Search form

Must-Know Zoom Teaching Hacks for Quarantine Days

Here we go again! Just as everybody thought schools would remain in person and that leaders at a higher pay grade had this whole pandemic thing kind of figured out, in comes Omicron. This highly transmissible virus variant is upending school operations all over the place. As a result, many of us once more face life on Zoom, at least for limited periods. Very few teachers enjoy remote instruction over being in buildings, but with a reminder about core online teaching strategies to get us through the next month or two (let’s hope that is all), we can remain connected to our students in this latest and most unwelcome development.

Mood Music           

Before the holiday break, I helped facilitate an online training that people were visibly too tired to attend. I’m sure we have all experienced that feeling of wanting to learn something but having no more fuel in the tank, especially nowadays. There was nothing I could do about the timing of the virtual session, so I focused on upping the energy by adding the festive sound of the Peanuts theme song as people entered the Zoom room. It might seem like a simple thing to do, but providing mood music is one small tool in our arsenal to improve the online experience of adults and children alike. If our Zoom experience is going to be any longer than a few days, it helps to ask students to suggest music selections to play either at the start of class or during a quiet period of work time. That will increase involvement in our virtual space and help everyone feel more connected to the class.

Changing it Up

Over the past two years, breakout rooms have gotten a lot of love — and a lot of hatred. Given the broad range of learning styles that exist, the dual-edged nature of breakout rooms makes sense. Some people love chatting in small groups while others dread the experience. To change up our methods for student participation, going beyond the breakout room is key. Online tools such as Padlet or Jamboard help students post their thoughts in writing to make thinking visible; in addition, they can comment upon or “like” one another’s contributions. We can also have students engage with quiz applications or polls, which is another way to both increase participation and gamify our teaching. As a rule of thumb, restricting our breakout room use to once or twice in each class period will force us to find other ways to help students interact with one another.

Using Cameras Productively

I am about to start a new semester with a class I teach in the evenings that has been online since mid-2020. As part of our first meeting, we engage in a commonly known activator called “That’s Me.” First, I ask the class to turn their cameras off for the duration of the activity. On prepared slides, I share a series of prompts, such as, “Education is my second career.” If criteria on the slide matches a participant’s experience, they chime in with “That’s me” and turn their cameras on. We take a moment and talk about what those careers might have been and use the space to build rapport. Then, everyone switches cameras off and we repeat the process with additional prompts. For Zoom instruction, we bemoan the very real challenge of students who do not turn on their videos. However, cameras can be leveraged to our advantage as tools to engage students. If cameras are worked into the instructional plan, they are more likely to help heighten student involvement in our class.

Chat Waterfalls

Whenever I participate in a Zoom meeting, certain people verbally process information while others type thoughts into the chat. We all learn and share in our own way, and it helps to use the chat to reach students who may not want to speak up on the microphone. People like to type into the chat for sidebar conversations or to make a quick comment, but the feature can also be bumped up as a tool to check for understanding. Suppose the lesson is focused on reflecting on the impact of a historical event on a group of people. Ask students to pause, write a sentence in their chat boxes about what ideas they are taking away from the day’s activities, and then request that they all press “Enter” to share their thoughts when prompted. The chat “waterfall” that results as ideas come in simultaneously is a stimulating way to have everyone react to one another’s ideas at the same time and then discuss what they see. In addition, by giving students time to both craft a response and to read and process what they see, we create a safer space for sharing ideas.

Backchannel Document

When I lead meetings online, even the best plans can become derailed by someone who wants information that is relevant to them personally, but not to the group. If these interruptions hinder the chat or verbal conversation, we risk not achieving our learning outcomes. However, if students are given a backchannel document ahead of time in which to place their questions and concerns, we can meet needs once the Zoom class has ended. To use this strategy, create an online shared document for questions or comments. This tool can be organized however we would like and be as aesthetically pleasing as desired. To ensure follow-through with student needs, we must go to that backchannel document after each class and thoroughly answer questions. If we do not, students will stop using it. In addition, it helps to provide a space for student names, just in case they would like to be contacted for a more detailed conversation. This strategy might be simple, but if executed well, it keeps our classes focused on serving the good of the group while still allowing us to check in with individual students.

Stay Connected

In 2020, we had one advantage going into virtual instruction that did not exist the following school year; prior to going on Zoom, we had instructed students in person for seven months. This year, everyone is in a similar boat. Four months of relationship-building this past autumn will be extremely beneficial for any online instructional time with kids if we maintain carefully built connections. Before class begins each day, making space for conversation (both spontaneous and structured) provides much-needed time for checking in with kids. In addition, try to prioritize connections to individual students by sending an email, private chatting with kids on Zoom, or making a phone call. However we choose to stay connected, sending the message that we care and that Zoom is not forever will help kids stay in a healthy mindset.

There are very few teachers who do not look at possible instructional time ahead online with a feeling of dread, not to mention deja vu. This first month of 2022 is feeling disturbingly like March of 2020, and that is not good; this time, however, everyone knows more than we did two years ago. A knowledgeable mindset makes a difference, and if students see teachers doing our best to keep things going, they will join us and do their best to learn. This instability will end someday, but in the meantime, schools are still in the thick of unwelcome ebbs and flows. With tried-and-true strategies in our arsenal this time around, we can continue the school year and ensure that student learning remains the top priority.

Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam Plotinsky is an instructional specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has taught and led for more than 20 years. She is the author of Teach More, Hover Less and is also a National Board-Certified Teacher with additional certification in administration and supervision. She can be reached at or via Twitter: @MirPloMCPS.

Copyright© 2022 Education World