Synchronous Teaching Strategies

Synchronous teaching happens in real-time. This type of learning is commonly supported by technologies, such as video conferencing, live chat, and live streaming lectures. This guide provides you with some best practices to make the most of what synchronous sessions have to offer, from preparing for online synchronous courses to practical recommendations on how to facilitate engaging online synchronous class meetings. In addition, some technical tips for using synchronous tools are provided.

Preparing for Synchronous Online Course Delivery
  • Practice using the tools you plan to incorporate in your classes.
    Try using the technology prior to the session. Get familiar with how to resize windows, use chat, share your screen, manage the “raise hand” feature, manage polls, breakout groups, share files, and mute/unmute participants.
  • For meeting times, stick to the time slotted in the course registrar.
    Leverage asynchronous activities before or after the session as individuals or small groups to help to shorten meeting times. Zoom (or any conferencing technology) fatigue is real. Send out reminders and share materials needed in advance.
  • Consider the best use of your time together.
    Opt for active learning and other interactive engagement in place of one-way lecturing. Pre-recording lecture videos allows you to reuse them, allows students to rewatch them, and frees up class time to interact in more engaging activities.
  • Prepare your students for using conferencing technology effectively.
    Provide students with how-to guides on your conferencing technology of choice, be explicit and consistent about where students will find the meetings (within Canvas is best.)
  • Take time to establish class norms.
    How would you like students to ask questions? Will you be using the chat? What are the attendance and participation expectations? What should the expectations be around the use of cameras? Be explicit and support students in being able to participate in the way you believe is helpful for them. Consider some ideas for Zoom Etiquette.
  • Plan for technological/situational barriers.
    Keep in mind that low bandwidth issues and other technological or situational barriers may prevent students from fully participating in synchronous sessions. Supplement your synchronous course with asynchronous activities.
Engaging Students Synchronously

Build Community

Taking time at the beginning of the course to allow you and your students to get to know one another will result in deeper connections and increased engagement. Throughout the course, be intentional about maintaining a sense of community.

  • Icebreaking exercises
    Ice breakers can be used to help students feel more comfortable sharing in conference sessions. Depending on the size of the class, you can either do these together, or break up into small groups using breakout rooms. Simply ask students to introduce themselves to their classmates and share their thoughts on a course topic.
  • Social check-ins
    Allow students to share aspects of themselves to the class. For example before a class begins, or at a time you feel the group needs a burst of energy:
    • Have students create and share a personalized Zoom background in Canva.
    • Ask students to share fitness tips or TV streaming recommendations.
    • Invite students to find and share a link in the chat of a meme or GIF that best represents their current mood.
    • Ask one or two students to share their weekend plans, or to report what they did the previous weekend. Share about yours.

Engage Students with Content

In addition to live and interactive lectures, there are many options for engaging students with course content in synchronous sessions.

  • Invite Guest Speakers
    Prepare discussion topics, encourage students to prepare questions and actively engage in the sessions.
  • Watch and respond to a video together
    Share your screen to show a video. Share one or two guiding questions to focus attention. For longer videos, pause throughout to engage students in a quick discussion.
  • Apply concepts
    Use breakout rooms to have students work on a problem, scenario, discussion or any number of methods for application. Visit the rooms to guide periodically. Debrief when together as a whole group.
  • Scavenger hunt
    Periodically prompt students to find articles related to the session topic and share the link in the chat.
  • Backchanneling
    Use the chat feature and invite students to post thoughts, comments, and questions throughout a session. Periodically check to address these, or assign a different student each session to provide reports every so often.
  • Live Demonstrations and Problem Solving
    Share your screen or whiteboard to demonstrate solving a problem or provide visual explanations. Stop periodically to call on students to suggest a next step or answer a question.
  • Vary Format for Live Discussions
    Mix whole group discussions with pair or small group discussions. Change the format for variety and to accommodate personalities and communication preferences. For example, before opening a discussion fully, ask each student to think/write quietly for 2 minutes and then one by one respond in 30 seconds while incorporating part of what the previous student said. Then once everyone has shared, open the discussion to the whole group.

Facilitate Student-Centered Learning and Collaboration

Synchronous sessions can be a shared responsibility with students. It can also be a way for students to access the same online tools to collaborate in real time.

  • Set up polls to have students vote on the topic for the next session.
  • Appoint one student or let students self sign up as presenters in each group to summarize their group discussions/presentations.
  • Use breakout rooms and Google docs to allow students to work on larger group projects such as problem-based learning.
  • Incorporate Padlet, an online collaborative bulletin board to have students share and organize ideas, communicate using multimedia (memes, pictures, screencasts, videos, and more), build a time-line, mark up a map, and more.
  • Use Google docs to have students take shared notes, brainstorm ideas, or collaboratively draft an assignment or answer questions.
  • Use Perusall, an online annotation tool to engage students with written and visual texts..
  • Prompt students to build connections by co-creating a mind map (Coggle or Mindomvo collaborative mind mapping tools).
  • Peer-instruction can be accomplished with a combination of polling tools and breakout rooms.

Gauge and Provide Feedback on Student Learning

One big advantage of synchronous sessions is the opportunity for real time feedback from peers and the instructor. Here are some ideas to prompt students to demonstrate their learning for formative assessment purposes.

