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How to Make Activities to Engage Your Students in a Virtual Meeting

Before 2020, online or virtual learning was a somewhat unfamiliar practice, used mainly by a select few: Master's students, ill or traveling students, homeschooled kids, or for the occasional international short course. Now, everyone has a taste of virtual learning and is trying to work through the transition as best they can.

Educators have a particularly challenging hurdle to overcome in this transition, keeping students engaged in virtual meetings. Instructors are used to walking through the classroom and keeping their students' attention by interacting with them in person. With this mostly changed, you can lose a lot when switching from the school setting to a virtual one. Going through the lesson plan virtually can result in a cold, boring class. It lowers engagement, cuts enthusiasm, and affects student-teacher relationships.

So how do we avoid this awkward virtual learning experience? We add engaging activities. Fortunately, there are many options for activities you can add to a virtual class. We'll go through a few of them below.

1. Incorporate Current Events

While this may not work well for very young students, it works excellently for Grades 4 and up. Current events don't have to be political unless it's a history class. It can be what's happening in the local community, like a food drive or social events. Ask them to find an event and present their opinions in class or create a homework assignment around what they choose. You can have your students grade each other anonymously.

2. Use Social Media Trends

Instead of brushing off or punishing students for using social media during class, try using it to engage them. Take part in social media trends by adding social media activities or ice breakers before class. Your students could do a famous dance, add trending punchlines, or rate a trend related to your lesson. You could also use this as a mid-class break because they're probably scrolling through TikTok at that point anyway.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

Move away from asking yes or no questions. Instead, ask ones that leave room for discussion and debate. Avoid getting too technical, but make it relevant to the lesson plan. Remember, most of these students may still be in bed or pajamas. You want questions that get their minds off the pillow and into the lesson.

4. Get Them to Talk About Themselves

We don't recommend digging into students' lives but getting them to talk about themselves is an easy way to get their attention and engage them. Draw out the shy ones with questions like where they'd love to vacation or a list of their favorite Netflix shows. Let students exchange playlists, talk about a favorite show, and so on.

5. Invite Pets

Let pets come to the meeting; it'll be the cutest show-and-tell! Give students time to introduce their pets before you dive into the lesson. You can choose to let one person show off per class or two at different times. Pets have a fantastic way of engaging distracted, stressed, and checked-out minds, and they'll help recapture students' attention.

6. Use Fun Riddles and Games

Incorporate riddles and games into your lessons. It'll require everyone's participation and turn a regular class into a fun, engaging one. 

7. Let Artistry Roam Free

Whatever the class is, artistic expression has a place in it. Encourage your students to sketch their view of a problem or write a paragraph about their week. Ensure no one feels pressured to do anything. Make it clear that none of this goes towards a grade, and it is simply in good fun. For elementary grades, send students a link to download and print an image to color. It could be shapes, characters, or a field of flowers.

8. Invite Students to Emotionally Check-in

With an increased awareness of students' mental health since the pandemic, many teachers have given room for emotional check-ins in their classes. Yes, it's a physics lesson, but the students are still humans, not robots. The switch from in-person to virtual was just as hard for them as it was for you. Ask them to post a sentence about how they feel, draw a sketch about their day, or share a song that describes their week. Showing that you care about them brings back a little of the human interaction they need to engage in class.

9. Play the Lyric/Quote Game

Class discussion forums can be bland; Q&A sessions are silent. An easy way to revive these is through the lyric/quote game. Ask students to post questions, answers, or discussion points in the forum. Let them know that they have to post a lyric or a quote as a side note to their post. They also have to reply to the post above theirs.

This extra step will increase not only student interaction but also class engagement. The students will be involved in the forums and genuinely curious and excited for the next one. This activity can work with older and younger students alike. Start the discussion with grade-appropriate and beloved song lyrics.

10. Provoke Discussion with Controversial Questions

Trying to start a class discussion is challenging. Trying to start one in a virtual classroom is even more challenging. It feels like students check out much faster. The easiest way to instigate the discussion is to drop a fiery opinion. It could have to do with historical or current events, TikTok personas, a popular television series, or a famous person. You could even revisit classic pop culture debates like Mac vs. PC, or the "Change My Mind" meme.

Encourage debate by engaging a diversity of opinions, stances, and takes. Ask each student to give their opinion. This way, each student will contribute if only to counter another's point. Although this works better for grades 6 and up, students in lower grades can still benefit from this. Use characters and superheroes they love as a gateway into the discussion. 

Mix and match these 10 tips to increase class engagement with your students. You can use them as a base for an activity or as the activity itself. Be careful to read the room and apply them accordingly.


Written by Joy Makennah

Education World Contributor

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