7 Zoom Tools for Engagement and Understanding

I have learned a lot this year about this new way of teaching on a computer. There are so many technologies available to us, but in order to really use them effectively, we need to learn how to use them with purpose.  I have written about Google Slides and Seesaw, and today I want to talk about the Zoom tools I’ve learned!

Explore Zoom Tools First

As with any new technology or materials we introduce to our students, we need to give them a chance to explore with them first before we put academic demands on using them. Children need a chance to explore with them so you can go over expectations on how to use them for learning. Whenever I introduced a new tool in Zoom, I did so in morning meeting as a greeting or an activity. After using them in a fun way first, we talk about expectations for using them with academics.

Video on/off

Turning videos on or off can be used in so many ways throughout the virtual school day. I love to use it as a greeting where students start with the video off and after being greeted, they turn the camera on. We keep greeting each other until everyone’s faces can be seen. This feature can also be used for a short break to keep everyone on zoom (much easier for young children than leaving and clicking a link again). You can also do a game where you have students show themselves if what you’re saying is true (either about them or about the topic). It’s a great get-to-know you activity or for any opinion games about a topic.

Keep in mind, that not all students may be comfortable with showing their video on their screen. We have to respect children and family privacy if they do not want their faces or their backgrounds shown on screen. I asked all my families at the start of the year if they were comfortable with having their videos on. I will go over other ways for children to show engagement with or without their camera on. Get the free interview questions here!


Obviously, this is a zoom tool that older children can use more than younger children, because they need to be able to read and type. With older children, they can type responses to questions, they can ask individual questions they might not feel comfortable asking the whole group, they can ask to use the bathroom without interrupting the flow of the lesson, and while students are working quietly, they can ask for help without distracting others. You can also ask students how their special was or their break which gives them a chance to share their thoughts and feelings without taking up too much of your class time. I really like that you can get insights and thoughts from students who normally don’t speak a lot in class.

When setting up the chat, you can change your settings to optimize the educational purpose of chat. You can restrict users from sending private messages to each other. This is really important, because as educators we need to be monitoring what students are saying to each other during class. You can also change the chat so that children can only send you (the host) a private message, instead of making it public to everyone.

Chat with younger students

Younger students can use the chat too! One way I love to use the chat is with math. Students can easily type a number to answer how many they see for quick subitizing warm-ups or counting lessons. Students could also type sums or differences as the answers to equations. With some guidance and instruction, they could type full equations as well. Numbers can also be used to answer questions. You could pose a question and give two possible answers. Students would then type in 1 or 2 to show their response. Finally, when studying phonics, students could type in one letter for beginning sound shown. Keep in mind though, that this should not be the only way you assess this topic as students may have an incorrect answer because they don’t understand typing or their keyboards, as opposed to not understanding letter-sound correspondence.


Reactions are a great way for children, with videos on or off, to show how they feel about something. They can raise their hands or show thumbs up. There are several other reactions possible, but it does depend on the computer the children are using. Some of my students on chromebooks have only the hand raise button and not the other emoji options. So when you test this out with students in a fun way first, ask students which reactions they can see and use.

I recommend taking screenshots of the options they can use and posting it on your slides when asking students to use them. For example, you could have them raise their hand if they have ever felt the same way as the character in your read aloud. You could have them show the emoji they think the character is feeling, or you could have them give a thumbs up if they understand the directions. I make sure to explicitly state when children can use reactions, because they can get distracting during the lessons.

If you don’t see this zoom tool during your zoom meeting, you may need to turn on the setting for it in your preferences or online settings.

Zoom Breakout Rooms

I was wary of breakout rooms at first. Now, I use them all the time. See, I am teaching remotely. My whole day is spent on Zoom with my students, so I use breakout rooms to help make our day feel more like it does in the classroom. I use breakout rooms in morning meetings and closing meetings as a way to let students greet each other and talk with each other like they would normally in the school day. I like to let them have a little unstructured time with each other. Some students have trouble with the unstructured nature of everyone being unmuted and no teacher moderating. However, this is the perfect teachable moment to remind them the social skills of conversation turn taking and making sure all members are heard from.  

Breakout rooms are also great for academic work time. I send each student into a breakout room during reading and writing. This way it is easy for me to bop around and confer with students, without distracting everyone. I can also easily move students into other breakout rooms to form small groups or for reading or writing partners. At the end of an academic block, students can be put in groups to talk about what they read, wrote, or learned!

Breakout rooms are also wonderful when you have a second teacher or assistant who can meet with students separately. My students actually really enjoy the quiet of the breakout rooms and often asked to be placed in one during other individual work times throughout the day.

Breakout Room Expectations

It’s important for students to know the expectations around breakout rooms. I talk about how these rooms are a privilege to let them talk with other students on the computer. If they aren’t using it appropriately, then they will lose the privilege (just like they would in the classroom). Students need to be on task and on topic while in the rooms. You will tell students that you will be popping in and out of the rooms throughout the block of time, and then you need to very actively popping around. They need to know you are going to hold them accountable and when you say you could pop in at a moment’s notice, you really mean it. If you say, “I’ll be popping in” and then don’t check on them, they’ll learn over time they can get away with not working or not being appropriate in these breakout rooms.

You can also teach students to ask for help when they have questions or if someone is not being appropriate in a group. They can also come back to the main session if someone is not being appropriate or they have questions. You don’t need to do this, but it is definitely helpful when I use two computers on zoom (or if you have a second teacher) I can have one account bounce around to the breakout rooms, and one account stay in the main session in case students return there.

Zoom Polls

This is a fun zoom tool that I haven’t explored too much with. You can use set up the questions ahead of time when creating the meeting or you can set them up in the meeting. Zoom also saves your questions to use repeatedly. I like to use them for quick emotional check-ins, asking how they are feeling, at the start and end of the day. I also use them for a quick formative assessment to see if students are understanding what I am teaching them. Obviously, you need to decide what’s best for the students in front of you. Maybe you can show the words with emojis or visuals on the slide so that when students see the poll, they can read them because you went over it with them already.

Again, numbers are easy to use and can represent different answers. Students can also answer letters to questions about beginning sounds or uppercase/lowercase matching, etc. You can download a report of the poll results later to see individual responses, or you can share the group’s responses with the group. Maybe you want to use this to give students a choice of their next activity or video on GoNoodle!

If you don’t see this zoom tool during your zoom meeting, you may need to turn on the setting for it in your preferences or online settings.

Sharing Your Screen on Zoom

I don’t know how I would be teaching without this feature. As I mentioned in my blog post about Google Slides, I have every part of my day on a slide ready to share my screen. Sometimes, you may want students to share their screen if they are having a technical issue then you can help them with it. You can even have remote control (if you turn the setting on) and click on their screen for them.

Sometimes, when I am sharing an activity with my students, I want to be able to draw, type, write, or highlight different parts of the activity. I can annotate my screen to do this! Did you know that your students can also annotate your screen? Again, not all chromebooks or devices allow this, so it is important you give students another option if you want to open this up to the whole class. This makes it a lot easier to play games together as a group.

In addition to sharing activities or slides with students, you can share the whiteboard with them and use it as a blank slate for either you to annotate or for your students to annotate. I used it for Pictionary with them, but let my students use a real whiteboard (that we sent home with them) instead if they couldn’t annotate the screen. You could also play snowperson (also known as hangman) with your students. Students that can’t annotate can still lead the game but will type in the chat to you their word and you do the actual writing.


There are so many incredible zoom tools to assist with remote teaching. However, you need to really understand how to use these features purposefully to enhance your digital teaching. When used effectively, they can engage your students, build classroom community, and support their understanding.  


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