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Last reviewed on 16 February 2021
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From free whiteboard tools to simulating a walk around the room, see if the approaches these secondary schools are using could help you check pupils' understanding during live lessons.

Our thanks to the 5 schools that contributed to this article - find out more about them at the bottom of this page.

Please note: the mention of commercial products in this article doesn’t constitute an endorsement from The Key. 

Responding to pupils' work in real time

Staff at Sandringham School, Outwood Grange Academies Trust and Eden Girls' School provide instant verbal or written feedback to pupils as they watch them work on a task. This saves time on marking and enables staff to catch common misconceptions. 

To do this, have your live session open on one tab and your collaboration platform (where pupils work on a task) on another. For: 

  • Longer written work, consider Microsoft OneNote or Google Docs
  • Shorter responses to presentations, see PearDeck for Google Slides, or Nearpod
  • Annotations, diagrams and calculations, look at (see the section below for more on this tool) 

The schools we spoke to found that they end up giving more feedback than they normally would in a classroom. This is because you get to simultaneously see more pupils' work at once online than you would walking around a physical classroom. 

Pupils at Sandringham School in Hertfordshire like this approach because they can get on with their work and not have to announce that they’re struggling. Staff also find it helpful because after they give verbal feedback, pupils are encouraged to ask more questions.

Free whiteboard tool to monitor pupils’ annotations

Pupils at Outwood Grange Academies Trust in Wakefield are using to:

  • Draw chemical diagrams in science lessons
  • Show their working out in maths lessons 
  • Answer exam questions  

It keeps pupils focused because while staff can see everyone’s boards at once, pupils can only see their own. Staff can also monitor pupil engagement, as they can see whether pupils are ‘live’ in their whiteboard.  

Modelling to the class and showcasing good pupil examples

Pupils can press the ‘toggle’ button at the top of the whiteboard tool to see the teacher’s board. Teachers can also use this feature to showcase a pupil’s board - or save good examples as PDFs for later use. 

Christina McGhie, director of science at Outwood Grange, demonstrates the tool in her blog post, where she also explains how to:

  • Get a similar result with Google Slides, Google Docs and Jamboard (another whiteboard tool)
  • Use Google Forms to quiz for understanding 
  • Check that all pupils are engaging in a live lesson 

Listening out for common misconceptions in breakout room chat  

Most video call breakout rooms will allow you to 'pop in' to hear pupils talking to each other in their groups - as if you were walking around the classroom and listening to their conversations. 

Staff at Sandringham School have found that, even though pupils know staff can hear them, they speak more candidly in smaller groups about where they’re struggling than they do in whole-class sessions. This approach enables staff to quickly address common misconceptions when the groups come back together.

In Google Meet, pupils can press the 'ask for help' button to grab a teacher's attention to visit their room - find out more about this feature here. This helps staff to target support more quickly.

If you adopt this approach:

  • Make sure pupils are aware when you’re using breakout rooms that you’ll be able to hear them    
  • Be mindful not to single any particular pupil out based on anything you’ve overheard

Learn how to run breakout rooms effectively here

Using quick quizzes, polling tools and chat functions strategically 

There are many ways to check pupils' knowledge remotely, but some tools work better at certain points of the lesson than others. The schools we spoke to recommended: 

Gamified quizzes at the start and/or end of a lesson to get a snapshot of what pupils know 

Tools such as Kahoot and Quizziz will guarantee engagement but are likely to disrupt a lesson if you’re in your flow on a certain platform or topic.

While such tools are great for instant assessment, you're unlikely to get a full picture of what pupils know - use them alongside other approaches like feedback and ongoing dialogue with pupils.

Integrated polling tools for in-the-moment assessments of understanding 

Use the tools available in your school’s digital learning platform for this - this is so you don't have to navigate away to other websites and risk disrupting your lesson.

Use polling tools to also ask broader, non-multiple choice questions, such as how pupils are feeling. Find out how to do this in:

Chat functions in digital learning platforms for asking quick questions

Pupils can either respond to these or react with emojis. Sandringham School finds that this works particularly well with younger pupils, as they are keen to connect with their teacher throughout the lesson. 

To make sure pupils don't copy their answers off each other, ask them to prepare their answer but hold off from pressing 'send' until you tell them to

Wordclouds and brainstorms for anonymously visualising prior knowledge at the start or end of lessons

Programmes such as Mentimeter create anonymous clouds that pupils can see as their peers contribute to them in real time. You can save screengrabs of these to help you adapt lessons based on pupils' need.


Many thanks to the following for their contributions to this article: 

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