Defy Online Teaching: Creative Ways to Keep Students Engaged

How do you keep your students engaged in an online class? Read more as we provide actionable tips.

The online classes have started, and many teachers are not happy. 

In a report, 62% of teachers are unhappy with the online teaching environment due to technical glitches and internet problems. And 55% of teachers said that participation during discussions in online teaching is upsetting compared to offline classes. 

While there’s nothing we can do about your technical difficulties and sporadic internet connection, we have helpful tips to help you keep your students engaged and participating. 

First, let’s look at how teachers from different parts of the world conduct their online classes, then we’ll dive into how you can be just as effective as them. 

[Interesting Read: Teachers’ Guide On How To Prepare For Online Teaching In 2020]

Table of Contents

Educators Defying Online Teaching

Rhiannon Chavez is a fourth-grade teacher, and to keep her students engaged, she made her classroom a theater. In front of her computer screen, Chavez sings, dances, and makes hand movements and facial expressions to teach her students. 

Teacher Rhiannon Chavez sings, dances, and uses gestures when teaching her students. Image source: Los Angeles Times

Another teacher has gone viral due to her endless patience and creativity in teaching her students. Teacher Mackenzie Adams went viral after she shared a video of herself teaching her students enthusiastically and energetically. 

Her animated approach to teaching has won the hearts of many educators and parents. 

In her video, teacher Mackenzie encourages her students to answer questions using actions and gestures. 

“Does peach have the ‘t’ sound?” while moving her head back and forth. “Or no, not a ‘t’ sound at the beginning?” with both her hands on her head while shaking it. 

“Oh, I’m seeing so many hands on heads. Yeah, that does not start with a letter ‘t.’ Great job—spoons back in bowls.” 

Both teachers Chavez and Adams admitted that they feel exhausted after logging off. Yet, both teachers are happy to see their students excited to be in their classrooms despite the challenges.

Some teachers are having a hard time teaching their students highly tactile lessons through a computer screen. When their students need help, they can’t just hop over and help. 

Many students are also drifting either by staying mute or turning their cameras off. The reason is usually due to technical issues (as some devices have a stronger internet connection when the cameras are off), it creates a gap between the teacher and students. 

The lack of in-person interaction makes teaching even more difficult. Not to mention, students’ attention span is short, especially when you’re teaching younger students. 

So, how can you defy online teaching and make your tactics more creative and effective?

[Related: 9 Tips In Creating A Learning Environment From Home]

Ways to Keep Students Engaged

Be yourself

Most educators enjoy teaching in-person because they can interact with their students. Teachers also love it when they can share a passion for a subject with keen, enthusiastic students. And most of all, they like it when they see their students understand a rather complicated concept. 

Use hand gestures when speaking with your students. Gestures help emphasize ideas and make communication better.

If you’re an educator, there’s no doubt that you enjoy the performative aspect of teaching. You use a lot of your energy to communicate with your students. You add humor, adjust your delivery, change your modulation, and make gestures to emphasize a point. 

Teaching in an online classroom is no different. Applying humor and gestures in your online classroom is essential to keep your students engaged. 

Of course, your voice, pitch, and gesture should be appropriate to the age range of your students. Nevertheless, these are key factors to keep your students engaged. 

We all make hand movements when we talk, but gestures when teaching is especially important to help students remember key points. You can use hand gestures to describe a shape, number, or object.

Present visuals


Pictures and videos play a massive role in keeping students engaged, particularly when you’re teaching them lessons that require visual representation. Photos, graphs, videos, and charts can help students better grasp the topic. 

Use the whiteboard or share screen feature of your video-conferencing app to present visuals in the class. You can also print out icons, emojis, or graphs. Using flashcards is practical, too, to help students memorize facts or solve math problems. 

Aside from using visual aids, it’s worth noting that you should dress presentably as well, especially when your students see you via the webcam. 

If your students see your face, they are more likely to be more motivated, more so if they see you are just as engaged and interested as they are.

Keep your background neat and clean, and remove objects that may distract your students.

