Tips for Teaching Online Interactive Lessons

By Cierra Kaler-Jones

Here are some suggestions for making online or remote lessons interactive to help teachers who are adapting with little time to prepare during the pandemic. Note that this was written when Zoom was the main online platform. That is shifting in many school districts, however, the overall approach may be adapted to other platforms. 

General tips for using Zoom as a digital teaching platform

Here’s a great resource from Zoom on using the platform. There’s a section on educating over Zoom with helpful tips for getting started and creating interactive learning opportunities.   

Tips for your Virtual Classroom/Best Practices 

  • Begin your first couple of sessions with a quick check-in to get students accustomed to the platform
    • Example: Share a Do Now or prompt (i.e. What brought you joy this week? What are you looking forward to? Share one word for how you’re feeling right now) and ask students to enter their answers in the chat box 
  • Use the chat box as a way to engage larger groups 
    • Access the chat by going to the bottom right-hand corner of the bar and click on the box that says “chat” — there should be a text bubble emoji 
    • In the chat box, you can enter a message in the bar that says “Type message here” and then click enter
    • You can also message people individually (privately) by clicking where it says “To: Everyone” and selecting someone’s name 
  • Mute all participants at the beginning of the chat and then ask students to unmute themselves when they would like to talk
    • On Zoom, it’s difficult to hear whoever is speaking if other folk’s microphones are unmuted 
  • Share your screen by clicking the green arrow button at the bottom of the screen
    • You can select to show your whole screen or just part of it. For example, if you want to show Google slides, you can click just that tab, so that other tabs on your screen are not visible to the group
    • You can also select ‘whiteboard’ to draw/write on the screen 
  • Use breakout rooms for small group discussions
    • At the bottom bar of your screen, there will be four boxes for breakout rooms
    • Once you click breakout rooms, you can either 1) place the groups manually 2) place the groups automatically 
    • You will be able to click on how many groups you want, and Zoom will automatically select how many people should be assigned to each group
    • When setting up breakout rooms, make sure to share with students that they will not have to leave Zoom, but to click on the button that comes up on their screen that says “Join Breakout Group” 
    • When placing students in breakout groups, the host has the ability to join different breakout groups and then come back to the main room — it’s helpful to join each group (depending on how many groups) just to make sure there aren’t any technical issues (Sometimes what happens is students might be put in a breakout room by themself because of technological glitches. If that happens, you, as the host, can go to the white screen, which has all of the groups and the names of who is in each group and click to the right of their name. There will be an option to move them to another group).
    • Breakout rooms can also be used for pair-share activities! Just select a number of groups where Zoom will show you 2 people per group. 
    • Depending on your students, it also might be helpful to designate a group leader and a notetaker for each group, before getting into groups. The leader can be in charge of moving the conversation through the prompts. For note-taking, one of the strategies that have been helpful is using the whiteboard feature.
    • If you create groups manually, it can take anywhere from 4-6 minutes. In this case, a helpful strategy would be to show a video, give students a quick pre-reading, or give them a prompt to answer in the chat box so you don’t feel rushed in the process. 

Cierra Kaler-Jones is the Education Anew Fellow with Communities for Just Schools Fund and Teaching for Change. She is also a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland, College Park studying minority and urban education.