7 Essential Tips to Engage Quieter Learners in Live Online Lessons 

December 2, 2020

School closures suddenly forced teachers to shift to online teaching. Here at Wacom we’re committed to supporting you move to virtual lessons with our range of pen tablets and useful resources for educators. 
When we talk to teachers about the biggest barriers to online learning, the same issue crops up every time– engagement. It’s one thing to capture your learners’ attention in the classroom, it’s another to keep them focused when teaching online. 
And what about your quieter students? Those who feel less confident to share ideas and speak up. How do you engage them? We’ve got seven simple suggestions to help you support and give them the confidence to contribute. 

1: Targeted questioning 

If you ask the entire class a question, you know the same few students will always have the answer. That’s intimidating for less confident students. Some learners will never engage if given the choice. 
Only hearing ideas from the same few students means you get a skewed impression of progress. Struggling learners are unlikely to reveal to the class that they feel stuck. 
Targeted questioning is a simple strategy to make sure everyone speaksBefore your lesson, look at a class list and decide which questions you’ll ask particular students. During the lesson, highlight as they contribute so you don’t forget anyone.  
Consider the questions you ask. A confident student may happily share and expand on an idea. A quieter learner may need a limited question with support structures to help them answer. Targeting your questions means every student has a good chance of being able to answer. 

2: Give them time to respond 

The pressure of expecting an instant answer means quieter students are likely to give up. Thefreeze, unable to think of an idea. Meanwhile, confident students desperately wave their hands or call out to say they know the answer.  
Avoid the unpleasant shock of suddenly being picked on, by giving them time to prepare. Use their name first to get attention and give them a warning that their turn is coming. 
Use sentences like: 

  • “James, after I’ve asked Andre this question, I will choose you.” 
  • “Sara, listen carefully because I’m going to ask you to answer.” 
  • “Alex, I will ask you for your ideas next.”  

Allowing waiting time for answers isn’t something we do naturally. Next time you ask a question, silently count to ten before offering any help. The silence can feel uncomfortable but avoid immediately suggesting ideas or moving to another student. Give them thinking time to work out their answer. 

3: Supported structures 

Help quieter students share their ideas by providing a simple structure to frame their responses.  
This could include: 

  • Multiple choice: Students choose the correct or wrong answer and explain why 
  • Ranking and rating: Great for gauging confidence levels about topics 
  • Sentence starters: Display on your screen for students to use when they answer 
  • Modelled sentences: You give an answer first so they can see what you want 
  • Rephrasing: Take their partial answer and expand it 
  • Vocabulary bank: Display key words for them to include in their answer 

For struggling or reluctant students, these scaffolded supports are useful prompts to help them get started. 
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4: Offer different ways to communicate 

Rethink the assumption that engagement means children speaking aloud in your live lessons. There are plenty of non-verbal ways for them to engage with the learning. Providing choice of how to respond is a useful way to build every student’s confidence. 
Some learners may like to type a response in the chat bar, others may enjoy hands up or thumbs up and down. Some will want to hold up answers to the screen for you to see.  
If you use breakout rooms in your live lessons, encourage all students to join in group discussions but let a more confident child share the ideas of the group when the class is back together. 

5: Reward engagement 

Quieter students need to feel valued. That doesn’t mean forcing them to talk or putting pressure on them in the live lesson. Instead, use rewards to encourage them to take part. 
Keep track of the merits you’re giving out. Are they always going to loud, confident students? Often reward systems are used to manage behaviour, so children who disrupt learning end up with more than those who always work hard. How can you spot and reward the learners who deserve it most? 
Use your usual award system to give credit to students when they engageYou might also introduce new incentives such as sending a certificate home to a student trying hard to participate. 

6: Arrange 1:1 check-ins 

Quieter students are less likely to seek your help. It can be hard when you’re teaching online to spot they’re struggling or feeling unhappy. Reach out proactively to check how they are finding the work. 
There are plenty of ways to develop a 1:1 dialogue, even if you are working online. 
You could try: 

  • A phone call home  
  • Individual emails 
  • A personal video call 
  • Sending a brief letter home 

Students who are quiet in lessons may be more confident when speaking individually. Just remember to check your school’s safeguarding policies before making contact. 

7: Reconsider your expectations  

Does quiet mean less engaged? Some students may listen and learn but not want to participate actively in the class. Is this really a problem? 
In your classroom you would expect some students to be quieter than others. What we don’t want is for them to feel left out. If students are submitting work and learningdo you really need them to speak up more during live lessons? 
Others may be hampered by access to technology or internet connectivityDon’t assume all students have a laptop at their disposal for your class. Recording live lessons to send home is helpful for those who can’t join you live.  

Final thoughts 

We shouldn’t try to ‘cure’ students of shyness. Naturally, some children will be louder and more confident, whilst others will be quieter. They key is that every student feels included and valued in your lessons. 
Don’t assume being quieter means they’re not engaged. Avoid pressuring them to talkInstead praise and reward contributions and speak to them 1:1 to check they feel secure with the learning. 
If you’re looking for ways to improve your online teaching, check out our useful blog posts for educators. We’re constantly looking for fresh ways to support you as you embrace virtual teaching. 

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