Five tips to make Zoom your friend. Really.

Time to take a deep breath. Yes, we are doing this. 

We are teaching online/blended/virtual/hybrid/whateveryoucallit and a little bit face-to-face, and we’re all feeling a little numb by now. 

We’re also starting to run into those nagging “how do I make this work?” questions that we weren’t thinking of during our two hours of tech training two weeks ago. Here’s a few of those questions — and a few tips to help you do the cool stuff you want to do.

#1 How do I add new breakout rooms when I already have breakout rooms open?

The short answer: You can’t. 

But there’s an easy hack for that. Create more breakout rooms than you think you need when you set them up. Leave them empty. 

Then if you decide you need to separate Alex and Alicia or move Richard into his own room for a quick conference with you, you have the rooms available. It’s relatively easy to move people among rooms, once they are created. You can still assign the rooms at random, but empty a few and redistribute the kids before you open the rooms.

Once you’ve done this a few times, it will be easy.

#2 How do I assign students a task in the breakout room?

This can be tricky because you can’t “chat” to students once they are in the breakout rooms, and if you broadcast a message to all, it only lasts a few seconds. And we all know students don’t really listen to our instructions.

The solution: Assign the task before they go into breakout rooms. You can either display the task on screen and ask them to take a screenshot (many will use their phones), or put a link to a google doc with the assignment in chat. 

Like this: 

If students miss the link, they can always click “Ask for help” in the breakout, and that lets you know to go join that group, where you can share the link AGAIN. 

#3 How do I get students to share their written work, like graphs, drawings, data or equations?

Wouldn’t it be fantastic if all of our students had document cameras? Well, they kind of do.

Watch this video on how to use a smartphone as a doc cam with Zoom. The video is for teachers, but kids can do it too.

You can also try building these cool mirror cams — or give your students the instructions. (John Umekubo explains how to make them on his Twitter page. 

Students can also draw on Jamboard or, if they have laptops, on the Zoom whiteboard. (It doesn’t work on Chromebooks, apparently.)

#4 How do I get students to participate?

This is the toughest question, of course. It’s not always easy to get students to talk under normal circumstances, and these are far from normal circumstances.

A few tips:

  • If you have to record your Zoom meetings (as I do) for kids who are absent, pause the recording during discussions. Kids don’t want to be recorded, so that’s an extra layer of anxiety for them. (You just have to remember to hit record again!)
  • Let students participate through chat. 
  • Let students participate through polling.
  • When students are in breakout rooms, ask each group to assign one student to “report out” afterward. It’s much easier to represent a group than just your own opinion.
  • Drop in on the breakout rooms, and have smaller, less intimidating conversations there.

Remember, once a student has participated, it gets easier. If you let them stay silent for a few weeks, they will stay that way all semester — and it will negatively impact their learning.

#5 What’s the best way to do formative assessment?

The short answer: There is no best way. Use one that works for you.

I personally like, which is free and provides an issue way to give quizzes and share the answers visually with your students. But Kahoot and Peardeck and Nearpod and Google forms and Poll Everywhere and Quizlet and etc. etc. etc. are, no doubt, fine as well. 

You don’t need to learn them all. You don’t even need to try them all. 

Pick one that’s free (or provided by your school) and that works for you, and use it regularly, so your students become familiar with it too.

Do you have other questions about teaching in the Zoom universe? Tweet them to me (@MarthaSRush), and I’ll try to answer!

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