Using Zoom as a Math TA: Tips, Tricks, Techniques

Note: This is not a tutorial or user guide for how to use Zoom, and does not include techniques that are relevant for online lectures. It is also not comprehensive in any way; this is just a list of ideas that you may want to try out if interested.

I am also happy to take suggestions! Email your idea to jonathanrlove at gmail, and I'll be happy to include your suggestion (happy to give credit if you would like me to.)

Writing and Sharing Math

Physical Chalkboard or Whiteboard

If you have access to a chalkboard or whiteboard, you can simply point the camera at it. Check ahead of time what portion of the board is visible (so you don't write things out of view of the camera), and make sure you write large and dark enough so that your writing is legible to people only seeing the screen.

Paper on the wall

If you don't have a whiteboard or chalkboard, you can tape or tack pieces of paper to the wall and write on them with marker. Be prepared to change the paper often, as it will likely fill up extremely fast (you will need to write fairly large in order for it to be legible.)

Prepared Slides or Documents

This is less ideal if you will need to be explaining things on the fly, but if you know in advance what you will be covering (e.g. you can write up solutions ahead of time), you can include the math in a Beamer presentation, PDF, or otherwise. This may be TeXed or handwritten and scanned.

The file can then either be shared

Live TeXing

Similar to Prepared slides or documents, but allowing you to present math in real time. As with prepared files, this can be done in multiple ways:

Virtual whiteboard

As a host of a Zoom call, press "Share," click "Whiteboard," then press "Share." A large blank screen will appear on your device, which you can draw on using your mouse; if your computer has a touchscreen and/or a stylus, you may use that as well.

(Note: if you move your mouse to the top of the screen, a menu of options should come down. If you click on "More" you will see an option to enable or disable participant annotations, in case you want participants to be able to draw on the board as well.)

(You may also use Notability, or screen share with another drawing app of your choice)

Pairing with an iPad

If you want to use your computer for the camera and microphone, but an iPad for the shared whiteboard, see the instructions here.

Warning: If you do not have an iPhone or iPad to pair with, choosing this option may make your call stop responding.

Calling from multiple devices

Zoom allows you to log in to your account from one computer, one tablet, and one phone. You can then join the call from multiple devices. This is ideal if you want to use a tablet that is not an iPad, or if you want to manage the call using your phone/tablet and use your computer for the shared whiteboard.


Using a Drawing Tablet

There are tablets that are meant to be used as inputs for a computer rather than stand-alone devices; see an example. If you make a Zoom call from your computer, you can then use this device with Zoom's shared whiteboard or for annotating documents on a shared screen.

(suggested by Beatrice Chetard, communicated to me by Christine Taylor)

Makeshift Document Camera

  1. Set up a large stack of books or boxes (approximately 30 cm high) next to a sheet of paper.
  2. Use your phone in the Zoom call, and put the camera into landscape mode (make sure that screen rotation is unlocked and turn your phone horizontally).
  3. Use your phone in the Zoom call, and put the camera into landscape mode (make sure that screen rotation is unlocked and turn your phone horizontally).
  4. Balance the phone on the top of the books (another book on top can help keep it in place) with the camera sticking out over the pad of paper.
Since the camera is so close to the paper in this case, it may be possible to write at a fairly normal size; however, you should still use a marker, or at least a pen with a thick dark stroke.

Managing Office Hours


Schedule Office Hours using Canvas: from the course page, click "Zoom," then "Schedule a New Meeting." You can use the "Recurring Meeting" checkbox to schedule weekly sessions.

Do not record Office Hours, in order to ensure students feel comfortable asking any questions. When you are setting up the meeting, ensure that "Record the meeting automatically" is not checked.

Keep time zones in mind; if all available office hours fall within a given 8-hour window, then there will most likely be students who can't attend any of the scheduled times without losing sleep. If possible, schedule at least one set of office hours early in the morning (better for students in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central/South Asia) as well as one later in the evening (better for students in East Asia and the Pacific).

When it's time to hold office hours, go to Canvas > Zoom, and click the "Start" button next to the relevant meeting. Do not start a new meeting directly from the Zoom app.

Waiting Room

If you ever need to talk to a student or group of students privately (e.g. they come to office hours and want to discuss their grades), you can set up a waiting room for everyone else. Here are instructions for how to enable and use the waiting room feature (this needs to be done before you start the call).

Note: for Stanford affiliates, in Step 1 you should go to

Getting Feedback

If office hours are busy, you may want to be able to get a general sense of what students want; for instance, which problems the most students want to discuss. There are a few options.

Managing TA Sessions

General Suggestions

Schedule Office Hours using Canvas: from the course page, click "Zoom," then "Schedule a New Meeting." You can use the "Recurring Meeting" checkbox to schedule weekly sessions.

Do record TA sessions, in order to ensure that all students can learn from them, even if they are not available at the scheduled time. When setting up the Zoom meeting, check "Record the meeting automatically."

When it's time to run the TA Session, go to Canvas > Zoom, and click the "Start" button next to the relevant meeting. Do not start a new meeting directly from the Zoom app.


A good way to ask questions to everyone and to get feedback from students. See instructions for how to use polls in Zoom.

Warning: Polling in Zoom is not completely intuitive, and can sometimes behave strangely (for instance, unlike many other Zoom features, only the person who started the call may use polling; one can't transfer the ability to run polls to a new host. Also, if the host enters the call with multiple devices, polling is disabled.)

An alternative polling software to consider is Poll Everywhere.

Breakout Rooms

If you want to divide students into small groups to discuss problems before coming back to go over solutions, you can use Breakout rooms.

Sample use case:
  1. State a problem that you want the students to work on.
  2. Give students a minute or two to think about the problem on their own. In this time, start setting up: click "Breakout Rooms," choose an appropriate number of rooms to create, make sure "Automatically" is selected, and click "Create Rooms." (This will not open the rooms yet; you will have the opportunity to reassign students to different rooms if you wish.)
  3. Say something along these lines: "I'll now be assigning you to groups of 3-4 to discuss your work on this problem. You can use the Share Whiteboard feature to communicate written work. Make sure to discuss what techniques or strategies you use in your solution. You'll have seven minutes, and then we'll come back to the full group to discuss. Until then, you can click the "Ask for Help" button if you have any questions."
  4. Click "Open All Rooms." Students will be assigned to breakout rooms once they click "Join."
  5. From the Breakout Rooms dialog box:
    • You can Join individual breakout rooms by clicking "Join."
    • If someone in a breakout room clicks "Ask for Help," you will be shown an alert.
    • You can "Broadcast a message to all" (e.g. a correction or clarification, or reminder of how much time is remaining) and it will appear on their screens.
  6. When you click "Close All Rooms," students will have 60 seconds to finish their discussions and save their work before returning to the large group.
As a host, you can send announcements to all rooms (e.g. "five minutes left!" or corrections/clarifications), and you can join individual rooms to see how they're doing. Participants can ask for help, and you will be notified.

Collaborative Whiteboard

Shared Whiteboards can be used by all participants. Each Breakout Room can also get its own shared whiteboard, giving small groups a common workspace.

Note: shared Zoom whiteboards in breakout rooms are not automatically saved when the breakout rooms close. This should be fine for most use cases (a screenshot can still be saved, they just won't be able to keep writing on it), but if you want a shared whiteboard that small groups can go back to and keep editing, consider Explain Everything.

Content last updated March 2020. Return to homepage