Getting to Know Your Students Online

“You should look into online teaching, Christine. I think that’s going to be the future of education!” My mom exclaimed as I was gearing up for another day of work at a Christian school in the States. She was working as an online teacher with Johns Hopkins and was raving about how great it was to work remotely.

“But my favorite part about teaching is connecting with the students,” I replied, “and I wouldn’t get to do that very much online.” Little did I know that, just a few years later, I would be forced into doing full-time teaching online myself. Surprisingly, I did find joy in distance learning, and even ways to stay connected with my students.

Here are some of the ways I’ve gotten to do this:

  1. Meaningful Feedback: Although grading is not usually my favorite task, I have loved seeing the impact that sending encouraging comments for my students can make. I even had a student thank me for my feedback saying, “your encouraging words make me want to keep doing well!”
  2. Office Hours and One-on-One Check-Ins: At our school, the teachers are expected to hold “office hours” over Zoom which allow the students to “meet with us” if they have any questions about their assignments. In addition, our school has assigned 2 teachers for each grade level to do one-on-one check-ins with students every other week for 10 – 15 minutes.
  3. Attendance Questions: Occasionally, when taking attendance, I like to ask students to respond in one word to a question instead saying “here” or “present.”  I’ll ask them questions like “What’s your favorite season?” or “Do you prefer pizza or ice cream?” and use their answer to mark their attendance.
  4. Virtual Party Games: There are a number of online gaming sites (many free) that can be used to host games online. I’ve enjoyed using Jackbox Party Games (with the family-friendly settings). One of my co-workers found YouTube videos to play “Guess that Gibberish” with his students (you can also find “Name that Tune” videos to play as well). Another friend played “21 Questions” and an “Indoor Scavenger Hunt” with her students over Zoom. The sky’s the limit!
  5. Surveys: Creating surveys can be a great way to hear the students’ thoughts about their online learning experiences, learning styles, and other ideas that can help you tailor your teaching for them.
  6. Remember Birthdays: I used to make birthday bookmarks for my students’ birthdays, but since we’ve gone virtual, I now email them to wish them a happy birthday. You can also find E-cards for free on Dayspring if you want to send something extra cheerful.
  7. Share an Encouraging Video Message: When we were still new to online learning, I posted a video of myself encouraging the students and letting them know that I had full confidence in their ability to make it through the challenges. Later, when we had to do distance learning again in March of 2020, my students practically begged me to make another encouraging video. It was sweet to see how much it meant to them!
  1. The 6 Word Memoir: This is a fun assignment to get to know the students better and also to challenge them to consider the most important parts of their lives. It was a $2 purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers for the materials, and I’ve found great success with it! My students worked on this assignment one day, and the next day, they shared their memoirs over a Zoom meeting together. I especially loved seeing the new students share about themselves and the returning students connect with them over mutual interests.
  2. Virtual Lockers: Another creative assignment I’ve used was having the students decorate “virtual lockers.” This was a great way for me to know the students’ interests, passions, and future goals, and also for me to connect with them more. If you teach younger students, you could have them decorate their cubbies instead. You can find this activity for free at goteachtheworld.com and signing up for the digital resource library.

I hope you find an activity that you can implement to connect with your students. It does take more intentionally to foster community while teaching online, but it is possible and so worth it!

Christine Moussa
Teacher, Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center
TeachBeyond Latin America


Photo Credits: all pictures courtesy of C. Moussa.

Christine Moussa is a Cairn University graduate with a B.S. in Biblical Studies and an M.S. in Education. She has been with TeachBeyond teaching at the Santa Cruz Christian Learning Center in Bolivia since February of 2019. Her school has had to rapidly switch to online learning a few times in the last year, and she is currently working from the States as a “displaced missionary” while she continues to teach her students online through the end of 2020.