feedback. Classmates can then leave comments or suggestions that the entire group can view.
Another way to keep learners engaged is by offering office hours. Whether it’s daily or weekly, set aside time for learners to meet with you when needed. You can work with students one-on-one or in small groups. It’s a time for them to ask you questions if they don’t understand a concept. Or you can give them personalized feedback, review standards or go over a recent assessment.
Google Forms feedback
What’s the best way to keep students engaged online? Involve learners by directly asking them for feedback. Ask them what is working and what is not working for them during virtual learning. Create a short survey in Google Forms and have learners respond. Not only will this engage students further in their online learning experience, but you’ll also come away with new ideas and activities.
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