  • Background knowledge probe: Use the polling or chat tool to ask students questions that assess what they know about a topic before introducing it.
  • Comprehension check: Periodically quiz students to gauge their understanding as you work through your session.
  • Cold calling/Warm calling: Let students know that you will call on them to provide an answer. To ease potential anxiety associated with this method, allow students to work out answers in pairs before calling on them individually.
  • Exit Ticket: Ask students to share (in the chat or in an external polling or quiz tool) in one sentence the main idea of the class session.
  • Session Pause: Plan to periodically break to allow students to ask questions. Put them in pairs using breakout rooms to allow them to summarize what they have learned so far. Alternatively, prompt them to stump their partner by testing them on what was covered so far.
  • Virtual Office Hours and Consultations: Invite students to log in at regular times or sign up for a slot.
  • Review Sessions: Answer questions and review content. Gamify it with tools such as Kahoot.
Breakdown of Sample Interactive Synchronous Class Sessions

Sample 1 – Using only conference technology in combination with pre-recorded lecture videos

Duration Agenda Item Details
5-10 mins Warm up Background knowledge probe or comprehension check: Using a polling tool, ask students to anonymously answer questions about a topic. Share the results and discuss the responses.
10-15 mins Lecture Review and Q&A Whole group: Recitation of lecture video that students watched asynchronously. Address any comprehension issues. Ask students to raise their hands or type questions in the chat.
20 mins Application Set students up in breakout rooms to solve a problem or apply principles to real world situations in small groups. Ask students to return to the whole group and one student per group shares out.
10 mins Lecture Teaser Introduce the next topic and share with students a “preview” of what they will be watching/reading about for the next meeting.
5-10 mins Wrap up Ask students to share in the chat one takeaway and/or one question from the day’s session.

Sample 2 – Using conference technology, lecture, and collaboration tools

Duration Agenda Item Details
5-10 mins Warm up Use the polling feature in Zoom or another online poll to ask questions and show responses in real-time.
10-15 mins Lecture Share screen, launch PowerPoint and deliver mini lecture Pause and ask students some open-ended questions.
10 mins Student collaboration Use shared spaces for small groups to record ideas using collaborative tools such as Padlet and Google docs/slides/draw, and then view those with the whole class. Some tools could be padlet, Google, etc.
10-15 mins Student presentation On zoom use google slides, student groups can take turns to present their group ideas or presentations.
5-10 mins Wrap up Review main points and answer students’ questions.
Strategies for Teaching Large Classes Online Synchronously

Online synchronous class meetings can also work well with large classes with adjustments to the strategies highlighted above.

Active Learning Strategies for Large Classes:

  • Breakout rooms can help divide the class into smaller groups. You can predetermine breakout rooms for more substantial ongoing groups, or you can set up breakout rooms randomly and automatically. Determine group size by dividing the number of students into the ideal number of rooms. It is just as easy to put students in pairs or small groups of 4-6.
  • Collaborative documents such as shared notes on Google docs, or a brainstorming session on a Padlet bulletin board help bring everyone together to collaborate and share out to the larger group. It may help to send links to students prior to a session ensure that everyone can easily access the sites.
  • Polling Technologies are a great way to engage many students and assess learning as a whole fairly quickly. Zoom and Big Blue Button offer simple polling tool features. A variety of external polling tools such as Kahoot, Slido and Poll Everywhere have more options for question types to allow for more robust responses. You can either respond to students’ answers immediately, for easier data such as poll results. Or you can take time to review student answers and get back to them in the following class (or through an announcement) for open-ended questions.
  • Think-pair-share can still be accomplished in a large synchronous classroom. Place students into small groups and bring them back after a few short minutes. Ask one or two groups to share their thoughts and invite others to jot down thoughts in chat for your review later. There is no need to hear from every group, as in large classes, that would be too time-consuming.
  • Warm calling is an easy way to call on students without the stress of cold calling. Let your students know that you will invite 4 or 5 students to share their thoughts on a topic and then unmute them (Big Blue Button) or ask them to unmute (Zoom) to speak up.
  • Lecture Breaks can be placed anywhere in a class session. Use a slide to simply direct students to take a minute to summarize the class session so far. Use breakout rooms to allow students to do this with a partner.
  • Lecture Wrappers, or exit tickets, are an easy way to gauge what students are taking away from the lecture. Design an anonymous survey (using a tool like Google Forms, or Canvas quiz- survey) that prompts students to share a short summary of the main ideas and/or share their remaining questions or points of confusion. In the next class session (or through an announcement) share the summary that best captures the main ideas. Address commonly asked questions or clarify any common points of confusion.

Visit our practical teaching guides for more resources on teaching large classes.

Classroom Management Tips for Large Classes:

  • Take attendance
    • Let students know how you will be taking attendance. If you are using Zoom usage reports, for example, make sure students identify themselves as users by signing into Montclair Zoom or adjusting their names in the Zoom meeting. It’s recommended to create Zoom or Big Blue Button conference meetings through your Canvas course, which can help you more accurately and efficiently take attendance.
  • Support synchronous learning with asynchronous learning
    • Record main topics in short lectures to free up time in synchronous sessions.
    • Provide space for students to ask and answer questions about synchronous class topics in an asynchronous discussion board.
    • Open up a cyber-cafe discussion for students to ask and answer each other’s course-related questions.
  • Establish and communicate a Q&A policy
    • If you use slides, build in a Q&A slide periodically to remind yourself and students to take time to address any questions, or use the break to address comments and questions in the chat.
    • Invite volunteer students to mind the chat and interrupt you with questions or to summarize the major questions being asked.
  • Ensure Accessibility
    • Use Google Slides closed captioning to capture your speech in real time.
    • Record your live sessions to have available for students who could not attend.
    • Prepare students ahead of time by sharing an agenda, or asking students to come ready to use certain applications (e.g., Google Apps, Padlet, etc.) if it’s part of your lesson.