How To Get Students To Turn On Their Zoom Camera

Smart Classroom Management: How To Get Students To Turn On Their Zoom Camera

If you’re allowed to require students to turn on their Zoom camera, then I highly recommend the point system I wrote about a few weeks ago.

It will dramatically improve every area of online teaching and learning.

But what if you’re not allowed to? What if your school or district says that students may keep their camera turned off the whole period if they wish?

Well, you can encourage them. You can gently ease their fears. You can help them create a paper backdrop, email them a standard virtual background, or ask them to use earphones.

These methods do work. But there is another strategy, best used in conjunction with these few, that can have the biggest impact.

So what is it?

It’s to teach and behave in such a way that students want to turn their camera on.

Here’s how:


Let your students see your own imperfect office arrangement. Give them a tour. I have dog toys all over the floor of mine, along with occasional dirt clumps and sticks carried in from outside.

I have fitness equipment, unkempt dog beds, books, and teacher’s guides stacked about.

Show them your own reality without spiffing it up. When students see that perfect doesn’t exist, that even their teacher has interruptions and dogs barking in the background, then they’re more likely to join in.

It’s part and parcel to teaching (and learning) online and you shouldn’t conceal it.

It’s life with all its messy bits. And it’s okay. Just be sure you don’t mention the main purpose of your tour. Never say, in so many words, “See, my home is crazy too.”

Just be an example.

Note: It pays to have your in-person classroom in ship-shape.


Teaching online has made teachers more stressed and uptight than ever. The pressure to be perfect—the evil culture—has infected our profession with a dark seriousness that makes it drudgery.

The solution is to decide, in a quiet moment before starting your lessons each day, that you’re going to have fun anyway, no matter the obstacles.

It really is up to you, and only you. If you wait and see if you’ll have a good day, or hope that you will, then you’ll be waiting a long time. You must make it happen.

You must loosen up all on your own and refuse to be a victim of circumstance or the whims of your school district. The best news is that making such a decision for yourself and your students will always make things better.

Teaching becomes easier. Attentiveness and all forms of participation improve. And most importantly, your students will be persuaded to turn on their cameras and join in the fun.


When you’re enjoying yourself, it’s only natural that you’re going to share your enjoyment with greater immediacy with the students you can see.

After all, you can discern their expressions. You can make eye contact and laugh along with them. You can watch them chuckle under their breath or roll their eyes or react to what you say and do.

Embrace this.

It’s okay to smile and laugh and have fun with your students online, as it is in the classroom. It’s okay to even focus on those you can see in order draw the others into the mix.

Now, I’m not suggesting you ignore students with their cameras off. Include them as much as you’re able. But you know as well as I do that a lot is missing.

Many of these students are suffering greatly academically and socially.

Therefore, you must do everything you can to draw them, entice them, and make them want to flip on their camera and be part of the class. The best, most effective way to do this is to lighten up and enjoy your time with them.

We Find A Way

I’m aware of the arguments for why students shouldn’t be made to have their cameras on. Although I believe they’re easily solved, que sera, sera. I accept what I cannot change.

It’s key to being a happy teacher.

But we find a way anyway. We use our wits and wisdom. We use the leverage of persuasion and a dose of psychology. We use the power of reciprocity and belongingness to inspire students to make the right decisions on their own behalf.

Which, in the end, are the most powerful decisions of all.

PS – A big thank you to those who participated in last week’s Facebook Live Q&A. If you’d like to watch the replay, click here.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please join us. It’s free! Click here and begin receiving classroom management articles like this one in your email box every week.


27 thoughts on “How To Get Students To Turn On Their Zoom Camera”

  1. I had been trying a bunch of ways to get students to turn their cameras on, but I just gave a survey to my students about WHY they didn’t turn them on, and now I’m not so sure it’s necessary to push it. My students are teenagers, and as such are super self conscious. The number 1 reason they didn’t want them on was because they didn’t want people to see their faces (not their background – their faces) because they were worried someone else would be secretly recording them OR because they would be distracted by trying to make sure they look okay. Imagine in-person teaching where you have a huge mirror in the front of the classroom that everyone looks at. It’s distracting for some.
    Obviously I wish students would feel comfortable turning them on, but I get why they don’t. And I get a lot of use of the chat box, so they still make jokes and comments and type their laughter, so it can still be fun. Weird, but fun.
    I guess my position is I think if students are comfortable turning their cameras on they should, and we should strive to make them comfortable. These are great suggestions here to do so, which I will try. But… I don’t think it’s that big a deal now to stress about. “Cameras on” is mostly for me anyway, not for them. And maybe its okay to give them this, as long as they are engaging in other ways.

