Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Keeping Students Engaged in the Virtual Classroom

October 13, 2020

Girl engaged in distance learning 1000w

Holding students’ attention is an evergreen challenge for educators—and online classes add another layer of complexity. We asked Milken Educators to share the strategies they’re using to boost engagement in their virtual classrooms.


Sarah Tomic (CO ’18)
Instruction coach | Pikes Peak Elementary | Colorado Springs, CO

We have used ClassDojo for a long time, but we created a new class for e-learners and chose specific behaviors to give points for—things like risk-taking, participation, focus, turning in assignments, etc. At the end of the week students can redeem points for things like virtual lunch with the teacher, staying on the video call after class ends to talk with friends, and show and tell. We’re also doing an e-learner of the week. Their photo will go on our Canvas homepage the next week, and we mail home a certificate postcard.


Jennifer Smith (CA ’06)
Multi-tier Systems of Support (MTSS) | Twentynine Palms Junior High | Twentynine Palms, CA

We just had our first Spirit Week. Part of the fun was to encourage students to keep their cameras on during class. They earned extra credit points and got entered into a drawing for gift cards at the end of the week for having their cameras on. To kick off the week, we created and shared a video with staff and students about Zoom privacy and where to set up your computer to avoid household distractions.


Tami Lunsford (DE ’17)
Biology and marine science | Newark Charter High School | Newark, DE

Breakout rooms! I assign group work and put them in breakouts to discuss. They are so much more likely to talk that way. I use live Nearpods with collaborative boards. And, at the start of most classes, I ask a random fun question that students unmute to answer as I take attendance. What is your favorite animal? If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? What is your favorite ice cream flavor or other dessert?


Eric Crouch (GA ’16)
Fifth grade reading and ELA | Double Churches Elementary School | Columbus, GA

We play I Spy, Guess That Song and a version of Rock Paper Scissors that encourages the kids to collaborate instead of compete. Seems to get them pretty engaged!


Dr. Marisa Rivas (CA ’09)
Sixth grade English | Arrowview Middle School | San Bernardino, CA

I see all my classes on Mondays—the rest of the week is block schedule. We do Virtual Community Circles and can usually squeeze in two rounds since periods are 40 minutes long. I pose questions like “What is one positive thing about distance learning?” Since the school year began, it’s created a classroom community. Later in the week, during lessons, I notice students are more likely to participate in Nearpod, Flipgrid, edpuzzle, Padlet or any other platform I’m using to deliver content.


Melissa Fike (MO ’19)
Math | Oakland Middle School | Columbia, MO

I ask students a random question of the day to start class. They type their answers in the Zoom chat, but I have them wait until the count of three to hit Enter. I have more engagement that way as opposed to waiting for one person to answer.

I miss being able to interact with my students! The Zoom room is so quiet. My new favorite thing is to ask all students to unmute all at once and just talk about anything, all at once. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how good the sound of students’ chatter is for my soul.


Sarah Franko (OH ’13)
Fifth grade science | North Royalton Middle School | North Royalton, OH

I’ve used silent response cards, which show students what to do when they’re on mute and want to “say” something. My class loves Mystery Student, where I write all their names on tongue depressors and choose one at random at the end of our time together. If the student chosen has participated, followed directions, come prepared, tried their best and been kind to others, I put money into a “digital” bank account, which goes towards an end-of-semester raffle.

I spin a digital wheel with Flippity when I need to choose a student at random, or they spin it to help them decide on something—during a recent project on astronomy, for example, students spun the wheel to decide which planet they wanted to study. And while we were remote I used snail mail to send out Chromebook stickers and Airhead candy as Zoom attendance prizes. Students loved getting mail!


Jayda Pugliese (PA ’16)
Principal | St. Mary Interparochial School | Philadelphia, PA

We use games like Kahoot!, Quizlet and Breakout EDU to boost engagement and collaboration. My teachers use BreakoutEDU to set up virtual escape rooms.

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