Engaging Virtual Learners

  • by Kelly Harmon
  • Dec. 12, 2020, 4:44 p.m.

By Kelly Harmon

I was talking to my 8th grade nephew a few weeks ago about his experience with virtual learning. He said Google Meet was better than sitting in the same class all day long, spaced six feet apart. He likes being at home, able to get something to eat or drink anytime he wanted. When I asked him if he turned his camera on and participated in class discussions, he said no because "no one else does." He said he'd do it if others did.

This got me thinking about how to build an online community of learners who feel safe to share their cameras and speak up during discussions. How can we give students a reason to turn on the camera? How can we help students see that they have commonalities with each other? It really boils down to starting each session with the social and emotional connections and then moving into the lesson content.

Here are some of the ideas I've used or think would work in a virtual community.

Would you rather? Begin the session asking students a "would you rather" question. Be sure to live in their world so that the topics are relatable.

  • Would you rather watch a YouTube video or make a YouTube video?
  • Would you rather eat at Taco Bell or McDonalds?
  • Would you rather tell a lie to make someone feel good or tell the truth and take your chances?

Bring a pet to school day-Everyone loves to see a cute cat, dog, or hamster, so invite students to turn on their camera to show their pet. Ask questions about the pet and invite others to do the same.

Favorite hat day-Invite students to wear their favorite hat to class. Most of the time, they will show up with a hat that represents a sports team. You can link the sports team to the learning. Think about sports math!

Have a talent contest-Invite students to show off a talent they have. One second grade teacher was surprised when a student played an accordion for the class.

Play charades-Send one student a private message giving them a word to act out for the other students. Click here for some topics to use in charades or use your academic vocabulary.

For more Zoom (or Google Meet) games, check out this post on the TCEA blog.