If you’ve ever been in a virtual classroom when you’re hearing crickets and your students don’t have much to say, then this blog post is for you. In today’s blog post, I’ll dive into six strategies that boost engagement and increase participation during live video lessons. These video learning tips can help increase participation of your audience — aka your group of students. If you are participating in synchronous learning experiences this school year, you’ll want to try out these six strategies with students during your next online lesson.
This blog post is a two-parter, the first of two different focus areas. Both have to do with the idea of increasing participation. I also created a podcast episode sharing 5 Participation Strategies for Self-Paced Teaching to increase participation during asynchronous instruction. Are your students learning online or at a distance? Are they participating in online learning activities while you are all together in the classroom? Either way, I have you covered!
Video Learning Tips for Teachers
This blog post is a modified version of the transcript to a past episode of the Easy EdTech Podcast. It’s a little more conversational than how I normally write — because this is taken from a favorite podcast episode. Rather listen than read? Click here or press play below.
In this post, I’ll focus on strategies to increase participation during synchronous instruction. Let’s start off first with that term, synchronous instruction. You’ve probably heard folks in your own conversations talk about things happening synchronously or asynchronously.
What is Synchronous Instruction?
Synchronous instruction is when we are working together at the same time. Sometimes that means we’re all showing up online to participate in the same activity during a video call.
This might be as part of a remote or distance learning initiative. In these moments, everyone knows that on Friday at 9:00 AM they have to jump into a Google Meet video call together. It could also be a scenario where there is a set time on the calendar. Everyone at home logs on to a video conference or connecting online together at the same time.
The participation strategies I’ll cover in this post are ones that can be considered time-sensitive. Everyone is logging in and showing up at the same time. These are some things that you can do to boost engagement, or increase participation during those live moments.
Synchronous Instruction in Action
The benefits, or value adds of synchronous instruction is that you have everyone show up at the same time. These moments are a great opportunity for community building and getting to know each other. Synchronous instruction could include a big group (whole class instruction) or small groups (guided-reading groups, math intervention group, lab group). Alternatively, you might have a big group all show up at the same time. Then they can break out into smaller groups or subgroups to have a conversation around a topic.
Synchronous Instructional Model
When discussing the pros of a synchronous instructional model, there is an example I often like to share. It is a reminder of what makes live time together particularly special. And it comes back to the feelings we’ve probably all had before when we’ve sat in a meeting.
We listen and then we walk out of that meeting with the same thought. “Couldn’t that have just been an email?”
You might take the question “If we’re going to be here live together, what makes this any different than an email?” as a form of inspiration. This is the mindset or reminder you want to have during your planning for synchronous instruction. It is part of the reason why I’m focusing on some strategies that increase participation and maximize the use of valuable time together.
Now, let’s jump into six strategies to help increase participation during synchronous instruction!
Six Strategies to Help Increase Participation
Start With a Share (Waterfall Chat)
The first strategy when you’re having a live call or when your group comes together is to start with a share. This is a great way to get everyone participating that is not related to an academic question. It’s not like they’re going to be concerned about whether or not they have the right answer. There is no right answer. A share can happen in lots of different ways, but I want to share a share that I saw in action just a few months ago while working with a group in California.
Now, I’ve been offering a lot of virtual professional development to groups this past year, of course. One of the groups I was working with in the month of October, I was beaming into their call, joining their synchronous call, and they were doing some work before my conversation with the group was going to start. So I entered in watching behind the scenes and wasn’t leading that call. What their facilitator did to get started was a waterfall chat.
Trying a Waterfall Chat
Now, if you haven’t seen a waterfall chat before, this is where you have a question, everyone types in their response into the chat, but they don’t hit “send” until the speaker or facilitator tells them to. What this does is it makes the chat kind of have this waterfall effect because you have 10, 30, 100 (depending on how many people are on your call) hit send at the same time, so everyone’s contributions or responses pop up at the same time. This is a great way to start with a share where kids might not see each other’s responses at first. So maybe you’re asking them kind of a silly question just to get them sharing. Like, what’s your favorite type of cookie, or what is your favorite ice cream flavor? Or what snack do you like to start off your day with? Then you can have everyone type it in and then press send at the same time.
Now, this kind of share is something, just like many things, that requires some instructions and some examples, especially with students trying this out for the first time. But a waterfall chat is a great strategy to try out if you are committed to starting with a share for your first few minutes of synchronous instruction.
