Moving Instruction Online: Teaching Ideas

The goal of this page is to offer multiple, basic activities that support some of the essential elements of a class–building community, discussing, modeling, reading, reviewing, etc.


Building classroom community in a remote teaching and learning context can be successful using many of the same principles and strategies for regular, in-person classes.

  1. A first key step is to introduce yourself and help students get to know each other. You can model engagement by uploading a photo and short bio to a Canvas discussion board and inviting students to do the same. A variation is to upload an image of something important to you or representative of an interest you have, with a short description, and then having students do the same.  The idea is to initiate engagement and provide a way for the class to get to know each other.  In larger classes, you can have students do introductions of this kind as part of sections or labs, or you can randomly assign students to smaller groups of any size.  This helps a larger class feel smaller.  Such smaller groups can also form the basis for group projects, peer review and resource sharing (see below).
  2. Maintaining relationships and moving classroom community forward in a remote learning context requires regular, clear communication. Make a communication plan and let students know how it will work, including how the weekly schedule of communication will work and the various ways they can reach you with questions and how long they can expect to wait for a reply. Moreover, you can continue to personalize things by providing regular announcements and overviews, which can be done through Canvas email or announcements, or via videos. Such communication can include a preview of the week’s learning goals, expectations, activities, and assignments.
  3. Establish clear expectations for student engagement is also important.  This means being up front about requirements for participation and contributions, including ground rules for discussion, group work guidelines, quantity and quality of contributions, formats for submissions, deadlines, and so forth.  In addition, indicate alternatives for those who may have difficulty accessing the tools being used, such as internet access or particular software platforms.
  4. Encourage interaction among students through regular exchanges such as synchronous meetings using tools like Canvas Conferences, Canvas Chat, or Zoom, among others. These can help facilitate small group interactions or whole class discussions. Other forms of interaction include use of Canvas discussion boards to engage in asynchronous discussions, the Canvas group feature for projects or peer reviews, or shared document tools such as UO OneDrive for group assignments or resource sharing.  You can be creative and establish multiple spaces of interaction, including discussions, group study, group project work, a running FAQ, and so forth.


Key Passages

Post short passages from a reading and ask students to post replies to questions such as: What do you think the author means? What are the implications of the author’s assertion? Why would this passage be relevant for our course discussion? 

Students can then use a discussion board to respond to one or two other students’ ideas. OR students could be assigned to read 4-5 other students’ posts and summarize the key points that students are making about the passages, then offer a final reflection about how their initial responses may have changed in after considering their peers’ responses.  

3-2-1 Reading Responses

First, have students submit a reading response in which they indicate what they consider the three most important points of the reading and why; then indicate two parts of the reading about which they are confused or have questions; and then one way they can connect an idea from the reading to another idea in the course. (OR provide one example that supports or challenges an idea in the text. OR indicate one way they can apply something from the reading to a different context (daily life, professional situation, etc.). Next, have students identify a point of confusion or question posed by another student and respond to it with a clarification, explanation or answer (the idea being that they can engage and teach each other). You can also have students respond to what other students identify as key points; there are many options and variations.

Rank/Vote and Justify

Use a free online tool like to have students respond to questions you (or they) pose by voting for the best ideas, key terms, etc. It could be as simple as “identify and vote for the most important key terms in the reading.” This program allows students to post pro/con arguments and vote for their favorite ideas. Pro/con arguments could be limited to short statements. Once you have results after a specified time limit, you can ask students to consider the top choices and explore in more depth on a Canvas discussion board. The idea is to capture students’ choices for most important ideas or best explanations, etc., then have them discuss. If you are looking for key terms or words, a variation is to use a word cloud program (such as and generate a word cloud, then have students comment on the words/terms most frequently cited.

