4 Strategies for Engaging Students Online

engaging students - online learning

Being an online teacher has its challenges; however, it also affords us the opportunity to rejuvenate our practice while engaging students online. Whether you are activating your lesson, having students practice during a learning activity or monitoring student progress through a formative assessment, engagement is essential. Here are four strategies to engage students online throughout lessons. 

  1. Use real-life examples. For example, a third grade math teacher is beginning an integrated unit on measurement and adding and subtracting three-digit numbers. The teacher begins the lesson with examples of items from his home that weigh about 1 gram and 1 kilogram. He then gives students 3 minutes to go on a scavenger hunt around their homes to find one or two items that would weigh about 1 gram or 1 kilogram.  Students come back to the virtual classroom and share their items. The teacher has actively engaged students in learning and made real-life connections to the content. He has built background knowledge, strengthened students’ vocabulary, and given students a visual image for grams and kilograms.  
  2. Use web-based apps to engage online students. There are many free apps that allow you to make formative assessments for students, such as, Kahoot! GimKit, Quizziz, or Quizlet. These apps may be used synchronously or asynchronously depending on the setting chosen by the teacher. For example, a teacher makes a short formative assessment for math facts on Kahoot! Students who are learning remotely split their screen to see the teacher screen. They enter the access code and begin the game. Another option is to set the application as self-pacing. Students complete the practice or quiz independently, but the teacher can see the results. 
  3. Use discussions to engage online students. Discussions through student learning management systems, such as, Canvas, Schoology, or virtual meetings using Microsoft Teams, or Zoom is a strategy to increase student engagement. Discussions are utilized during learning activities for students to share information about a topic they have researched, a book they are reading, or while solving a math task. Discussions may be used as distributed summarizing or formative assessments. While discussions may be oral when in virtual meetings, written discussions require learners to process information, organize their thoughts, and communicate their learning to others. Writing to learn helps both teachers and students monitor understanding and improves students’ ability to accurately remember information later on. 
  4. Peer review. An added advantage of written discussions is the benefit of engaging students in peer feedback. When students realize their peers are reading their work, it shifts the focus from writing with the teacher as the audience to writing with a much larger scope (Rusul Alrubail, 2015). Benefits to students (both face-to-face and remote) include a sense of empowerment as they act as resident experts on a topic, build their independence, and grow by asking the right questions, sharing information, and ultimately mastering content (Sackstein & Berkowicz, 2017). The responsibility of the teacher is to create a culture where peer review is valued, to set specific expectations for review including the purpose, phrasing, and examples with lots of practice, ultimately having students take ownership of their learning. 

Ultimately, you are the difference maker in the classroom whether you are in person or remote. Be willing to try new ideas and strategies. Give yourself permission to take risks and fail or succeed engaging students in online learning. Offer yourself a little grace. Your students will benefit from your willingness to learn from your mistakes and capitalize on your victories. 


Rusul Alrubail. (2015, December 17). The Power of Peer Feedback. Edutopia; George Lucas Educational Foundation. https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/power-peer-feedback

Sackstein, S., & Berkowicz, J. (2017). Peer feedback in the classroom : empowering students to be the experts. Ascd.

Tracy Easterling

Tracy Easterling has been in education for 30 years. She spent 10 years teaching all content to fifth graders and 8 years teaching seventh grade math. For the past 12 years, she has served as a district curriculum specialist and transitioned to an administrative position as the Extended Learning Coordinator. She still maintains her connection to teachers and students serving as the 6-8 Math Curriculum Specialist. She is passionate about coaching teachers to intentionally leverage high-impact strategies to maximize student success.

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