Use Breakout Rooms with Intention (Google Slides)
Strategy two on the list is to use breakout rooms with intention. If you want to learn more about them take a peek at my Easy EdTech Podcast episode where a special guest discusses all about breakout room strategies. Breakout rooms, essentially, are your way to send students out into small groups, even if you started out in one big video conference. Google Meet has rolled out this functionality. You’ve seen it in Zoom probably over the past couple years.
Now having a breakout room is great, but this strategy is breakout rooms with intention. So here, you really want to focus in on setting kids up for success before they go out, and this might include having a Google Slides presentation that is in view-only mode. How this works is you might set up a view-only presentation where you give kids the link so they can each see the slides without making any edits. Before you send them out to the breakout room, you put the prompt in that shared document. That way, they’ll all have it right in front of them, even if you’re not sharing your screen, and they’ll have that intention reminder that goes along with their session or their breakout room time. Having breakout rooms with intentions can just be as simple as having a shared Google Slides presentation where everyone can view the prompts that you’ve added or any task that you’ve given the group.
Incorporate Collaborative Activity (Jamboard)
Another synchronous instruction strategy to consider is a collaborative activity, so having everyone on the call or even small groups within the call, participate in something collaboratively. This is something you can do with lots of different tools, but I want to give a shout-out to Jamboard which has become a very popular tool during remote learning.
A collaborative activity might be a word sort. It might be a graphic organizer that kids are filling in responses to. This could be something very academically-focused where you have kids all put in a trait of a character from a book that you have read aloud on that call, or you’re discussing a passage from on that call together. So a collaborative activity is something that has a level of accountability. Everyone is working together. They can see each other’s responses, and they have this kind of common goal in mind.
Jamboard is great for doing this quickly with or without a login. So even if you’re not in a Google environment, with a Google account you could set up a Jamboard and invite students in.
Another strategy to explore to increase participation during synchronous instruction is a low-stakes competition with Kahoot. A low-stakes competition is something that is not going to be a heavy winner, or really stressful, or very overwhelming in terms of the questions that you’re asking. A low-stakes competition should feel more fun than stressful. It should be something that kids are excited about, not anxious about.
So a low-stakes competition could be something as quick as four or five questions in a space like Kahoot, where you share the PIN with students on the call. You go through those quick questions and then together, you break down responses, you have that low stakes feeling. It’s something that can build community, can gamify a review or an introduction to different types of activities, and Kahoot makes that pretty quick to get started with. Kahoot also has a lot of pre-made activities you can try out, too.
Make the Most of Chat Space
Finally, a strategy to consider during synchronous learning is setting up a chat space for students. Now, some tools have this built right in so you might use the chat space within Zoom or you might use the chat space within Google Meet. But if you’re looking to make the most of a chat space, you might find that a secondary tool is useful as well. So having a chat space available, either built into the tool or with a secondary tool, is something that you can use really strategically.
If you don’t have a chat space built into the tool you’re using, you might want to try out something like Backchannel Chat that has a freebie version that lets you set up a chat space as well. So making the most of a chat space is another strategy to explore. This is something that you might really pull into your regular routine of shouting out, or posting a question, and then having kids jump into the chat to share their response, especially if it’s a quick multiple choice, like a poll, or it is something that is a scale that they are rating something on.
Differentiate Your Digital Turn-and-Talk
Our last strategy to explore is to differentiate your digital turn-and-talk. Now, turn-and-talk is a strategy that’s very popular in classrooms. It gives students a chance to think through an idea, process information, and share with a classmate. Typically, if we’re face-to-face, they might physically turn to the student next to them, and take turns talking about the response to a question you’ve posed. But you might decide to differentiate a digital turn-and-talk by having a common posting space where everyone can post a response the same way they might turn to the person next to them and share that response.
A posting space that allows you to really differentiate student responses that I love is Padlet. Now, Padlet has the text option where you can type in the text. It also has the option for voice recording, so you can use the microphone on your device to record your voice. That allows you to differentiate your digital turn-and-talk a bit as well.
If you have a favorite resource or activity for engaging learners during synchronous learning I’d love to hear all about it! Leave a comment below, tag me in your Instagram story sharing a favorite tip, send me a DM on Twitter with your go-to resource, or share your favorite on another social media platform.