Online Discussion Strategies

8 Strategies to Improve Participation in Your Virtual Classroom

In any classroom, there are kids who are always willing to contribute, as well as students who are hesitant to join for various reasons. It can be difficult to engage children in talks when they are unwilling to express their opinions, whether because they are introverted, take their time thinking before speaking, or simply because they are having a bad day.

Many teachers have told us that the difficulties they have in engaging pupils in remote learning have grown more difficult as time has passed. It can be difficult to determine when to speak on digital platforms, for example, or to understand minor but significant parts of discourse such as a person’s body language and facial expressions, which can make it more difficult to communicate effectively. Additionally, online discussions are frequently hampered by differences in students’ access to technology as well as privacy concerns, and as a result, many teachers have been forced to rely on students submitting work through isolated channels such as email, which can leave back-and-forth between peers (as well as between students and the teacher) by the wayside.

It turns out that getting children to participate in virtual classes requires some effort. “We keep referring to this generation as digital natives, as if they are simply computer whizzes who know all there is to know about computers. The answer is, they aren’t,” Tim O’Brien remarked on Facebook. “They require personal assistance, scaffolding, and reassurance that cannot be provided by technological means.” It is merely a tool, not a means of instruction.”

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Following up with more than 20 educators to hear how they solved the challenge last spring, we dug through hundreds of comments on social media to find out how they improved student discussions and involvement in online learning courses. Students’ values and voices were integrated into their courses this fall by teachers using a variety of clever tactics, both synchronous and asynchronous, to include all students—even the quietest or those with disrupted schedules—into the learning environment.


Teachers reported that they transferred traditional discussion tactics from the classroom to live video chats for synchronous learning, while others reported that digital tools assisted increase engagement in class.

During remote learning this spring, students in Shai Klima’s high school class took the initiative and conducted their own discussions using Google Meet. Preceding the live class, students responded to questions on their own time, and then shared their comments at the start of the meeting to serve as the starting point for a more extensive class discussion.

Although Klima did not see or hear what was being spoken on camera, he was paying attention and drew lines on a piece of paper to represent what was being said, forming a spider web. At the conclusion of the session, Klima projected the image onto a screen and asked students to reflect on their participation and what they learned about who spoke, who listened, and who built on the ideas of others.

It has been helpful in encouraging students to recognise their friends for assisting them in coming up with fresh ideas, which has helped to establish rapport, according to Klima, who allowed students with limited internet access to participate via phone calls in the sessions.

Using chat to check for understanding: After delivering lessons last spring, Paul France had his third-grade students use the Google Chat feature to ask and answer questions or type in emojis, such as a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down, to indicate whether they understood a concept. George Lucas Educational Foundation The teacher led his students in developing group norms for utilising the chat feature, such as agreeing to use only one emoji at a time. This helped to give structure to their comments. France stated that the approach allowed him to assess for student understanding while also encouraging pupils to become more engaged with the topic.

Kindergarten teacher Ruth Calkins, on the other hand, used Zoom chat to hold live lessons with her kindergarten students in the classroom. It was stated that they enjoyed typing “T” or “F” for true or false questions while answering arithmetic problems in the chat box, and that some of them even tried to construct phrases in response to her inquiries. For her younger students, typing responses provided a great deal of keyboard practise as well.

3. Turn your classroom upside down to encourage deeper debate: Forrest Hinton, a high school math instructor, says he discovered that a combination of asynchronous and synchronous instruction worked well to increase student discussion while participating in distance education.

In the first instance, he delivered fresh content asynchronously via recorded films and online activities. At the beginning of his live session, students briefly summarised the principles they had learned together and then broke into breakout rooms to work on relevant problems in small groups, according to the instructor. Hinton was able to spend less time in direct instruction as a result of flipping his classroom. Additionally, listening to students at the beginning of class and in small groups enabled him to identify and address areas in which his students were having difficulty. “It has enabled me to clarify concepts in a more targeted manner and provide better assistance to pupils,” Hinton added.

