During our first meeting, our time together was good but AWKWARD as teens (and adult leaders!) adjusted to a whole new format. This week, it felt like we started to hit our groove. Teens participated well in our discussion. Of course, part of this was just the normalization of Zoom, but part of it was also thanks to making some changes that allowed for better participation from our teens.
Based on our very limited experience, here are five tips for not just talking at teens but rather engaging them in discussion via Zoom:
1. Establish ground rules. My teens are used to ground rules anyway. They’re something we go over every week we meet, even when we do so in person. They remind us of how we operate as a community. Here’s our working list for Zoom Ground Rules:
a. We value everyone’s voice. To allow for this, everyone needs to mute yourself UNLESS you’re the person talking. If you have something to say, raise your hand (either in real life OR using the “Raise Your Hand” feature on zoom). Once the leader calls on you, it’s your turn to speak.
b. It’s OK to disagree with one another, but do so with respect.
c. This is a safe place to be vulnerable and tell us how you’re actually feeling.
d. Be present in this moment. We know it’s easy (and tempting!) to scroll through your phone or flip between screens, but if you do, you’ll miss out. Focus on this community for the time we’re together.
2. Use the polls. Polls give everyone a chance to participate without having to actually speak. Participating in the polls often warms teens up and encourages them to verbalize their ideas as well. If you can see all the people on your Zoom call in a single gallery view or don’t have time to input the polls in advance, you can also conduct a poll simply by asking a YES / NO question and having teens respond with a thumbs up / thumbs down. Then ask people from each side to tell you why they responded the way they did.
3. Chat. The CHAT feature on Zoom is a great way of doing an “everyone answers” question where you ask EVERYONE to respond to a question by chatting in their response. You can then ask a few people to further expand their response. (Pro tip: If you have a lot of kids, it can also be really helpful to have ONE leader assigned to the chat box. Make it their job simply to respond to what people say in the chat window.)
4. Use “scale questions”. Ask teens to rate something on a scale of 1-10 by holding up the corresponding number of fingers. Again, this gives everyone in your group the opportunity to actually participate in the conversation without actually having to speak. You can then follow up by asking a few teens to explain why they gave the answer they did.
5. Use the Breakout Rooms. This might be my FAVORITE feature of all on Zoom. It’s a way to utilize small groups electronically. You can assign rooms randomly OR manually and you as a leader can go between rooms to check in and see how people are doing. As in real life, virtual small groups are a great way of inviting teens to participate. Those who are often reluctant to speak in large groups will sometimes feel safe enough to chime in during small groups. Even last week, during our group’s first virtual meeting, while the large group discussion often felt stagnant, I heard nothing but good things about small group times.
Using these tips, you can truly encourage teens to engage in virtual conversations rather than just consuming a message. And when you do that – faith is formed. Even if it’s formed electronically.