5 Ideas for Using QR Codes in the Classroom to Increase Engagement

QR codes have become all the rage over the last year. From menus to sign-up forms to catalogs, our society has steadily made the shift from paper to digital.

QR codes aren’t just for displaying the menu of arguably the best ice cream in Savannah, GA (judging by the long lines). They are also an invaluable tool for classroom use. Keep reading to learn more about using QR codes in the classroom. 

What are QR codes?

The official definition of QR (Quick Response) code is “a machine-readable code consisting of an array of black and white squares, typically used for storing URLs or other information for reading by the camera on a smartphone.” Translation? A square made up of black and white squares that when scanned takes you to a website.

How do you create QR codes?

A quick Google search will reveal a variety of websites you can use to create your QR codes for the classroom. The two I’ve used the most in the past are QR Code Generator and The QR Code Generator – namely because they’re among the first two come up during said Google search.

Both sites do basically the same thing. The “QR Code Generator” (first link – why couldn’t they be more original?) gives you more choices of places to create QR codes for, as well as frame and color. The downside is that these features are part of the paid version. The free version works just fine though.

creating-qr-codes

examples of qr codes to use in the classroom

Implementing QR Codes

Technology needed

One of the great things about QR codes is that they require no special technology to use. If you’re a 1:1 school with Chromebooks, you can use the camera feature to scan the codes. Other laptops should also work (in theory), although I’ve never tried them. I can attest to the compatibility of Chromebooks, although they can be a bit cumbersome.

Not a 1:1 school? Not a problem. Just have your students use their cell phones. Phones are practically an appendage – why not put them to good use? Granted, this method will require more stringent monitoring. But it’s totally doable. iPhone users simply need to open their camera and point it at the QR code. Android users will need a QR code reader app; there are several free ones in the app store.

Ideas for using QR Codes in the Classroom

I’ve used QR codes for multiple things in my classroom over the years – both for “housekeeping” items and assignments.

A few years ago, I created a class website to house our calendar and copies of all assignments. Along with the website URL at the top of the syllabus, I put a QR code that led to the website. Took maybe five minutes. I printed it on a full sheet of paper and posted it outside my classroom as well.

qr-codes-in-the-classroom

 
Last year, during the height of Covid,  my school was really trying to cut down on the amount of paper we have floating around. QR codes to the rescue. During pre-service for last school year, we used QR codes to sign in to our trainings. Tardy students now scan a QR code and complete a form that serves as their tardy pass to class. Need to use the restroom? Scan the code, fill out your name and the hall number, and bam! You have your pass. No more stopping instruction to write passes or having a shared pass with untold germs.
 

Whole Class Assignments

Looking to save paper? Give your students a  QR code (or project it and have students scan it). Codes can lead to anything you’d like – assignment, article, video, photo.

Case in point. A few years ago, I was teaching Of Mice and Men to my 11th-grade students. After each section, students had to complete a series of exercises requiring them to close read the section for various literary devices and techniques.

For section 4, I decided to switch things up a bit. I created two Google Slides presentations – one focusing on theme and one focusing on figurative language and literary devices. Each presentation had a QR code that led to it. There was also a third QR code which led to an article on CommonLit.  Working in groups, students scanned the QR codes to access the questions, then recorded their responses on their task sheet.

using qr-codes-in-the-classroom OMAM 1

Students were still held accountable for the same type of information as in sections 1-3, but using the QR codes allowed for a change of pace and led to more engagement.

Small Group Instruction

QR codes are perfect for differentiating assignments. Link to adapted versions of texts or videos to help supplement the material. Assign each group a certain article to read or video to watch then have them report back to the whole class. Easy way to hit some of those Speaking/Listening standards. Plus, who doesn’t love a day where the students do most of the work?

 

 

Other ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom

  1. Task cards. Include QR codes that will lead students to a review of the skill being addressed or supplemental material. If you’re differentiating the task cards, then using the QR codes adds an extra layer. Struggling students are taken to remediation resources; others are taken to enrichment activities.
  2. Student portfolios.  The same year that I used the QR codes for Of Mice and Men, I also created class portfolios of various assignments. A QR code was created for each “portfolio” and displayed on the class bulletin board. A quick scan of the code revealed highlights of projects and other assignments. Portfolios are great for parent/teacher conferences or observations – or when the powers that be from the district decide to visit your classroom (voice of experience here folks).
  3. Introduction to a time period, author, and/or text.  Many of us have used webquests to provide background information for a specific text or unit. Instead of providing a series of web URLs, create a QR code for each link. Students can complete a gallery walk to visit the different sites. Movement automatically increases engagement. Here’s an example of one I created as an introduction to The Great Gatsby.

Have you used QR codes in the classroom? Leave a comment below sharing your favorite tips and activities.

Interested in The Great Gatsby Introduction QR Code Webquest?  

Looking for more ways to incorporate technology into your classroom? Read 4 Tools to Use for Quick Data Collection. 

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