Wake up your students with these five distance learning activities

Fall 2020 will go down in history as one of the most complicated back to school seasons ever. Everyone across the United States is relying on virtual tools to conduct their online classes, which resulted in massive outages from Zoom, Google Drive, Canvas and more in the first week of school. At this rate, all we can ask for is smooth sailing as we gear up for the holidays and the spring semester.

One shining light in the disarray of distance learning is online engagement tools. While students and teachers may be separated by a screen now, teachers have been getting creative with how they engage their students and maintain their attention. If your students are falling asleep during class or joining your online lecture half-awake, wake them up with these five distance learning activities:


In a traditional classroom, think-pair-share was a popular method of collaborative learning. Students would be given a prompt to analyze, share their answer with a peer, and then share their answer or their partner’s answer to the whole class. In a digital setting, this style of learning is still possible:

  • Create a open-ended activity with a prompt for your students to think about
  • Students respond with their initial thoughts
  • Analyze the responses with students, encouraging them to discuss in the chat or privately with each other
  • Clear the responses and have the students respond again
  • Discuss the differences in the responses

Classroom DJ 

Playing music before class is a great way to get students ready for a day of learning. According to a survey done on science students, 75% of science students felt that music played at the start of class made them feel more comfortable. Use a Q&A activity to create a playlist of songs your students would like to jam out to. Students upvote or downvote their favorite songs and you can use the top voted song as the entry music for your next class. Once you’ve played a song, simply hide that response and use the next top voted song. Conduct this activity weekly to get a fresh list of songs each time. Your students will appreciate having control over one aspect of their day and feel energized by their favorite songs.

Entry & exit tickets 

According to Brown University, entry and exit tickets are short prompts given to students at the beginning or end of class for instructors to do a quick student diagnostic. Brown University highlights the following advantages of entry and exit tickets:

  • Active participation from students
  • Students focus on high level concepts and key ideas
  • a high return of information for the amount of time invested
  • Quick feedback for the instructor

Entry tickets are a great way to engage students from the get-go and get their minds thinking about the day’s lesson. At the start of class, share a question asking students to share what they know about the day’s lesson in a word cloud. This is a great opportunity to debunk any misunderstandings or myths about the topic before you delve into the details.

Exit tickets are a good way to keep students in class (mentally and physically) until the very end. Especially with distance learning, students may leave during class or mentally check out half way. Exit tickets encourage students to pay attention, as they must answer before they can leave. Exit tickets can come in many forms, such as a quick comprehension check, a key takeaway of the lesson, or a survey about the lesson or about the instructor.

Two truths and a lie 

Break up lectures with a fun two truths and a lie activity. Use a multiple choice activity to share 2 truths and one lie about yourself and let your students guess the lie. Once you reveal the answer, you can share the story behind the truths. This is an exciting way to bond and get close to your students, as they get a little glimpse into your life, hobbies, and interests. This is also a great way to replace the informal conversations that used to happen in person.

Dare the teacher

If you are brave, award your students for good behavior or major accomplishments by allowing them to choose a dare for you to do. Select a few dares (that you are personally comfortable with doing) and let your students vote for the one they’d like to see with a multiple choice activity. Great examples include crazy hair, pajamas, or funny makeup. This is an easy way to bring some laughter to your class, especially now when the status quo may seem a bit overwhelming. Your students will be motivated to work harder in order to achieve this dare and continue to perform well.

We hope these activities energize your students and get them excited for the next lesson. If you’d like more inspiration for activities you can convert to virtual with Poll Everywhere, check out our distance learning guide for educators.

Distance learning guide