[Must Read: 8 Best Flashcard Apps To Enhance Visual Memory]

Implement fun actions

Instead of a yes or no, how about a smile if their answer is yes and a frown if no. Or a thumbs up if they agree and thumbs down if they disagree. 

When giving simple math problems, you can ask them to use their fingers to answer instead of just saying it. How about using animal sounds as answers?

This technique may be effective in preschoolers and grade-schoolers. Fun actions encourage students to participate in the game. On top of that, it engages students in the class (instead of turning their attention to their cat or dog). 

[Interesting: 8 Ways To Handle Naughty Student Behavior In Online Classes]

Be human

The distance between teachers and students is apparent in an online classroom. And sometimes, that distance can infect your written communication. Nevertheless, you don’t have to stick to a detached tone when communicating with your students. For example, which of the two sounds more human and friendlier? 

A. “If you have any questions about how you can complete your assignments, remember that I am here to help. Message me anytime so I can help you succeed.” 

B. “Post your questions in the forum if you have any.”

If your answer is A, you’re correct. Your students are more likely to participate in your class when they feel they are important and that they can always have your back when they’re struggling. 

[Interesting Read: How To Keep The “Human” Element In Online Teaching]

Record yourself


Remember teacher Mackenzie Adams? Her primary goal in mind when she was recording herself was to see if she was engaging enough. When interviewed by Today, Adams said: 

“I honestly just wanted to see what I looked like while teaching, kind of just as a reflection tool. I wanted to see, ‘Am I being energetic enough for them? Am I engaging enough?'”

She deserves all the high fives in the world. Like Adams, you can record yourself and see how you’re performing. Are you engaging enough? Are you using gestures? Does your facial expression show your enthusiasm for teaching? Is the energy you’re giving enough to make the class engaged and participating?

When you record yourself, you’ll get to reflect on your teaching methods and look for ways to improve your tactics. 

More Tips to Keep Students Engaged

Be energetic

You can’t expect your students to be actively engaged in your classroom if you’re lousy and lacking energy. Teaching in an online environment is more challenging because of the lack of in-person interaction, but that doesn’t mean that it’s unfeasible. 

Keep your energy high when teaching your students. Teaching enthusiastically and with high spirit will bring your online classroom to a whole new level. 

In an interview with the LA Times, Teacher Chavez said, “After I log off, I’m exhausted. I feel like I’ve just worked out for hours.”

Be patient

Teaching needs a lot of patience. Lots of it! Kids are likely to lose attention, others may simply drift away by switching their cameras off, and others won’t understand the lessons immediately. And when all of these happen spontaneously, it can be very overwhelming for teachers. 

Help your students to get excited and interested in distance learning.

Don’t forget to take breaks between long discussions. You need it. Your students need it. Breaks will give you time to relax just enough to get yourself back on the patience game. 

If a student struggles to understand a lesson, you can encourage them to ask specific questions so you can breakdown the subject and make it easier for them to understand. 


Online teaching needs a lot of hard work. Students may easily drift away from the lesson, and others may give in to distractions present at home. As a teacher, your teaching methods greatly impact your students’ engagement in the class. 

Make your class more interactive, keep your students engaged, and modify your teaching methods. 

No one was ever ready for this pandemic, and we can only assume that online classes will continue indefinitely until the world becomes COVID-free. Until then, you need to step up your game to teach your students more effectively. 

Related Questions

What are the disadvantages of online teaching?

While online teaching is a great alternative to keep students learning even when at home, it poses many problems. First, there is little to no one-on-one interaction between teachers and students. Second, technical problems make teaching difficult. And lastly, it requires intense discipline, to name a few. 

Some teachers aren’t savvy with technology, too. 

Read this helpful guide: 10 User-Friendly Tools That Low Tech And No Tech Teachers Can Use.

What are the best learning apps for kids?

Learning apps are a great addition to kid’s home learning. We highly recommend Zoolingo, Moose Math, and Elmo Loves 123s for kids. For older students, we suggest LinkedIn Learning, Khan Academy, and Duolingo. 

Read: Top 10 Best Educational Apps

Learn from other teachers

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