Zoom / Pedagogy / Social Presence

Engaging Students through Zoom

Looking for practical tips and creative ways to make your Zoom class sessions more engaging, interesting, and fun? This post provides helpful strategies to make your synchronous Zoom class sessions a success.

Prepare for Success with Zoom

You want your class to run smoothly, so it’s important to take the time to plan and setup your Zoom session with any tools you intend to use. You may want to gather together some friends or colleagues to try out Zoom features with one another.

It is also important to prepare your students to make the most of Zoom.

  • Set aside time in your first Zoom class to introduce the features you will use
  • Plan some time for students to ask questions and explore the features
  • Encourage students to answer each other’s Zoom questions, as they might have a better perspective than the host of the meeting does
  • Discuss any etiquette and expectations that are important to your class

Engagement Tools Built-in to Zoom

Zoom is built for group communication, but sometimes we end up talking to an audience without inviting them into the conversation, leaving them in a passive role.  With a little planning, Zoom’s interactive features can increase engagementand learning!

Zoom offers many interactive tools, including the ones listed below. Each tool may require Zoom options be set in advance of your class.

Screen Share

Screen share allows participants to see the computer screen of the host or an attendee, depending on meeting settings. Instructors often use screen share for presenting content. Screen share can also be used more actively. Here are a few ideas:

  • student share their screens to give presentations
  • students share their screen when they have questions about an image, document, etc.
  • students share a website they found, show how to navigate that site, etc.
  • students share their work in a whole-class feedback session
  • use the white board and annotation tools (below) when sharing screens

Learn More About Screen Sharing on Zoom, including technical details.

White Board

One screen-sharing option is to share a white board. The white board can allow everyone to sketch on the same space. Here are a few ideas:

  • pose a problem (such as math, chemistry, etc.) and let students try to work it out, much like working out a problem on the board in a classroom
  • invite students to draw their interpretation of mise en scène in a film class
  • have students draw out a math story problem
  • help students visualize geometry
  • let students ask questions by typing them on the screen with the text tool
  • collect feedback on course content or the class session

Learn More About the White Board on Zoom, including technical details.



When a screen is being shared, you can use annotations on the shared content. Annotations include shapes, freehand drawings, and text. Instead of just showing content, now you can let students interact with it visually, in real-time. Here are a few ideas:

  • Share a poem and let students mark favorite lines, lines they don’t understand, etc.
  • Share an image and let students interpret its meaning (such as in art appreciation/history, sociology, etc.) by pointing out key aspects
  • Share a prepared geometry problem and let students analyze or mark-up the image to discuss how they would solve
  • Share a diagram, chart, etc., and let students highlight takeaways
  • Allow students to annotate as you present slides, helping you see whether they are comprehending and if there are follow-up questions

Learn More About Annotations on Zoom, including technical details.


Breakout Rooms

Breakout rooms are a way to divide the class into groups, each with its own “room.” This is one of the most potent tools for student-centered, active, and engaging activities. But like any group work, a purpose should underlie the practice. Here are a few ideas:

  • Let students discuss content questions before returning to the main Zoom session to share answers. You can configure many ways: Have every group address all questions; have each group focus on one question; assign only one question at a time and go back and forth between main Zoom session and breakout rooms for each question.
  • Have students conduct a peer review before class, then, during class, use break out rooms for groups to explain their feedback, ask for clarification, etc. This would require defined groups for peer review.
  • Host a game show in your class, like team Jeopardy or Family Feud. Assign groups, after asking each question, send students into their group breakout rooms for a predefined time limit, so they can discuss the answer they want to give once they are back in the main Zoom session. Repeat for each question.
  • Assign discussion in a small group setting to allow more people to share their ideas. Provide specific topics. Ideal for any open-ended questions that invite discussion.

Learn More About Breakout Rooms on Zoom, including technical details.



The text-based chat feature is an obvious way to encourage students to help each other during a Zoom session. Here are a few ideas:

  • Remind students to post questions in real-time in the chat — and to answer each other’s questions
  • Appoint a few students to monitor the chat. Have them answer what they can and refer the rest of the questions to you when you pause.
  • Use chat to send files or links in real-time

Learn More About Chat on Zoom, including technical details.



Polls can include single choice or multiple choice questions. Used strategically, they can successfully shift the focus to students at any time during a Zoom session. Here are a few ideas:

  • ask “activation” questions at the start of a session to get students thinking about the content
  • ask comprehension check questions during a session to make sure everyone is with you and to know if it’s safe to move to the next topic
  • perform a quick “survey” to find out what students think
  • collect anonymous feedback at the end of a session to ask how the class is going

Learn More About Polling on Zoom, including technical details.


Non-Verbal Feedback

Non-verbal feedback is a tool that lets students share one of a small set of icons to communicate with the instructor. Once your students are shown how to use the feedback, just make sure to monitor that feedback when appropriate. This feedback appears in the Participants area.

Non-verbal feedback isn’t as active as the tools above, but provides a channel to get feedback from the class in the absence of being able to see their faces in front of you. Here are a few ideas on using non-verbal feedback:

  • Make sure students know they can raise their hand if they have a question.
  • Ask on-the-fly yes/no questions and wait for students to provide feedback. A good fall-back if you did not set up a poll but want to gauge something on the spot.
  • Tell students that they can give you feedback on whether they need you to speed up or slow down at any time.
  • Periodically ask students if they are getting the concepts. Have them respond with a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
  • Consider asking students to let you know when the class needs a break.

Learn More About Non-Verbal Feedback on Zoom, including technical details.


Meeting Reactions

Similar to Non-Verbal Feedback above, meeting reactions let students share an emoji. These emojis appear where the participant’s profile image, name, or video is shown. Meeting reactions disappear after 5 seconds.

Like Non-Verbal Feedback, Meeting Reactions are less active and engaging than other tools. Here are a few uses:

  • When a student is presenting or speaking, peers can react in real time to provide a sense of audience without interrupting the speaker
  • Quick straw polls can be conducted using meeting reactions as long as the instructor is viewing all participants.

Learn More About Meeting Reactions on Zoom, including technical details.



Explore More

The links below will open in new windows.

Tips and Tricks  – Zoom’s suggestions for making the most of their tools. This is a great 2-page PDF resource to keep at your disposal as you plan your class.

25 Strategies to Engage Students on Your Next Zoom Meeting – Plenty of great ideas you can adopt or adapt.


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