4. Using Zoom to adapt think-pair-share sessions: He discovered that providing more project-based learning activities to his elementary and middle school students—as well as granting them greater autonomy over their assignments—naturally led to richer discussions in virtual learning environments, according to Ryan Tahmaseb, director of library services. ‘If we allow students the greatest amount of flexibility possible to experiment with new ideas, conduct research, and follow interests within our content area, they will certainly have a great deal more to say,’ Tahmaseb explained.

The think-pair-share method was modified to Zoom by Tahmaseb for use in class discussions. Following a provocation and grouping, students were assigned to breakout rooms where they could discuss and write their responses on a shared Google doc, which allowed them to express their thoughts in writing or read aloud. Because Tahmaseb was not present in each breakout room to listen in on the discussions, the Google doc served as a means of holding students accountable. In the following class period, volunteers from each group presented their responses to the entire class.

5. A fresh take on the traditional show-and-tell: Brittany Collins, the teaching and learning coordinator at Write the World, a global online writing community for middle and high school students, transformed the typical show-and-tell practise into “think, write, share” in order to get kids comfortable with online involvement.

The following questions from the Making Thinking Visible Framework were assigned to middle and high school students in one activity: Find a photograph, painting, or drawing that represents intergenerational connection and respond independently by writing to the following questions from the Making Thinking Visible Framework before discussing them over video as a class: What exactly do we have our eyes on? What gives you the right to say that? What do you observe (what do you see, feel, or understand)? What else could we be able to uncover? What is it that you are curious about? In a virtual learning environment, where unscheduled engagement can be difficult for certain students, Collins says that the activity “helps to break the ice.”


Although some teachers and students claimed that synchronous discussions were more engaging because they were more like a traditional classroom setting, many educators believed that asynchronous discussions were more equitable because they allowed participation from students who had limited bandwidth, who had scheduling constraints, or who were uncomfortable engaging with the entire class to take place in a more private setting.

Angelina Murphy, a high school English teacher, said she used Google Classroom’s question tool to enable her students to reply to readings and discussion prompts during remote learning this past spring. 7. Online forums encourage back-and-forth dialogue: Whenever each student contributed, Murphy responded with clarifying questions to encourage a back and forth debate. Murphy also requested each student to respond to at least two of their peers’ comments in order to establish a more broad base of discussion among the students.

Raquel Linares, a fifth-grade teacher, described how she utilised Nearpod Collaborate (available on Apple and Android devices), a virtual collaboration board, to encourage children to share photographs or write responses to demonstrate what they had learnt from reading an article. Linares also used Flipgrid (available on Apple and Android devices) to encourage connection and reflection among classmates, allowing pupils to hear the voices of their friends even when they were separated by distance.

Joe Marangell, a high school social studies teacher, explains that virtual “gallery tours” provide students with an opportunity to observe and critique their classmates’ work while also learning from one another. Following the presentation of their own work through five-minute screencasts, his students were asked to provide comments to at least two other students on their own projects as well.

Students provided feedback to their peers through the use of Google Sheets by responding to the following prompts: What is something fresh that I have learned about this subject? What is something about this subject that has astonished me? ; What was it about this lecture that I found particularly interesting? According to Marangell, the online approach provided every student with the opportunity to view their peers’ work as well as their peers’ evaluations of their own work, allowing for deeper reflection.

8. Bringing carousel or station brainstorming activities online: When carousel or station brainstorming activities are conducted in traditional classroom environments, small groups of students rotate around the room to different stations to answer prompts—as well as view and add to the responses of other groups.

Rather than having his pupils work in groups online, Marangell separated his students into groups and generated shared Google documents (either as a series of Google slides) for the prompts/questionnaires. Each group responded to the questions by leaving their ideas under the questions by the deadline, and the following day, they commented on the other groups’ comments. “The method allows kids to maintain a sense of classroom community [even though they are in a virtual setting],” Marangell explained.