Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

Maintaining engagement in online lessons

In this step, we look at ways that we can maintain engagement in our online lessons.
So we’re talking about maintaining engagement and about trying to maintain motivation online. I think it’s really the number one
question that we get asked all the time from teachers: How do I keep students engaged when we’re working online? And I think many of the things that we do in a face to face classroom apply in an online classroom, as well. So for example, things like choosing topics that the students are interested in and that they need to learn about, making sure that you always provide a task when you do an activity, so the students have something to do. They’re not just sitting there. Also maybe try and use their names. Build rapport. Find out stuff about them.
So those are some kind of normal things that you would do in a classroom that sometimes we don’t remember to do when we’re teaching online. That’s true, yeah. And also, when we go online, it can be very easy for us to suddenly start talking a lot. Especially if you can’t see your learners, if they don’t have their cameras switched on. You suddenly feel like you’re just talking to yourself, and there are awkward pauses. Maybe learners don’t know when to contribute, so nobody speaks and then you fill the gaps because you know, silence is awkward.
And also, it’s things like if you show a PowerPoint slide, suddenly we feel the need to start reading aloud everything that we see, reading text aloud and instructions aloud, and things like that, where learners can just read them themselves. So we need to make sure that we keep teacher talking time to a minimum, so that it’s– so that everything we say is useful and purposeful. And that means building a lot of interactivity into our lessons. And it might not happen naturally, so we need to plan for it. We need to be sure that we’re utilising the chat box so that students are answering questions there, so that they’re completing tasks in there.
We need to make sure we’re utilising breakout rooms if we have them, that we’re making sure we nominate students as much as possible to get them to speak, and that we’re always asking them to do tasks, as Marie Therese said. Using interactive activities… you know if we’ve got a really large class, and we ask students to do a gap fill activity… rather than ask one student to give his answers to number one, get them all to answer in the chat box or get them all to do the task on an interactive tool like Wordwall for example. That way, they’re all busy. Absolutely.
And also, I think, think about trying to build in a bit of movement in your lesson so that students aren’t just sitting looking at the computer for all the time of the lesson, try and change the energy a little bit. So maybe send them off into their house to look for something. So for example, get them to go in the fridge and see what’s in the fridge and bring you some item of food, maybe, that they don’t know the name of and then they can show it to everybody and people can try and find out.
Maybe go onto Google or something to find out what it’s called in English and talk about whether they like it or they don’t like it. There’s a lot of mileage in things that people have in their house. What do you think, Lindsay? Yeah, absolutely. And just– or just giving students time to stand up and stretch for a couple of minutes. Go away for two minutes, turn off your camera. Go away and maybe read something or do a little task, but walk around as you’re doing it and then come back. We’ll resume. I think that can be really useful. Yeah. And also, watch out for the screen thing.
Try not to share your screen for too long, so that students can see each other. Try and arrange the gallery view so that you can see all the students. It makes it that much more interactive.

Maintaining engagement can be harder in an online environment, especially in contexts where learners haven’t selected to learn online but have to because of necessity, and where class sizes are large.


Watch Lindsay and Marie Therese giving tips on how to maintain engagement in online lessons. Take notes on what they say about these things:

1) What we can bring from our face-to-face teaching experience

2) Teacher talking time

3) Interactivity

4) Movement

5) The use of share screen

Please note down your answers on a piece of paper

Check your answers

Reflect and share

Think about your experiences of teaching online lessons, or attending online training sessions, webinars or meetings. What do you think is important for maintaining engagement in online lessons? Share one idea in the comments.

This article is from the free online

Teaching English Online

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education