Synchronous learning activities using Zoom

This resource is intended to offer some strategies and activities to support a class or seminar in Zoom. The resource was developed to support LSE Curriculum Shift 2020/21, but some aspects could be adapted for on-campus learning and teaching.

If you are not familiar with using Zoom please look at the further guidance on setting up Zoom meetings in Moodle.

Also useful is this resource by LSE staff on teaching students when their cameras are turned off.

Ways to hear student responses

You could use any of these approaches:

  • Students indicate they want to speak by raising hands physically on screen.
  • Students indicate by ‘raising hand’ in ZoomStudents select ‘Participants’ from their controls, and then in the Participants box, ‘Raise hand’. The display order shows the meeting host who raised their hand first.
  • You ‘cold call’ studentsYou could even use a spinner like this and share your screen.
  • Round the Room’Each student offers one answer/comment/question. On-screen layout of participants appears differently for each viewer, so either you state who goes next, or students ‘hand over’ to the next student by name.

If you are indicating who should speak next, be aware that eye contact and gestures won’t work. Fortunately, names are easy to see in Zoom. You could let students know they can enter their preferred name as a display name, and/or put pronunciation in brackets if they wish to.

Contributions in the Zoom chat

Students can reply to questions, or pose new ones, in the Chat. Students select ‘Chat’ from their controls and a box is visible.

Chat is useful for preserving student contributions. If you ask for questions at the start of a session, you can check back to see if they were addressed, or to look back and respond to them. It also preserves students’ names with statements, helping you to refer to students’ ideas: ‘As Qian mentioned…’.

Chat also allows students to submit comments or questions to you directly, without other students seeing them.

You can turn off the chat when it’s not in use for activities, to minimise distraction for you and for students.

Tools to gather student input

Zoom polls

These can be set up in advance or during a session. You create them at the Zoom webpage.You can set up a poll as anonymous. If you do not set it up as anonymous, and you want to see how students voted, then turn on registration for the meeting when you schedule it. Then you can download a report of the poll results after the meeting. It will list the participants' names and email addresses.

Zoom ‘voting’

Good for quick polling on new questions. Participants can indicate ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ using buttons in the ‘Participants’ window. Zoom counts these up and displays the results to everyone.

Physical gestures

Inviting students to wave, give thumbs up/down in person can give you quick informal feedback and feel more immediate than the equivalent Zoom functions.


Students choose a reaction icon, such as a 'thumbs up', from their control bar. The icon appears on their video panel, whether or not the student has their camera turned on. This works well for whole-group questions in larger classes. Reaction icons vanish after a few seconds.

External polling and contribution tools

You can set up a poll or other activity on a site such as TurningPoint, Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter. Share a link in the Zoom chat for students to access the site, and share your screen to show results. Depending on which site you use, you can generate graphs from student data; collect anonymous short written contributions; create wordclouds; enable students to annotate/mark an image. The site will remain after the seminar, and could potentially be a way to connect on-campus students with distance learners.

Using an external site may reduce student access based on region, and on the capacity of students’ devices.

Check that sites can be accessed from China.

TurningPoint is supported by LSE’s Eden Digital team, and LSE has a license for Padlet, but other sites are not supported. 

See Thomas Smith's Twitter account for a good illustration of this.

Using the screen share

You can use screen share in various ways. If you have not used this function before, please look at this guidance.

Anything you screen share, you can also allow students to annotate. They could draw or write on a graph, a map, or a passage of text. Annotation is an overlay which does not affect or respond to what is being shared; if you resize or change what you are sharing, annotations will remain unchanged.

You may wish to:

  • Share PowerPoint slides or allow students to do so.
  • Share a Zoom whiteboard and make a mind-map or take notes while students discuss. Students can also annotate the whiteboard, or you can block this. You can download an image of the whiteboard to save it. However, this doesn’t preserve the functions of the whiteboard, such as being able to move elements around. The Microsoft Whiteboard is a strong alternative: it has more functionality, persists past the end of the Zoom meeting, and can be collaboratively edited if you choose.
  • Share a document to take notes more easily, such as a Word document or a Google Doc. All students and staff have access to Office 365, including 1TB of online storage.
  • Show materials: sections of text, relevant articles or legislation. You could share these as a slide or on a document, and annotate them.
  • Share editable documents. You can use OneDrive to host many types of collaboratively edited file, giving students access through a link posted in Moodle or in the chat. This might include OneNote - a more creative notebook-style tool - Word, Powerpoint, a Microsoft Whiteboard or others. 
  • Link to another device. You can join a Zoom meeting twice using a different device, such as an iPad, and use that as a whiteboard. A smartphone on a tripod or book stack can show your paper-and-pen note-taking or mind-mapping.
  • Show images, film or audio clips. Learning on Screen has a wide selection of material which it’s permissible to include in a recorded lecture or seminar. You do need to remember to share your computer sound when screen sharing.

Using breakout rooms

If you have not used breakout rooms before, please look at this guidance on enabling this function..

The breakout rooms in Zoom can have a similar function to smaller-group discussion within a seminar. Room membership can be either randomised, assigned in advance of the seminar, or assigned as you create them during the seminar. Students in the rooms can use their own whiteboard or share their screens. You can join any breakout room, and move between them. You can screenshare to the breakout rooms, to give instructions or additional input.

Some abilities and limitations:

  • Students can call you for help within a room, but not send a message.
  • You can broadcast a message to all rooms but cannot send individualised messages.
  • If students use a whiteboard in their room, they can’t bring it back smoothly to the main room. They can download it as an image and share that image, but it loses the functionality.
  • If a student contributes to the chat while in a breakout room, that will not be visible to those who were in other rooms, when people return to the main room. The chat does not appear the same way to all participants, or to the host.
  • Ask groups to decide who will feed back from the discussion in the breakout room, as it’s hard to decide informally when back in the main room! 

You can use OneDrive to host many types of collaboratively edited file, giving students access through a link posted in Moodle or in the chat. This might include OneNote – a more creative, notebook-style tool - Word, PowerPoint, a Microsoft Whiteboard or others.  

Suggestions for activities

Student presentations

Students are able to share slides if enabled. You can ‘spotlight’ students who are presenting, which temporarily enlarges their video for all participants.

Debates and simulations

Students take on specific roles within a scenario or make a particular case. One of the ways you can do this online is to use PowerPoint to create simulations.Students can prepare in advance, or work in breakout rooms during the seminar. Students could use their Zoom backgrounds to communicate their stance or ‘team’ e.g. displaying a logo, flag, location or person.

Exit tickets

Students contribute a final question to the chat at the end of the seminar. This can help students concretise their ideas, and you can read the questions after the seminar.

Examples from across LSE