Response Prompts

Have students complete short response prompts in a discussion board and then comment on a few other students' responses. Prompts could include some of the following:

  • What most struck me about the text is…
  • The question that I’d most like to ask the author of the text is…
  • The idea I most take issue with in the text is…
  • The most crucial point in the text is…
  • The part of the text that I feel makes the most sense to me is…
  • The part of the text that I feel is the most obscure or confusing is…
  • The most contentious claim or statement in the text is…
  • The most unsupported assertion in the text is…
  • The most provocative or stimulating claim or statement in the text is…
  • If we take the main arguments of this text seriously, the implications are…
  • If we fail to take the main arguments of this text seriously, the implications are… 

Collaborative Summaries / Group Presentation

Assign teams of 3-4 students and have them create a collaborate summary of a reading (or section of a reading) and post it for others to read and comment on. For any collaborative writing project, it is best to assign specific inquiry roles (e.g. one person identifies and defines key terms from the reading, one person summarizes a key example, one person summarizes the evidence presented, one person describes the significance of the reading or an idea, and so forth – these inquiry roles can be assigned by the instructor or an instructor could have students use something like the “Ultimate Cheatsheet for Critical Thinking” to organize their collaborative summary—the idea is to ensure individuals are accountable for their share of the collaborative work). Student groups can be assigned a particular week or reading during the term.



Transparent design 

Create a Page for the reading assignment in Canvas. Include each of the following sections: 

Purpose: Why is the content of the reading important for the course? How does it fit into the bigger picture of the course? What links or applications are there between the reading and the world outside the course? Why are you assigning this reading and what should students be looking for and noticing when they read? Include a list of the course intended learning outcomes the reading addresses. 

Task: Exactly what should students do to complete the assignment?  

  1. Perhaps include a list of the practices you use when you approach a new reading (What do you look at first? What questions do you ask yourself as you read? How do you use figures to help you comprehend?) A general strategy for approaching textbook readings (  
    1. Don’t read front to back 
      1. Read questions at the end of the chapter first 
      2. Read final summary of the chapter 
      3. Survey headings and subdivisions of the chapter 
      4. Read the Introduction 
    2. Read for big ideas (find topic sentences in paragraphs, bolded terms, scan any figures, note what any equations are about, etc)
    3. Read for key details. What supports the big ideas? 
    4. As you read, note down questions that arise. Try to answer them. If you are unable to resolve your questions, discuss with a classmate or ask you instructor. 
  2. Include an exercise that requires students to process the reading, such as:   
    1. Answer the guiding questions listed below… 
    2. List the most important ideas from the reading. 
    3. Write a summary of the reading. 
    4. Which ideas from the reading would you use to solve the following problem…?  
    5. What surprised you most about this reading? 
    6. List the muddiest points (things you are still confused about) from the reading. 

Criteria for success:  A description of the products students should have as they finish the reading, both physical notes and questions, as well as the mental changes they should strive for. If you will grade the exercise from above, include a rubric or description of what you’ll be looking for as you grade them. 

Video introduction 

How would you introduce the reading in a face-to-face class?  Use Panopto in Canvas to make a short video of yourself talking about what you want students to get out of the reading, why the concepts are important, why you chose or like the reading, etc.  Also talk about strategies to approach it (such as the reading strategy in #1 above) and suggest noting down questions as they read. Students will be more eager to do the reading if you project enthusiasm about it. 



Physical demonstrations 

Mine YouTube for videos showing the demonstration you would do in class.  Try to choose a video that has three pieces: 1. a segment at the beginning describing what the experiment entails, 2. the experiment itself, and 3. a segment at the end in which the demonstrator talks about what happened and why. Give the following instructions: 

  1. Watch the video until time XX, then pause it (after the introductory segment) and make a prediction of what will happen.  Write down your prediction and a brief statement of your reasoning.  It’s perfectly fine if your prediction is incorrect- the point is to recall any relevant knowledge you already have and apply it to this situation. 
  2. Continue the video, then pause it again at time XX (after the experiment is finished). What did you see in the video?  Discuss with a partner (in a Canvas Discussion with a small group, on the phone with a classmate, with a roommate, etc) what you saw without yet trying to interpret it.  Watch the experiment again if needed.  Once the group agrees on what happened saw, draw on your prior knowledge to try to interpret it. 
  3. Finish the video.  Was your prediction and/or analysis correct?  If not, what concepts did you miss? 