    • Thank you Shawn,
      Michael is right but what you said also makes so much sense. I teach kinder and they want nothing more than to see and be seen. They are not self conscious. But that changes when they get big. I get it. I have teen boys and I remember what it was like when I was that age. Good call.

      • I teach kinder also. They LOVE seeing themselves, lol. On one occasion, a student was putting on play eye shadow, using her Zoom screen as a mirror. Another student had a dance costume on that she wanted her classmates to see. It’s sad how kids become self-conscious later due to peer pressure.

    • I couldn´t agree more. I teach teenagers around 15 years old and they do worry a lot about their hair, eyes… So I usually invite them once or twice during the class. Some come, others don´t and I just do not make it a big deal if they don´t. I tell them that I miss their faces (and that is true) and I may make some positive comments about it… I also say how I have put on weight and then they open up about their own changes… I also use breakout rooms to let them feel free to discuss among them. The use the canvas, the chat box A LOT! I promote writing competitions there as well.

    • Shawn, thank you for asking your students why they were reluctant to have their cameras on. As an introverted person who was painfully shy as a teenager, it would have meant everything to me for a teacher to ask me why I didn’t want to be on camera and then to understand my feelings. My school requires students to have their cameras on. Self-consciousness was my first thought for their reluctance.

      As Michael suggested, I have openly and honestly shared my space with my students, both my physical space and my head space. They know I don’t really like being on camera myself, and they can see how I manage that with them. I also encourage them to sit out of frame with their cameras on if that makes them more comfortable. They are required to have them on, but that doesn’t mean they must sit center frame. Making this small concession helps them relax and they participate in the discussion more. I also use the chat, but even the top of their head or their shoulder in frame can convey more body language than you’d imagine and it allows them to use our classroom sign language in frame.

  2. This is an issue, but I have persevered. Last week, I started teaching something and I put my camera to the wall for a while, and they called me on it, we laughed and a few more cameras went on. Encourage, encourage, encourage.

    The best thing I have said, is turn your camera off if or need more time. Well you can’t turn it off if you don’t have it on.

    I do recognize some ceilings, as in which kid they go with, but slowly we are all getting better. As for the comment above about fear of their faces, I told them, we would be looking at you in an ordinary classroom.

    I have had better luck asking for just eyes, or just a side of your face.

    It really does make learning more social. And this week, I finally had kids talking to each other, we seemed like we finally became a class – week 4 ended for me this week. Slow, but the ones that are buying in, are coming for the most part.

    High percentage of no shows, and please do not ask me to contact parents once again… this really doesn’t work for a lot of people, kids or parents.


    • Good ideas! I have struggled getting my 8th graders to buy in to turning on cameras. I told them I pride myself on learning students’ names by the end of week one and when cameras are off that makes it so difficult. I feel disconnected this year because of virtual sessions. I require cams on during attendance and then at various times during class I will tell them it’s camera time (like Hammer time). Slowly but surely my kiddos are becoming more comfortable. I get it though…I don’t like being on spotlight either, but I’m making adjustments to model the behavior I want to see.

  3. I would love to see my students, but when they turn their cameras on, it uses too much bandwidth and the Google Meet crashes. Our Chromebooks just can’t handle it!

    So, I tried asking everyone to unmute so we could choral-read. That was hilarious! No one was on the same word at any given time.

    Now, I just ask specific students to read something on the screen or ask volunteers to unmute and read or answer a question so we can get some semblance of interaction.

    Thursday, we were using Kami to write on and highlight a document during a Google Meet. I accidentally highlighted in the wrong color and then couldn’t get it to erase. We were all cracking up about it, and the students were commenting…this is a train wreck, lol, 😂, etc. There was nothing we could do but laugh.

    These hiccups are both maddening and bonding.

    I have loved reading your posts for years, Michael. Thank you so much for your practical wisdom and positivity in this adventure we call teaching!

    • You are correct.. when people have their cameras on with chromebooks, it affects the audio and laggy-ness of the meeting. I did not believe it at first, but that is true. Now I just do periodic camera attendance checks and use cameras on during whole class discussions or break out rooms. I’m gonna pick my battles at this point.

  4. I don’t buy “I don’t want people to see my face” theory among teens. They splash their faces across social media all day every day. It is simply another excuse to be disengaged with learning. I keep reminding them that everyday counts and learning builds upon the previous days, weeks, months, and years. At some point, and many of my middle schoolers have admitted this, they will discover that they should have been paying attention these last seven months. You cannot go back and recapture those classroom lessons. I do as much as I can to entice them into enjoying learning, but the bottom line is they need to own their learning process.

    • Nope, my 8th grader hates, hates, hates being on camera. If she posts a selfie, she has chosen it carefully. Being on a video screen is nerve-wracking and intimidating for her. If she had to spend her entire school day like that, I’m afraid she would be a wreck.

