Bring ’em Back In: Engagement Strategies for Online Teaching

By now, teachers have been plugging away at their respective teaching assignments in their varied environments for the last 10 months. Kids have been distance or hybrid learning for just as long, going through ups and downs of engagement. It’s been both challenging and exhausting for both students, teachers, and families/caregivers. 

 As they say in Game of Thrones: Winter is here, and we need some fresh ideas to get students involved and dialed inWhat can you do to bring the excitement and engagement back to your students? We’ve got some ideas for you, along with an assist from the “Virtual Co-Teaching Tips” white paper written by education experts Anne Benighof and Sonia Kunkel (2020). 

1. Keep up those choice menus. 

Allowing students to occasionally shape their own learning empowers them to be independent thinkers. Do your best to hit that “sweet spot” of just enough choices to make choosing fun! 

2. Have a contest! 

How many times can students use a vocabulary word in a day? Who can keep their mute on all day (unless instructed otherwise)? How about a timed math scavenger hunt to find objects representing geometry shapes? Competition makes for great learning opportunities. 

3. Homemade Fidgets! 

Beninghof and Kunkel suggest that teachers can show students how to DIY their fidgets. “Show them how a paper clip, a piece of string, a bit of PlayDoh or a small ball can be helpful without being a distraction.”  

4. Encourage Closed-Captioning/subtitle viewing. 

Turn on the captions and subtitles for all students, so they don’t need to stress if they didn’t hear things on the first go-around. Make sure the settings are correct on everyone’s device by walking them through the process. You can even ask your students for their hypothesis on this change: what are the benefits of adding closed-captioning? What are the challenges?

5. Do something new, silly and unusual. 

My son’s 4th grade teacher regularly sings Beyoncé to her students! Teachers are amazing at this. Consider including one funny video meme a week for the class to enjoy. Teach your kids a cool phrase in a different language. Make a stuffed animal do a small part of the instruction. Get them (and you) to laugh for a much-needed dose of endorphins. 


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White paper author Anne Benighof has developed several virtual PD hours on co-teaching, specially designed instruction, virtual engagement strategies and related topics. She is also the author of Co-Teaching: Strategies that Work, which anchors our course, 5843: Co-Teaching: Partners in Practice. This course highlights all sorts of foundational and practical strategies for teachers who co-teach to ensure effective levels of student learning.

Download Virtual Learning Engagement Tips >>

We’d like to share more ideas to engage your students online, from the Virtual Co-Teaching Tips” white paper written by education experts Anne Benighof and Sonia Kunkel (2020). Try ‘em out and let us know how they work! 

1. Monitor Cognitive Overload

Your online learning space should be fun, but not over-stimulating. Pare down your text (modeling good presentation skills) on both your slides and your screenBullet points are easier ways to center on your teachable points. Benighof and Kunkel also suggest sticking with an Arial font to keep things clear and readable. That doesn’t mean NO crazy-cool fonts, just FEWER crazy-cool fonts. Keep on shining on! 

2. Manipulatives and Hands-On Materials

Describe the details and features of manipulatives you want students to use, and have them find them around their home for use the next day. Whenever you ask students for a specific material, make sure you offer a list of alternatives that students can use instead. Making these items accessible for anyone is key to making sure you are meeting all students’ needs. 

3. MOVE!

It’s hard to sit still, especially for little bodies. Plus, too much sitting is hard on your body! Benighof and Kunkel talk about small ways kids can move that can make a difference: snapping fingers with you, patting themselves on the back, stomping feet…all ways to keep that brain moving too. Think about times when your students start becoming more active in their seats, getting up, using their hoverboards (ask me how I know), and that’s a good time for Go Noodle, a brain break, stretching…you know what works best.  

Hang in there, go forth, and engage those students! 


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