Think-aloud inquiry

  1. Present a relevant problem, ideally one that can be solved in a relatively short time frame (or, for a more complex problem, just present the method of inquiry you would use to solve the problem). Next, literally talk aloud about how you would go about engaging the problem.  For example, you might say, “Okay, for this particular problem, I’ll need to clarify the nature of the problem. Do I understand what is at stake? From what is given here, I understand it to involve x, y, z. Given this, the next thing I need to do is consider…” And so on. The idea is to demonstrate explicitly your thinking process (or a formal process of inquiry) so that students can literally observe/hear “thinking in action” as one moves through a basic process of inquiry or problem-solving (e.g. identify the nature of the problem, analyze the knowledge or skills required to engage it, identify potential solutions, choose the best solution, evaluate potential outcomes, report on findings, check if the answer is reasonable, etc.).
  2. As a bonus, have students pair up and practice thinking aloud as they solve problems, with one student acting as “problem solver” and the other as “listener.” After each student has had a turn in each role, have the pair share their experience. Did they actually solve the problems? What obstacles or breakthroughs did they encounter? 

Real-time problem solving: problems with multiple written steps 

Rather than putting a worked-out problem on a slide and talking through it, leave a blank slide or two in the deck and work out the problem in real time, using the whiteboard function in Canvas Conferences, recording your slide show presentation with narrations, ink, and laser pointer in PowerPoint, or through Panopto in Canvas. Use the Think-Aloud Inquiry method to narrate your overall problem-solving approach: “When I encounter a problem like this, the first thing I do is to try to draw a picture of the system, then identify the concepts at work…” 



A useful goal of any review session is to get students to engage with the material, thinking about the relative importance of course topics, how they are linked, and how the content might be used in an exam question.

Student-generated exam questions

Lay out the following in a Canvas page. Ask each student to make a list of about five important facts, theories, or concepts from the course. Next use a site like to have students make a collective list and vote on the most important concepts. Then ask students, in groups if possible, to generate possible exam questions and post them on a Canvas discussion board or in a Google Doc.  Students can try to answer each other’s questions, and the instructor can add commentary as well. (Source:

Student-generated study guide

Have the class create a list of important course topics in a Google or OneDrive Doc, adding in questions, explanations and elaborations for the benefit of the class. The instructor can periodically review the document and make comments, note errors that need to be corrected, or add hints about additional material that should be included. 

Virtual review session

Use the Canvas Conferences function to hold a virtual review session that students can log into as one would a webinar or Zoom meeting. In this type of session, students can ask questions that the instructor addresses.  Alternatively, the instructor could invite other student participants to share their strategies or insights into the question/problem. Canvas Conferences can be recorded and saved for 14 days, for the benefit of students unable to participate in real-time. 

Screencast videos

Make screencast videos (using Panopto or PowerPoint, which can record audio and video of the presenter as well as annotations on slides) of the instructor solving and discussing representative problems or concepts. The instructor might choose the topics for the videos, giving attention to ones that incorporate a wide range of course concepts. Or the instructor could ask students to suggest problems or topics along with a note about where they are getting stuck—the latter requirement forces students to engage meaningfully with the material before asking the question rather than just asking random questions. These questions/problems could be submitted via a Canvas discussion board. When discussing specific problems, be sure to emphasize the concepts at play, write down a plan for solving the problem, and be explicit about how you go about making the plan. Encourage students to pause the video to try to solve the problem themselves. (Resources:  



See TEP's Quickstart Guide to Quizzing and Testing in Canvas here