Teaching in the Era of Zoom: My ‘Five C’s’ for Student Engagement

girl smiling during virtual learning


By Primrose Cameron

You’ve all seen it: the Zoom sessions hour after hour, until many students are “zoomed out” from desperately attempting to find a learning opportunity to grasp. Maintaining student interest for a half-hour, much less two or three hours, seems extremely challenging in a remote learning environment. However, it is possible, if educators keep the human factor in mind and assess students’ well-being along the way.

While we know in-person learning is far more effective, educators across the nation have answered the call to pandemic-related remote instruction by developing meaningful lessons and providing virtual student engagement. After speaking to many in the field, I would like to share with you what I call “The 5 C’s” for student engagement, adapted from the way we taught “pre-pandemic,” when we all enjoyed and appreciated in-person learning: consistency, checking for understanding, communicating, collaborating and congratulating.


Free Webinar:
Engagement Strategies for Reimagined Classrooms

student engagement strategies



It is important to limit learner confusion by being consistent in virtual teaching methods. If you can stick with one platform, your students will be able to become familiar with daily expectations. Present norms/video etiquette early on and often, decide on when videos are on or off, explain how and when to unmute microphones, share features such as hand raising or hand claps, build in brain breaks, have music or slides for transitions, and use interactive tools — these are just a few ways to maintain consistency.

Check for Understanding

Best practices in the classroom are often best practices online. Create tiered learning targets and utilize interactive tools for student engagement in real time. Create polls, increase opportunities to interact and use quizzes for real-time feedback.


Just like communication in a classroom setting, virtual communication can easily be misread, but it is key. Be sure to present a clear purpose and be intentional with student praise. Sometimes it is difficult to have dialogue when the faces on the screen move as students speak. Call them by name and present clear directions when needed.

Outside the classroom, be sure to communicate with families so they know what your expectations are and recognize there is a support system for them to use. The hardest thing for families of our students is when they don’t know what’s going on. Use social media, emails and phone calls; our union helped us put these tools in place in my school district.


Maximize collaborative efforts and educational support from your colleagues so that they can assist you with student engagement, whether it be the paraprofessional working with students one-on-one or a reading coach helping a small group in a breakout room. Work with guidance counselors and other faculty members to support your students together.


Recognize all levels of achievement, including your own. Don’t be overwhelmed by the things that you have no control over, and allow yourself grace. The internet may go out, students’ screens may go blank, but don’t give up hope. You will have daily triumphs too, and your ultimate reward will be the smiling faces on your computer screen and of course student achievement. Don’t take it lightly that you and the learner have conquered the daily challenges of online learning. Congratulations for being the best educator you can be today and everyday!


Republished with permission from AFT Voices.



Primrose Cameron, Ed.D., is the professional development director of the Florida Education Association. She has more than 20 years’ experience working in education. Before becoming a professional development specialist in Volusia, she worked as a classroom teacher, a high school guidance counselor and a college instructor.