Teaching Tuesday: Bringing Virtual Life to Traditional Student Engagement Strategies

By Shawna Martino, Crystal McCabe and Katy Sell, Faculty, College of Education

Applying student engagement strategies for young online learner

The pandemic surely brought to life that many educators were not prepared for how to teach when students were not directly in front of them. The truth is, the teachers were prepared, they just didn’t realize that many of those amazing instructional and engagement strategies that they use daily, can also be done in a virtual setting.

The purpose doesn’t change whether your students are traditional or online. They still provide increased understanding, learning outcomes, student to student interactions and teacher presence. Engagement strategies decrease behavior issues while simultaneously creating a sense of community which is beneficial for student mental health and vulnerable student populations. Finally, engagement strategies allow teachers to monitor and assess student progress along with providing the formative data for student reflection and goal setting.

We all know that the field of education loves to use acronyms and this blog is no different. When thinking of common, traditionally used engagement strategies, we found that an acronym STORQ could be made. Just like how “storks” bring life, so will these five strategies for your virtual classroom.

In This Article:

S= Secret Answer

Secret Answer is an engaging response method that gives students a secret way to answer a question or task, by assigning different responses a number, letter or symbol and having students display the one that corresponds to the answer they think is correct. You can also spice it up by having a student “hold” the secret answer.

Traditionally, this could have looked like using individual whiteboards, answer on their fingers in front of their bodies, or using Plickers cards. In the virtual setting, this could look like using the private chat options or individual breakout rooms in Zoom. Then you could have the secret answer “holder” share the correct answer. For students, this is a chance for them to engage individually, answer on their own, without the pressure of their peers. For teachers, this allows you to assess in real time in a visual way, keep students accountable, and give individual feedback.

T= Think-Pair-Share

Another great strategy for bringing the traditional to life in the virtual world is to use a version of Think-Pair-Share. The essence of this strategy is to engage students individually as well as with peers for increased engagement and thought processing. To do this virtually, consider using any application that allows you to pose a question to all students, give them think time to answer for themselves and then have them share with a partner and respond to the teacher or back to the whole group.

For example, you could use Zoom by posing the question on camera, then ask your students to respond by writing down their answer individually or have them type it in the chat privately. Next, they can take their individual answer and share it with peers that you have selected by placing them in breakout rooms. While in the breakout rooms chatting about their answers, you can pop through and check in on each group. Then bring them back to the whole group and have the groups submit their answers in writing, such as through the chat or just discuss aloud.

O= One Word Splash

Who doesn’t like to make a splash in the virtual classroom, while getting kids engaged? The One Word Splash strategy entails the teacher asking students to come up with one word to summarize what they understand about a topic.

This activity is perfect for a quick informal assessment of a student's thinking, and it allows them to practice their summation skills. It is usually written, which is easy to achieve in the virtual classroom in a variety of ways: chat box, whiteboard or just on paper at home, but could be done verbally as well. It can be used as a pretest when you are introducing a new topic, or just a quick brain break from the presentation to see if students are tracking with your teaching. While it seems quite simple, it actually requires higher level processing skills to achieve.

R= Response Cards

Response cards are a wonderful engagement strategy in the classroom - simple and adaptable to all grade levels. It is also adaptable to the virtual classroom. For response cards, the teacher is generally leading a discussion and allowing all students to weigh in by answering with a card, such as yes or no or multiple choice.

You can do the same online in a Zoom or Google Meets platform where students are visible to the teacher. The students can make the cards at home or a teacher can supply them as needed. Additionally, you can mix it up and make it fun by letting students answer with emojis or reactions provided in the platforms. Response cards activate all students in participating without having to answer aloud, providing a safe space for everyone to engage.

Q= Quick Draw

Quick Draw is an effective engagement strategy that is quick and creative. Students draw their response to learning. This traditionally in-person strategy can be easily adapted to the virtual setting. In a virtual setting, you can have your students draw on a Zoom whiteboard that is visible to their group. Another way to use this is to have students draw their image at home and hold it up in view of the camera.

Using an outside app like Padlet and share via Zoom would be another great way to use this Quick Draw activity. In Padlet, you get a quick QR code and this version can be done without downloading the app. Student entries are labeled with their names, and can offer more organized responses. The benefits of Quick Draw are that it is live, interactive, and you can share these creations via a link. You can also save the Zoom whiteboards for future viewing and use.

Bonus = Brain Breaks

When discussing engagement, Brain Breaks are a critical piece. A Brain Break is a brief activity that allows students to reset between periods of intense learning. Brain Breaks can include physical activities, intentional breathing and mental focus shifts.

Some of the benefits of these breaks help students regain focus, help with transitions, increase attention, enhance motivation and increase productivity. For example, physical Brain Breaks can be something done from the students’ desks or in their home in front of their computers. Breathing activities can be done whole group, online or in the classroom. Mental shifts could be exemplified by games, telling jokes or answering trivia questions in person or online. Here are some other specific examples:

  • Yoga
  • Running in place
  • Stretching
  • Dancing
  • Puzzles
  • Music
  • Videos
  • Journal writing
  • Playdough/clay
  • Simple games: Simon Says, Red Light Green Light

Brain Breaks paired with the previous strategies, whether online or in the traditional classroom, can enhance the benefits.


While educators may not have been as prepared pre-pandemic for what virtual learning would look like, for sure they are much better prepared having now lived through it. The key is to realize that much of the amazing work that you already do in the classroom can still be done virtually. Whether you choose to use one of these shared strategies or all of these strategies, your virtual and traditional classrooms will definitely have new life brought into them!

If you’re looking into options on how to bring virtual life to traditional student engagement strategies from Grand Canyon University (GCU), the Online Learning Experience and Resources at GCU is where you can learn how you may successfully earn an online education degree from the College of Education

Approved by faculty for the College of Education on Feb. 21, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.