11.13 Ideas to Make Your Synchronous Online Classes More Fun

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Student Olga Sago taking an online class on her laptop.

The transition to online teaching has been challenging for faculty members. I noticed that with this change, the focus of my classes shifted from learning together or engaging students to simply “delivering the content.” I teach four classes this semester, like several of you, and one of my biggest challenges with online classes is limited engagement from students.

I use a hybrid approach – part of my classes are taught asynchronously, and I meet with students once a week for synchronous online time. For the asynchronous portion, I post notes ahead of time (at least a week ahead) along with recordings of myself explaining concepts or terminologies based on the notes. Students read the notes on their device and watch the recordings before they meet with me synchronously online. I avoid lecturing during the synchronous time and use several activities to clarify questions and confusions, provide feedback and create discussion opportunities. I feel as if we, as educators, must build a relationship with our students online even if we have previously established a relationship in face-to-face classrooms. Students, in this process, have been my biggest support system, although they have more at stake (in terms of grades and graduation) and additional concerns with housing, family commitments and jobs. I have noticed that students have been extremely flexible, understanding, forgiving and even sweet and supportive.

Take a SIP of this: Make your synchronous online classes more fun

Here are some ideas or activities I have been choosing from during the past three weeks to make my synchronous online classes more fun. These activities are less grounded in research and more grounded in my experience with engaging students in and out of the classroom. I look forward to reading those student evaluations at the end of this semester more than ever before. J If you are new to online teaching or are a pro at it, I hope at least one of these ideas sparks interest for you.

  1. We play a “this/that” game. It is really silly, but the students and I have fun with it, or at least I do. J For example, I start the game with the first student who volunteers. “Would you like to be the Broca’s area/Wernicke’s area? Why?” “Would you like to have a conversation with a toddler/a preschooler? How?” Then each student calls out a peer’s name and asks them a similar question. We make sure that everyone gets a turn in all games.
  2. We play “two truths and a lie.” For example, I start with one student. “Intentional communication emerges around 8-9 months. Joint attention emerges around 6-10 months of age. Inflectional morphemes are mastered by age 3.” The student has to select which one of these statements is a lie. I give the students a checklist that they can use to ask the next person another “two truths and a lie” question.
  3. We play a “teach your annoying aunt/uncle” game. I post questions ahead of time. Each student picks a question and spends about two minutes preparing an answer. I start with a question, pretending to not know anything about it, and then become the annoying aunt asking several follow-up questions. For example, I say, “What exactly is phonological awareness?” And then I annoy them by saying, “Really? I can’t understand that. Could you tell me what a phoneme is first? Why would a child need phonological awareness? What does it have to do with reading?” etcSo I spend about five minutes with each student doing this.
  4. Another game is called “emoji slides.” This is a great game to play before exams. I have a set of premade slides. Each slide displays a concept or a word or a question. I share my screen and present one slide at a time. Students have to respond by reacting to the word/concept/question on the slide with an emoji – J happy, L sad or 😐 If students react with a J happy emoji, I move on to presenting the next slide. If I see a few sad or neutral emojis, I stop and explain the concept or give examples until everyone reacts happily.
  5. Another game we play is “who am I?” For example, I say, “I am a part of the cochlea that separates the scala media and the scala tympani. Who am I?” “I acquired two languages at the same time before the age of 3. Who am I?”
  6. We do online role plays. For example, one student volunteers and we practice asking questions as part of a case history while I pretend to be the caregiver and the student, a speech-language pathologist. We then reverse roles.
  7. For review of concepts, we use collaborative worksheets. I post a worksheet with several questions (multiple choice, fill in the blanks, true/false, explain a term, give an example, compare two concepts, etc.). Students can then open this worksheet on their Microsoft Teams browser and start typing answers to these questions. Students can see each other’s responses, and I can see both their names and their responses. They get immediate synchronous feedback.
  8. Finally, we use short 15-minute quizzes during the synchronous class time. I create quizzes using Microsoft Forms. These quizzes are not part of the course grade; they are merely used for practice. Students can complete the quiz on their individual devices during class time. I can review their responses, and they can get immediate feedback.

After class, I spend about five minutes compiling all information from that class session. I save the key for worksheets we have completed as a group. I usually record all synchronous online classes (with student permission), and I post a link to these recordings so students have the opportunity to review them later.

Please contribute your own fun ideas and activities in the comments section.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of this: Make your synchronous online classes more fun.

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