Goodbye Black Boxes! 20 Tips to Get Students to Turn Their Cameras On

Goodbye Black Boxes! 20 Tips to Get Students to Turn Their Cameras On

In the new frontier of virtual learning, one thing that really lifts our tired teacher spirits is seeing smiling student faces on the screen. The grid lit up with cherubic faces, Brady Bunch style- it’s the best! The reality is that most of the time, we’re lucky to get more than 20% of our class to step out from behind the black square. If you’re tired of looking at a sea of empty boxes, here are 20 tips to entice even your shyest students to turn cameras on!

1. Use ice breakers

Before you can expect kids to brave the internet and show up for academic content, you’ve got to let them get their feet wet. Ice breakers are a good way to do that. When they get used to talking about fun and “easy” stuff, they’ll be more comfortable when it comes time to get to work.

2. Send private messages encouraging students to turn cameras on

Sometimes, students just need a little encouragement. After months of staying home, we all have rusty social skills. Reaching out privately to let them know that you’re glad they’re in class, and you’d love to see their smiling face can go a long way.

3. Bring back show and tell

Kids love to show off their favorite things! Remember the good old fashioned paper bag assignment from the beginning of normal school years? The one where kids put in a bunch of stuff that represents them, then share it in front of the class? This could easily be adapted to Zoom!

4. Have a pet parade

Have students “parade” their pets on Zoom. You’ll get to see your kids’ faces and a menagerie of adorable animals- what’s not to like? The students who don’t have pets could be judges and award pet prizes or share their favorite stuffed animal. There are lots of ways to run with this one.

5. Organize a scavenger hunt

Even the most introverted student will come out of the woodwork for a scavenger hunt. It’s super easy to do and kids love it! The rules:

  • Leave the room to find the item.
  • Show it to the teacher/classmates on camera.
  • Put away whatever you got out so that your parents won’t be mad.
  • Be safe!

After they get the guidelines, just call out random things you’d like them to find. Something sticky, something blue, the number 37, something with legs…endless possibilities!

6. Offer incentives to turn cameras on

The truth is that students like to be rewarded for their efforts. Of course, we want to build intrinsic motivation, but sometimes a carrot is needed. There are many, many ways to incentivize showing up on camera. A few examples: free time, read aloud, free art time, or a prize drawing mailed to their home.

7. Award extra credit points!

Offer a few extra credit points to students whose cameras are on for the whole lesson. Being on camera causes anxiety for many of us and turning it on is brave. Why not reward that initiative?

8. Make social breakout rooms

Set up small breakout rooms and let students indicate who they are comfortable with. Once they realize that it’s not too scary to socialize with friends on camera, they will be more amenable to showing their face to the class. You could also use social time as an incentive- if 80% of the class shows their beautiful faces, everyone gets social time!

9. Have spirit days

We all miss the energy of school spirit. Why not bring spirit week into the virtual classroom? Pajama day, hat day, sports teams day, school colors day… just make sure that your spirit days are inclusive to everyone and easy enough to display from the waist up.

9. Be silly

Tell jokes, do mad libs, share fun videos, sing songs. Wherever you can infuse some playfulness into your content, go nuts! The world is a serious place right now, and a little levity is like medicine. If they see you being silly and fun, they may feel encouraged to join in.

10. Laugh at your own mistakes

This is so important. Make mistakes and laugh at yourself, share your vulnerability and humanity with your students. Let them see that it’s okay to fail, even when they turn cameras on, and that they won’t spontaneously burst into flames if they mess up.

11. Pump up the music

Share some fun music as a way to kick off or wrap up the class. Turn on the chat and let the kids talk to each other. Ten minutes of making your Zoom Room feel like a party will pay dividends when your students feel comfortable with one another, and start to turn their cameras on.

12. Make a “how-to” video for setting up a workspace

Show the students how to make a workspace conducive for learning. Give them time to spruce up their area and then ask them to show you their workspaces on camera.

13. Practice those YouTube skills

What kid doesn’t have a dream of YouTube stardom? Tell them that this is their training ground. In your class, they will get comfortable on camera, make videos and generally practice all of the skills they need for their future YouTube career.

15. Allow educational games if students turn cameras on

You could do the ever-popular Kahoot, and have students turn on their cameras if their nicknames are matched to their identity, or if they make it onto the podium. Quizlet and Jeopardy are also options. Nearpod has an awesome quiz game called “Time to Climb” that elementary students really enjoy. Games could be played as incentives to have cameras on, or just to make lessons fun, which may draw out your competitive kiddos.

16. Introduce special guests

Allow students to introduce their sibling or parent on camera. They’ll be so proud to show off their guests of honor, that they’ll ditch the dreaded black square!

17. Host an award show

Host an award show and recognize students for their achievements. Roll out a virtual red carpet, have students dress up, make an event of it. The excitement of the event will have them channeling their inner starlets and getting camera-ready!

18. Assign speeches in breakout groups

Have your students give a speech as an assignment. Put them in small breakout groups with friends they feel comfortable with to present.

19. Build a strong community

The more your students feel comfortable with you and their peers, the more willing they will be to switch the camera on. Spend some time investing in your classroom community, and students will feel that they are an important part of the group. If there’s a sense that everyone must do their part, being on camera can become the “norm.”

20. Create a safe space

Just like in a brick and mortar setting, students will take their cue from you. Be warm and encouraging. Let them know how happy you are to see their faces. Call them by name, ask about their interests. When they struggle, help them save face. Give them sentence stems and examples to use so stage fright won’t make their mind go blank. When they turn cameras on, thank them for their bravery and willingness to help others.


Goodbye Black Boxes! 20 Tips to Get Students to Turn Their Cameras On

Like it? Share with your friends!

1 share
Kristen Nance

Senior Member

Kristen Nance is an elementary school teacher in Oregon. She is passionate about children's literature, has an affinity for black cats, and is obsessed with ravens. She reads every mystery novel she can get her hands on, and feels happiest when she is near the ocean.

Choose A Format
Share your amazing stories, tips, opinions, and other stuff that matters.
Upload your funny, inspiring, DIY, or informative video(s) for the world to see!
Personality quiz
Leave the serious quizzes at school, these are strictly fun! You make the questions and pre-define the results.
Trivia quiz
Time to test your friends' knowledge! You choose the subject and have fun seeing who scores the highest!
Pose any question to millions of educators by creating your own polls/surveys, whether for research, for fun, or for the sake of curiosity!
Share your classroom decor, costumes, funny classroom antics, silly grading moments, or other teacher life shenanigans!

Get the best teacher newsletter your inbox has ever seen!

Don't worry, we don't spam

Get the best teacher newsletter your inbox has ever seen!

Don't worry, we don't spam