Over the last year, as many teachers have moved either partly or fully to remote teaching, one question has arisen many times: How do I keep my students engaged online? Whilst many teachers have their go-to folder of ready-to-use adaptable activities, comprised of the likes of board races, role-plays, flashcard games, and many more steadfast materials, the idea of digitising these activities has seemed somewhat impossible. Teachers feel like they have lost their time-savers.
Whilst I can’t offer a solution on how to do a board-race activity through a Zoom lesson (that is impossible), what I can suggest are some alternative tools and platforms that teachers can add to their pre-existing arsenal of hit-the-ground-running classroom activities and exercises. So, in no particular order, here are my top 5 platforms for improving student engagement online.
I rave about Padlet so much, my colleagues must think I secretly work for them! Padlet is one of the most easily accessible platforms out there for sharing content, ideas, and general brainstorming. I’ve used it synchronously for online workshops, and find it offers a nice change of scenery for engagement that’s not your usual ‘type into the chatbox’ responses. Padlet can also be used asynchronously, making it a great platform for assigning homework. As a teacher, you can add content to a Padlet ahead of a lesson, allowing your students access by simply sharing a link with them. Content can be in the form of text, images, and links to videos or other websites– think of it as a digital whiteboard, but one that everyone can work and collaborate from (and with more visually engaging backgrounds!)
Example is taken from my own Padlet, when teaching using English File 4th edition Intermediate, OUP.
I previously used Kahoot when I was teaching in the face to face classroom, but I’ve since learnt that it also works for remote learning, both synchronously and asynchronously. Kahoot not only offers fun gamification of learning, but it can also be used as a tool to assess learners and measure their progress – something many teachers have found challenging to do in a distance classroom set-up. You can use pre-made games or ‘Kahoots’ with your learners, or you can create your own Kahoots ahead of your lesson.
I strongly recommend taking the time to watch the video guide by Isabella Vick, Marketing and Community Assistant from Kahoot, on how to deliver lessons remotely using the platform.
The majority of my experience in using Quizlet comes from being a student myself. When I was studying for my Delta Module One exam, Quizlet was my best friend. For anyone else who’s done this exam, or any written exam for that matter, you’ll know that expanding your repertoire of vocabulary terms and phrases is a key focus in your exam preparation. Quizlet allowed me to test my vocabulary knowledge with digital flashcards using gamification, and, dare I say it, I actually enjoyed doing it. As with most gamification of learning, there was an inherent satisfaction that came from selecting the correct definition for the word that had been presented to me. And like Kahoot, there are pre-made quizzes that you can access, or you can simply create your own.
4. Future Me
With all the talk of hope on the horizon through the roll-out of vaccines, the gradual easing of lockdowns, and the slow return to face-to-face learning, I thought it would be fitting to mention a platform that also focuses on the future. Future Me is a website that allows you to write a letter to your future self. You compose your letter, add in your email address, and set the date of delivery for maybe a year, 5 years, or even 10 years – or, you can choose a specific date. Whilst this activity doesn’t offer much in the form of immediate content production, and the teacher feedback that comes with this, it can be a novel activity to do at the start of a semester or term.
Offer letter-writing support through the use of sentence stems, such as By the end of this academic year, I want to be able to… or by reflecting on their current ‘status’ as students, e.g. Right now I’m not very confident with… this year, I hope to improve on…. Then have your students set the delivery date for the last week of their academic year and when the time comes, get them to reflect on their letters, and if comfortable, share them with their peers. It can be a poignant way to end the term, but a memorable one.
This platform has two different sections: Gimkit Live, for quiz-like activities, and Gimkit Ink, for more project or assignment style tasks. Gimkit Live is a lot like Kahoot, except the students receive a reward in the form of ‘in-game cash’ every time they answer a question correctly. They can also lose credits if they get answers incorrect, so be sensitive to your learners’ motivational drivers when considering this platform. Whilst both Live and Ink offer the chance for collaboration between learners, what I really like about Ink is the opportunity for students to post their work anonymously, with only the teacher seeing that the work has come from them. This is a feature that really tells me Gimkit have listened to their teachers and the challenges they face trying to get engagement online from shy, self-conscious students.
So there you have it, my top 5 recommendations to make remote learning more fun and promoting engagement online. By far these are not the only platforms out there, but they’re worth checking out if you’ve not come across them before.
And if you do try them, or you’ve already used them, let me know what you think in the comments!