This article is a ‘quick and dirty’ reminder of how built-in Zoom features like polls, chat, annotations and breakout rooms can help us make our teaching more engaging.

For detailed guides and how-to videos see this newly released Zoom for Teaching module.

1. Breaking the ice

Have you attended any conferences remotely recently? If you are like most people, you might have found them more socially awkward than face-to-face ones. You may have also felt more confused or unsure about what to do and how to participate. It is common to feel more insecure or anxious online, and the effect is stronger for students. That is why icebreakers are no longer ‘nice-to-have’. They are now ‘must-haves’ in an online classroom that wants to create a sense of identity and belonging.

Doing icebreakers in Zoom

Annotations are a good tool for community-building, as students contribute to marking up a slide, which can create a sense of joint work and participation. An easy icebreaker activity would be to add a map and get participants to mark the places they would like to visit or a place where they were born.

Annotations are best for questions with no right or wrong answer as they are able to showcase diversity and different points of view.

Image taken from Melissa Simmermeyer: Interactive Activities Using the Zoom Annotation Tool

You can also get students to mark their level of confidence in particular areas. The example below is taken from Beginning to Teach course where we asked participants to mark how confident they felt about a particular concept. If you like this idea, feel free to download this PowerPoint slide and use it in your teaching!

Another icebreaker activity that I really like is showing students an outline of the course, and asking them to mark the topics they are most excited or nervous about. This simple activity can lead to some deep and meaningful conversations. Watch this 1-minute video of a real student who talks about his experience with this icebreaker in his university course.

Technical tip: consider hiding the names of annotators to promote wider participation.

2. Introducing a new topic

Piquing student curiosity or interest before introducing a new topic or concept can increase student engagement and learning. One way to achieve it in Zoom would be to use polls or Zoom chat. For example, you can ask students to respond to a multiple-choice question via a poll or write what they think about a topic in chat. The poll is much ‘lower entry’ option for students as it requires a simple click and does not display their names to others.

The example below is also from our Beginning to Teach course where we ask participants about their attitudes towards a common feedback technique – a ‘a feedback sandwich’ before discussing research findings on the mixed effectiveness of this technique.

Polls work as the simple act of picking a position increases participants investment in a topic and tends to lead to more engaged conversations.

If students feel sufficiently safe in your classroom, you can get them to type their thoughts in a Zoom chat. This technique works equally well for introducing a new topic and checking students’ learning pulse.

3. Going deeper

Both polls and Zoom chat allow to quickly gauge what areas might need additional explanations or discussions or check if students might need more time. Another Zoom feature that is particularly good for encouraging deeper learning is Breakout rooms, where students can discuss questions or work on problems with their peers. You can have up to 50 breakout rooms in a session.

My colleague Fidel demonstrates how to set up/use breakout rooms in this article. We’ll also be practising setting up and managing breakout rooms in our upcoming workshops.

4. Wrapping up or getting feedback on your session

Many educators use anonymous Zoom polls to get feedback on what worked or did not work in their sessions. You can make some polls anonymous by simply ticking this box.

You might also ask students to write their key session take-aways or questions in the Zoom chat.

Join us for a workshop

The Professional Learning & Staff Development Team can facilitate Zoom workshops to support staff with getting started with the basics of Zoom teaching, more advanced techniques and trouble shooting. If Departments or Faculties would like to request a workshop, please get in touch with us:

A new self-paced ‘Zoom for Teaching’ module available

Learn how to set up and work with – and in – Zoom for learning and teaching: practical tips and techniques, using basic Zoom functions, recommended set-up options, tweaking default options and how to make your Zoom teaching sessions more interactive and engaging. Available via iLearn.

Check out this Teaching via Zoom Guide

This Teaching via Zoom Instructional Guide outlines the options available to help you make your Zoom sessions more interactive, covering screen sharing, polls, chat & reactions, breakout rooms and recording Zoom meetings.

Header image: @pch.vector at Freepik

Cartoon: Counting sheep by Kuper/ see CartoonStock

Posted by Olga Kozar

I'm a 'long-term' Mq girl. I did my PhD here and taught on different courses, ranging from 1st year to PhD students. I now work in Learning and Teaching, which I love. I have 2 young kids and a dog, and I love meeting other Mq people, so give me a shout if you'd like to talk 'learning and teaching' or would like to brainstorm together.


  1. Lilia Draganov 26 July, 2021 at 1:50 pm

    Great article Olga!!!


    1. Thank you, Lilia!


  2. […] want to thank Olga (Kozar) for putting that article up on TECHE about interactive Zoom (4-ideas-for-more-engaging-zoom-lessons) because that came around at a perfect time when I was sitting there wondering how I make it more […]


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *