Distance Learning Playbook: Interactive Virtual Classroom Activities

A young person at home wearing headphones smiles while watching a laptop screen during a lesson.

How can teachers turn virtual classrooms into inspiring learning environments where students feel motivated to participate? The trick to bringing students on board is crafting interactive virtual classroom activities that spur students into active engagement.

Invigorating learning environments give students opportunities to wrestle with material, communicate thoughts, and put skills into practice. By incorporating interactive virtual classroom activities, teachers can make distance learning engaging and fun.

The Benefits of Interactive Learning

When students have a chance to actively participate in a classroom, brainstorm with a classmate to solve a problem, or apply what they’ve learned to create something new, they benefit in many ways, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology. Consider the following advantages of interactive learning.

Higher Levels of Engagement

Interactive learning gets students involved in the activities of a classroom. Interactive teaching methods call for student participation in hands-on activities that ask them to think on their own. This results in higher engagement, according to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Advanced Research and Publications.

For example, consider the differences between a lecture and a small group activity in which students must read and discuss questions with more than one possible answer. In a lecture, students may or may not take notes, but even if they do, the lecture has not asked them to weigh information or make decisions. The student role remains passive, which means students can more easily tune out.

In the small group activity, students must engage with both the material and their peers. Their participation involves forming their own responses and considering their peers’ responses. This in turn requires focus, interaction, and taking an active role in the learning process.

Increased Capacity for Critical Thinking

Interactive learning exercises students’ critical thinking skills. When teachers deliver lessons that require students to generate ideas, solutions, and opinions, students develop their ability to reason and analyze.

For example, if teachers assign a brainstorming activity to be done in a group, followed by a review session, they don’t simply help students explore their imaginations. They also teach students to structure their thinking, as well as organize and assess their ideas. Interactive learning activities take students out of the role of being more passive recipients of information. Instead, students explore ideas and test out theories on their own.

Ideas for Interactive Virtual Classroom Activities

Teachers can choose from various interactive virtual classroom activities and techniques that sharpen students’ focus and give them a chance to actively participate in their learning journey.

Interactive Whiteboards

Many educators in traditional classrooms find interactive whiteboards especially helpful in getting students involved in a lesson. Fortunately, most web conferencing platforms feature interactive whiteboard options that allow students to collaborate during a lesson.

With the ability to view and write on the board, students can make annotations to a text, work through a math problem, or mark up an image. Teachers can then save the whiteboard created in class and make it available to students for referencing later on.

Polls and Surveys

Students need various ways to express their ideas, questions, and learning. In a virtual classroom, polls and surveys offer interactive and fun ways for students to share while giving teachers helpful tools to gauge where students stand. For example, teachers might follow up a mini-lesson by using a poll that asks students to rank their level of understanding and how much they need help or a review.

This gives students a chance to think about how they’re doing, and it guides a teacher’s next steps. Additionally, teachers could also use polls or surveys to democratize classrooms, allowing students to dictate the direction of their studies.

Platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting have a feature that allows teachers to poll students and share the results with an entire class. Polls might ask students for answers to math problems, predictions for a science experiment, or interpretations of a story. Once the results are in, teachers might invite students to discuss their responses, engaging students even further.

Gamification

Most learning management systems provide tools for gamification, a learning method that students tend to enjoy and that gives them instant feedback on their progress. Incorporating gamification into virtual classrooms engages students in interactive activities, and it allows them to work at their own pace.

Even without a learning management system, teachers can take advantage of gamification. Numerous gamification apps are available that keep learning fresh and interactive such as:

Kahoot

Kahoot uses music and a colorful interface to engage students. It allows teachers to create quizzes and learning exercises and present them in a game format. Teachers can use Kahoot games from the platform’s gallery or they can create their own. Kahoot games work well when shared on one screen, allowing teachers to host the competition and students to compete.

Gimkit

Gimkit lets students play learning games made up of quizzes students invent either from scratch or through a template. Students can play individually or in groups of up to five. As students complete quizzes, they earn “cash” rewards that allow them to upgrade their games.

Digital Tools

Digital tools provide teachers with dynamic ways to deliver instruction and spur student interaction. A plethora of education apps and tools exist that allow teachers to do everything from post educational videos and invite students to respond with their own, to create interactive flash cards and quizzes. Often these digital tools give students platforms to work together in and outside of a virtual classroom, a great way to boost student engagement. Some useful ones include:

Google Docs

Teachers can have students collaborate on a peer critique of an essay using Google Docs. This allows them to highlight their location in a document so classmates can follow along as well as make comments. It also allows students to track versions of a document, watch others edit in real time, and ask questions or discuss ideas through a chat feature.

Lino

To make discussions in online classrooms more interactive, teachers can invite students to place virtual sticky notes with questions and comments on images or documents using the digital tool Lino. Lino also lets students color-code their sticky notes and move them around on the canvas. For example, students can write questions on green sticky notes and comments in blue, creating a visual organization.

Pear Deck

Pear Deck allows teachers to incorporate interactive questions into class presentations, which students respond to and then receive feedback on their responses in real time. The platform also gives teachers the option of keeping students in sync or allowing them to move through presentation slides at their own pace, working alone or in groups, as they answer questions or complete activities. From the teacher dashboard, teachers can observe students working and see who is getting behind and might need help.

Build Interactive Virtual Classrooms

Students learn more in collaborative and interactive environments. By harnessing the right tools, educators can build an interactive virtual classroom that empowers students to explore new material and grow. Discover how Mills College’s Master of Arts in Educational Leadership prepares teachers to develop engaging instruction that helps students thrive.

How to Develop and Teach an Inclusive Curriculum

Trauma-Informed Educational Leadership: Tips for Improving Social-Emotional Learning in Your School

Using Music as a Teaching Tool for Distance Learning

Sources

BookWidgets, “20 Interactive Teaching Activities for in the Interactive Classroom”

Common Sense Education, Pear Deck

Edutopia, “The Science of Keeping Kids Engaged—Even from Home”

Frontiers in Psychology, How Inclusive Interactive Learning Environments Benefit Students Without Special Needs”

International Journal of Advanced Research and Publications, “The Investigation of the Effectiveness of

Participatory Learning Education on Students Motivation and Academic Achievement”

ISpring, “How to Increase Student Engagement in Online Learning”

ISpring, “Making Your Online Course Interactive: Full How-To (and Why) Guide”

Learnlight, “The Top 5 Benefits of Gamification in Learning”

Scholastic, “Understanding Interactive Learning”

Unicef, Open Digital Educational Tools for Interactive Online Teaching and Learning