    • The difference between their social media posts and their cameras is the filters they can use before posting. Kids do post themselves all over the internet, but only after they’ve fixed the camera angle, taken the same shot 100 times, fixed their hair, clothes, make-up, posture, etc. Kids have even memorized which angles to hold the phone and how to use the flash perfectly for the perfect lighting, AND THEN they still use filters before posting. That’s a very different game than a live feed that captures them at every single angle, with out the filters…..

  5. I recently did an activity that increased cameras on. I asked every student to find any item that was red, yellow, blue, or green. They had a lot of fun grabbing stuffed animals, t-shirts, and even a random sticker. I set up problems with answers that were color-coded red/yellow/blue/green. They answered by showing their colored item on the camera. It increased the amount of time students had their video on. It helped them make the item the focus rather than themselves. It was incredibly easy for me to see the correct answers all at once. I had 5 or 6 still posting their answers in chat, but that was easier for me to read than trying to read 25 responses. It worked for 8th graders who never show their faces. It worked for 6th graders who show their faces half the time, but more of them showed for a longer time when we played the game. My co-workers loved it, too, and found it worked for them.

  6. I don’t think my students are concerned about the mess their houses may be. They simply don’t feel motivated enough, nor do they see any reason to turn them on. I’m sure they feel less exposed this way, with hopes that the teacher will simply not notice they’re there.

  7. I do lots of activities that require the use of their camera. Particularly in science. Im hoping they will eventually keep them on. So far only about 50% does. I teach another group of adults with no camera on its dull.

  8. I have far more important things to worry about than invading students’ space by requiring a camera. Why not focus on mastering pedagogy in a strange new reality and creating a space where people inherently want to show their faces.

  9. My students are very aware that I’m an animal lover, so I introduced my pets. They began turning on their cameras to show their pets: exotic and stuffed included. We even met a flock of guineas. I teach high school. If they didn’t have a pet, they found other things to show. One boy started up his dirt bike for us. A few of the students had barely spoken a word in the classroom, but became presenters when offered the opportunity to show their knowledge of their passions. It breaks the ice and creates a sense of family and comfort, which is essential to me and my idea of a perfect classroom environment.

    • I found that this really worked with my class as well. I called it “Pet Time” and I allowed it to take place for the first few minutes of their last login of the day. That was the only time I was able to actually see their faces.

  10. Some great ideas here. My 15y/o class do a coordinated welcome Mexican wave to have a bit of a laugh and to get a bit of movement happening 🤣
    Break out rooms also helped building confidence and trust. We’re trying to build a culture of at least a hello and goodbye via the camera so we can do quick well-being checks- explaining that to students and giving them time in the lesson when they can switch their camera off has got a bit more buy in.
    My 17/18 year olds welcome the class with some lovely guitar playing and they also segue me off the screen when it’s time to go 🤣

  11. I use a digital planner and I just added this as a giant purple header to every day of the week: Have Fun Today! With all that is going on, I think I forgot! Thanks for the reminder.

  12. I teach 6th grade and in the beginning of the year I had more cameras on. As time goes by (it’s week 7 of school), fewer cameras are on.
    I’m ok with them off if kids are actually there and listening/participating, but I fear many of them are playing video games.
    I’ve had a few not join the assigned breakout room or remain in class for some time after the meeting is over. They just aren’t there. I think some have even turned off the volume so they don’t hear me when I try to talk to them.
    It’s disconcerting, to say the least.

  13. I have to say I like persuasion better than a point system. Depending on the age of the students you teach, you can get them to talk with you about whether they prefer to be in a class with cameras on or off. You can get them to run an experiment with you: 10 minutes off, 10 minutes on, off again and ask students to evaluate not only their comfort level but their engagement and attentiveness during each period. If you want to stack the deck a little, turn your own camera off during the “off” time.

    Another idea is to ask for cameras on during a discussion but allow cameras off during think time or writing time or work time. I don’t think it has to be all or nothing. Do what gives the best results in terms of engagement, trust, and community-building for your students’ age group and circumstances.

  14. Not even my professors have their cameras on. I’m in college so most classes just post lectures and we meet once a week for a discussion. Having video on takes up to much bandwidth. My biochem lecture is 150 people and even the teacher has to keep her camera off. My other classes the professor usually has the camera on but no one else. Often the professor will turn it off when someone wants to ask a question because having two audios running at the same time is too much bandwidth. Virtual learning is all about making it accessible to everyone and right now that means matching what the slowest wifi connection is capable of. Most of the time my professor’s connection is the worst out of anyone in the class and us having our cameras in will cause the professors computer to crash. It’s all a learning process.


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