Engaging learners in your virtual classroom is a challenge on its own. When you have a large number of students, it can get even harder. More students in a group means higher discrepancies in prior knowledge, learning pace, and motivation. It can also result in less group consistency from one lesson to another. Fortunately, your virtual classroom provides a lot of options to adapt your teaching for bigger groups. This article offers strategies that will help you reach and engage every learner in your online class, regardless of group size. Once you master these tools and approaches, you will manage groups of five and twenty-five learners just as easily.
Divide and conquer with breakout rooms
A common difficulty with large groups of students is the efficient facilitation of group activities. That is not to say you shouldn’t use the same exercises you do with smaller groups – you just need to modify them. In situations like this, breakout rooms are the perfect solution. Divide students into smaller groups and assign each student a role to perform during the exercise. For example: Presenter, notetaker, timekeeper, and so on. Add each group of students into a different breakout room and let them work on the task as a team. Once they’re finished, the presenter shares the final results with the main group. Make sure to rotate roles, so every student gets a chance to be in each role.
Hit two birds with one chat
When you work with large groups, it’s not feasible to respond to each comment or question as they come. Of course, you can’t ignore them either, because a meaningful discussion is essential to learning. To keep the discussion going without derailing your lesson plan, simply redirect it to the chat. Ask students to type their questions there, while you present. Then, between topics or when you reach a natural break, take 5-10 minutes to respond to the questions. Try to first read through them quickly and group similar questions together, then provide one answer to every cluster. This will make the process even more efficient and save you tons of time. Another great use of the chat functionality is to facilitate ice-breakers. This type of activity is especially beneficial for groups of students who are meeting each other for the first time. Of course, you can also use it as an energizer to start lessons with. For example, ask students to post in the chat the first green object they spot or the name of their favorite song. Use their answers to create a fun discussion or to make a playlist you can put on as background music during breaks.
Switch between modalities
With larger groups, adding interactivity might feel like too much hassle. Therefore, you may be tempted to stick to lecturing for most of the lesson. This is not a good idea, since nothing kills engagement as easily as monotony. If you work with a larger group, it may not be feasible to involve students in as many activities as you would like. Still, you can keep engagement high if you provide enough variety in your delivery. Break things up by adding videos, images or other media, so students are not looking at the same presentation the entire time. Make sure to prepare and load your resources in your virtual classroom beforehand. This way you can easily access them when you need to. You could also add all traning materials for your session in your virtual classroom and organize them in a lesson template. When it’s time for your class to begin, simply load the template and start teaching.
Do a pulse check with a quick quiz
A larger group means more variety in levels of understanding and speed of processing new information. In addition, group consistency may also be an issue if a number of students skip a class or two. You need a quick and easy way to keep track of learners’ retention levels. Polls or short quizzes are a great option, both in the beginning and at the end of a lesson. Ask learners to reply to 1-3 questions on the content and present an overview of their answers right after. Some of the most popular tools that offer this type of functionality are Mentimeter and Slido. As you share the results, provide immediate feedback to the group. Use the opportunity to fill in any gaps in understanding. Then, either transition to the new topic or summarize the current one and wrap up the lesson.
Enhance independence with templates
Keeping all of your students on track with learning activities is especially challenging with larger groups. A great way to address this is to provide learners with resources to manage their own learning. Prepare templates that learners can download and use independently. Don’t forget to write clear and concise instructions that are easy for the learners to understand and follow. It’s also a good idea to add examples as a reference for what the final outcome should be. When ready, upload and organize the resources in your virtual classroom. Make sure that it’s easy for the learners to locate them.
Create momentum with group discussions
As previously mentioned, with larger groups, student presence may not be as consistent across lessons. To overcome the negative effects this may have on learning, take advantage of the learner community’s resources. Tap into these resources by creating group chats or discussion forums. You can organize them by topics, such as “Homework”, “Inspiration”, “Resources”, etc. Post before or after each lesson to create a structure and make it easy to follow the topics’ sequence. Ask questions or add new topics and encourage learners to exchange experience. This way students can keep track of the content by looking at their peers’ activity, or ask for help or advice.
Ask students to share their work
Create space for students to share their work. You can do this either in real time or outside lesson hours. If students have worked on a personal project, you can ask them to share it with the group. In the virtual classroom, you have the option to grant presenter rights to a student, so they can showcase their work to their peers. In case not all students are keen on presenting live or you simply don’t have the time, there is an alternative approach. Set up a private group, discussion forum or another dedicated channel for this. Encourage students to contribute regularly and allow others to comment. This way they can keep communicating and exchanging ideas on their own time. The energy and shared experiences generated on this platform will transfer into your virtual classroom and boost engagement. Of course, you will need to establish a structure and some ground rules beforehand. Also, make sure to keep an eye on the discussion and moderate if and when necessary. If you notice the conversation drying up, revive it by sharing an interesting video or article, or even something you have created.