Updated: Jun 1, 2021
We all love to see our students active and engaged in class. So, we have asked a few online teachers what they do to keep their classes interactive and fun. We’ve summarized their responses below. Here are 5 ways to create engaging classes online:
Sherry has been teaching ESL for six years. She is also a PowerPoint wizard. When she was asked this question, she responded with one word, “Games.” Gamification has been a buzzword in education for some time now. While some argue that it may hinder intrinsic motivation, many teachers have seen their students’ participation improve by adding games and creative reward systems to their classrooms.
Games certainly inject a bit of fun into class, but make sure that you use them intentionally. In other words, play games with a clear learning objective in mind. Don’t play games only for fun. Also, competition can be good sometimes, but collaboration is good all of the time. If possible, design your games to encourage students to work together. Winning doesn’t always mean that there are losers. An engaged class enjoying a learning challenge is a win for everyone. Also, if you decide to provide feedback in a gamified way, be sure to have the class working together towards a goal. You want to minimize and address any incidents of students shaming their peers for underachieving.
2. Know your audience
We’ve all heard the ancient adage “know thyself.” Introspection is important for teachers. It’s how we improve our craft. We cannot, however, get too wrapped up in ourselves. Sometimes a lesson falls flat not because we are bad teachers, but because we failed to understand our students. We must devote some time to considering their values and interests, not just our own.
Denise, an ESL teacher of 7 years, told me that she keeps her classes interesting by targeting her material to her students. She says that her best lessons are those where students hardly realize they are learning at all. If you can do this, find topics and source materials that appeal to students, they will be chomping at the bit to participate. The better you know your audience, the better you can grab and hold their attention.
If you are looking for a good source of well-written news articles that might garner your students’ interest, check out Newsela.
3. Get Moving
This piece of advice is targeted towards teachers with younger students. It’s tempting to become glued to your chair when teaching online. You see yourself in that little box on the screen, and you might feel trapped. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can still stand up and move around. You can still sing, dance, and make use of whatever space you have (though you may have to get more creative with your camera setup).
Here’s a useful sentence: Show me a (blank) in your room and tell me about it. This can prompt a discussion and give your students an opportunity to get out of their chairs and move around a bit. This is also a chance for students to connect what they are learning online with the physical world around them.
4. Extend the Learning Window
Asynchronous courses put the onus on students to budget their time and meet learning expectations. Students have a great deal of flexibility in these courses. Synchronous classes, on the other hand, are often teacher-led and tied to specific windows of time. That doesn’t mean that learning can’t still be flexible. You don’t have to squeeze all of your learning into those small windows of time. In fact, spreading out learning activities can be a much more effective way to teach. You might consider sending students on WebQuests before the next scheduled class. Or, you could try flipping the class. Have students watch instructional videos and read relevant articles before class at a time of their choosing. Then, use the small window of time that you have together for discussion, guided practice, or application. Try to challenge your students to connect what they are learning with the real world, so that each moment can be a learning experience. Don’t, however, just dump extra homework on them. Any added tasks shouldn’t be a chore; they should motivate students to become life-long learners and connect what they learn with their life.
5. Follow Your Heart
Yes, this is as cliché as it gets, and banal and seemingly irrelevant. But, we asked a teacher what advice he had for creating quality online classes and he gave me this advice, “Follow your heart.“ He was tongue-in-cheek about it (he has a strange sense of humor), but I chose to include it all the same, not because it is good advice per se, but because it does bring up a good point. Teaching requires a great deal of heart.
Formats change. Technology improves. Teaching trends rise in popularity and then fall out of fashion. One thing, however, remains unchanged. Teachers still shape the future with our words and actions, whether they be delivered in front of a class or transmitted across immense distances in an online classroom. We often refer to online education as distance education or distance learning. Distance sometimes implies coldness, but just because we are distant doesn’t mean we are cold. There will always be a place for heart in education, no matter the medium.
Education is a gift, and the best gifts come from the heart. So yes, we are distant, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be close. Don’t forget to put heart into your lessons. Your students will recognize your effort and, hopefully, respond in kind.