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Structuring a live online session

When planning to deliver a live online lesson, there are two questions to answer first:

  • Is this the best use of my students’ time?
  • Is this the best use of my time?

There are many videos available online which could form part of an asynchronous activity, for example resources available via the STEM Learning website, which frees your time to focus on your how your students are learning, and enables your students to work more flexibly. A synchronous lesson every day for every subject is unsustainable for your students, however a synchronous lesson as a scheduled contact point in a sequence of learning, even for just 15 minutes, may be very beneficial to explaining a complex idea, motivating students and assessing their learning.

A design approach for online lessons

Last week we introduced the swim lane approach to designing remote learning.

The same approach can be used to structure a synchronous, live online lesson. At each point in a live session you will need to plan for:

  • The learning aim of that section of the lesson.
  • What you will be doing as the teacher.
  • What your students will be doing.
  • The resources required (which also indicates related pre/post tasks).

The swim lane approach is incredibly useful in identifying weaknesses in an online lesson plan. For example, if the ‘student’ column mainly has ‘sit and listen’ throughout, then there is little value in the students all gathering at the same time and place, as they could listen or watch a video in their own time instead. Similarly, if the ‘student’ column is packed full of interactive activities throughout, or refers to handouts and documents that distract the students from the live lesson, then the chances are it will be overwhelming to participate in and the narrative flow will be lost (the lesson will also probably over-run).

There is a balance required between teacher-led sections and periods of student interactivity, including having specific points to address student questions. This will also make managing the lesson much easier, particularly with groups larger than 8-10 students, where you will not be able to monitor comments whilst simultaneously presenting.

The diagram below represents an example flow of activity during a live lesson.

A flow diagram with the following sequence: teacher check sound, teacher post welcome slide, teacher introduction, student task for formative assessment of current understanding, teacher deliver content, student activity to check understanding, teacher delivers content based on student understanding, students short independent task, students post output from task to session, teacher summarises students contributions,  students have opportunity for questions, end session.


If you have been a participant in any live online lessons or training, take a moment to reflect on your experience. Pick out one aspect that benefited you as a learner, and one aspect that you felt hindered your learning. Comment on how you will use that experience to consider how your own students will engage with an online lesson.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching for Home Learning: Secondary Science

National STEM Learning Centre