photo of Emily Isaacs and students in class with face masks

Teaching with a Mask

This page includes some recommendations and tips to better communicate while wearing masks in the classroom. This includes using captioning technologies, audibility tips, class discussions using Canvas, Padlet, Perusall, Google Docs, etc.

Using Captioning Technologies in the Classroom

In order to accommodate for clarity issues while speaking with a mask on, consider leveraging captioning technologies such as Google Slides and Zoom. It is recommended to use Google slides, or open a Zoom session where the instructor is the only attendee, and initiate captioning of text so that the audience can read what is being said. Caption text is powered by machine learning. It depends on audio input from the speaker, including the speaker’s accent, voice modulation, and intonation. As a result, captions might not be a complete and accurate transcription of the speaker’s words.

Google Slides

Google Slides – Present with Captions

When using the Chrome browser, Google Slides allows presenters to turn on automatic captions to display a speaker’s words in real-time. Using your device’s microphone or an external microphone, you can use automatic closed captions that will populate and allow you to adjust the sizing and position.

Step 1: Set up your microphone

  • To use captions with Google Slides, your computer microphone needs to be on.
  • Google Slides uses the computer’s microphone or an external microphone.

Step 2: Present with captions

  • Connect to the Internet.
  • Open your presentation in Google Slides. If you don’t have content slides, consider using a blank Google Slide to generate your audio input to transcriptions
  • To start presenting, click Present
    screenshot of Google Slides detail showing present button
  • At the bottom left of the Present screen, click More options
    Captions preferences and then Toggle captions
    screenshot of Google Slides presentation detail showing live caption settings
  • To change the location of the captions, click Text position. it is suggested you choose Top.
  • To change the size of the caption text, click Text Size.

As you speak, captions appear at the bottom or top of the screen.

  • To turn off captions, click More options at the bottom left of the Present screen, Captions preferences and then Toggle captions.

Notes on captions

  • Captions are not stored
  • Captions don’t include punctuation.
  • Captions and your microphone automatically turn off if there’s no activity on your computer for 30 minutes.
Zoom Live Captions

Using Zoom’s Live Captions

Step 1: From within a Zoom meeting, click the Live Transcript icon on the HOST’s toolbar.
screenshot of zoom control panel detail showing live transcript location

Step 2: Click the Enable Auto-Transcription option from the options box.
screenshot of zoom control panel detail showing how to enable live transcript

Step 3: Select the up arrow on the Live Transcript icon and click Enable Subtitle.

Click Subtitle Settings… to change the size of the caption text.
screenshot of zoom control panel detail showing live transcript settings

Click and drag the caption box to change the location of the displayed text.

Tips for Being Heard While Wearing a Mask

  • Make sure you have the audience’s attention.
  • Stand and stay at the podium while leading the class.
  • Talk a little louder.
  • Talk a lot slower.
  • Use your hands and your body language to help convey information.
  • Focus on pacing, pitch, articulation and volume with breath support in order to clearly communicate and connect with students.
  • Use appropriate body language and exaggerated facial expressions to help with non-verbal communication clues.
  • Check with students that they can hear and understand you.
  • Humanize the class by displaying a picture on the projector of yourself without a mask on.
  • If using a microphone, carefully place it near the mouth but not against the mask material.
  • Speak clearly and into the microphone.
  • Repeat student questions into the microphone as they are not picked up with captions.

Tips for Supporting Students Wearing a Mask

  • Ask students to speak a little louder.
  • Ask students to speak slower.
  • Repeat student questions into the microphone as they are not picked up with captions.
  • Confirm that students can read the captioning on the screen.
  • Check with students that they can hear and understand you.

Recommendations for Classroom Discussions

Consider alternatives to verbal discussion to extend discourse in the classroom. Encourage students to bring their laptops to class so that they can extend their discussions online. If students don’t have a device, share information with them on how to borrow a laptop. Tools such as Canvas Discussions, Padlet, Google Docs, and Perusall can be helpful tools to extend conversations to a written, yet collaborative format. The ITDS Instructional Technologies to Support Student Engagement self-based course shares several types of technologies that may help extend conversations in the classroom. A few recommendations include:

  • Canvas Discussions can be used in addition to verbal conversations in the classroom. Create a discussion in Canvas and ask students to post comments to it during class. This can be an opportunity to ask some students to elaborate on their comments verbally, while giving everyone in class a chance to share their thoughts.
  • Padlet is an online collaborative bulletin board that allows participants to interact by posting text, links, images, videos, and more. This can be set up for students to add comments and reactions to topics discussed during class.
  • Google Docs and Perusall can also be used to allow students an opportunity to add comments to collaboratively annotate digital text and images.

Additional Resources on Teaching with a Mask