The Basics of How to Use Zoom for Online Classes

Zoom app logo on the screen smartphone closeup. Zoom Video Communications is a company that provides remote conferencing services. Daily planner with a pen.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. Purchases made through my affiliate links provide a small commission for me at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I know/use.

Zoom is being used more and more. All students (but especially online students) will use Zoom at some point which is why it is important to know how to use Zoom for online classes.

I don’t know about you, but I am always super anxious when using a program I am unfamiliar with. Luckily, Zoom is actually really easy to use.

In this Zoom basic tutorial, you will learn all about the basic features of Zoom and a step-by-step guide on how to use Zoom for online classes.

Want to look your best on Zoom? Good webcam lightingOpens in a new tab. and a laptop standOpens in a new tab. to keep your camera at eye level will help you look great!

What is Zoom?

Zoom is a video conferencing platform. It allows you to do audio or video meetings that can be recorded to your computer or the cloud.

Check out all the benefits of Prime StudentOpens in a new tab.. Click hereOpens in a new tab. to sign up for Prime Student.

How to join a Zoom meeting for the first time

The most common way that you will need to use Zoom is to join a meeting. This could be a lecture, office hours, a conference with the career services, appointments, career fairs, interviews, or a group meeting for a course. In these cases, an invite will either be posted or emailed to you. It will look like this:

Invite for Zoom Meeting

Do you need a Zoom account to join a Zoom meeting?

You do not need a Zoom account to join a Zoom meeting. You just click on the link, and you will be able to either directly join the meeting or join once the host admits you.

If you don’t want to use your microphone on your computer for the audio, you can call in on the phone. Just call the number listed. When using the link or calling in, you may be asked for the meeting ID # (on the invite), so have that ready.

Joining using Zoom Application

When you click on the link, it will download the Zoom app to your computer or ask to open the app if you already have it downloaded.

If you want to skip this step, you can open Zoom on your computer and click “Join.”

Join group meeting

Then put in your meeting ID:

Join meeting: Meeting ID

How do I join a Zoom meeting on my phone or Ipad?

To join a Zoom meeting on your phone or tablet, click on the Zoom link. If you already have the Zoom app downloaded, you will click “Launch Meeting”:

Launching Zoom app on phone

If you don’t have the Zoom app already, click “Download from App Store”.

Creating an account

If you are scheduling a meeting, you will want to have an account.

To get the benefits of the pro plans, such as not limiting the meeting to 40 minutes or less (which the free account does) or being admitted because you are using your school email address, create an account through your school login.

For help, check out our post on Setting Up School Zoom AccountOpens in a new tab..

The free account is all that you will need for most school-related meetings. Plus, for office hours, appointments, career fairs, interviews, etc… they set up the meeting and send you the link. This means that you are using the other person’s/organization’s pro plan.

So if your school doesn’t offer a Zoom account or you just want your own free account, here is how to create an account.

Go to Zoom’s homepage:

Zoom homepage

Click “Sign Up, It’s Free” and then make an account (it is super easy and self-explanatory).

Scheduling a Meeting

You may be part of a group and need to schedule a meeting. This is simple. When you Sign In, you should be taken to your account.

From there, click Meetings on the left-hand side:

Scheduling a Zoom meeting

Then click Schedule a New Meeting.

From there, you will be taken to a page to fill out about the meeting.

Meeting basics:

  • Put in the name (topic) of the meeting.
  • You can put in a description.
  • Select the date and time.
  • Pay attention to select the correct time zone!
Filling out the schedule a meeting section 1

Options for the meeting:

  • If you want video, make sure to click on for both the host and participant because the default is set at off.
  • The default is set to both for audio so that people can decide if they want to use their phone or computer microphone. I would keep it set this way.
  • I recommend making sure that “Enable join before host” is clicked under meeting options. This way, other people can get on before you (this is especially handy if someone hasn’t used Zoom before and wants to get on a little early in case they run into problems).
Filling out the schedule a meeting section 2

Then click Save.

After you save it, you will be taken to the meeting page:

Meeting page

Review it and then click “copy the invitation”.

This will pop up:

Copy Meeting Invitation

Click copy meeting invitation and then paste it where the other group members can see (such as email or group discussion board).

Recording a meeting

When you are in a meeting, the bottom bar will look like this:

Bottom bar on meeting

Here you see the options. You can mute and stop the video (if you weren’t using video, you could click there to start the video). You can also use screen sharing, and chat.

Another useful feature is the record option. When you click on it, you get 2 options: Record to your computer or to the cloud. Since I have had some trouble recording to my computer, I recommend recording to the cloud. This has worked great for me.

Make sure that you tell people if you are recording a meeting.

Note: The host has to give permission for others to record. If you want/need to record the meeting, you should talk to the host. It may be easiest if they record the meeting and then send you the link (that is what I have done).

Can you record a Zoom meeting without showing participants?

To record a Zoom meeting without showing participants, start the screen share first. On the toolbar, click the “More” button and select “Record” to start recording.

While screen sharing the More dropdown list on Toolbar with a red arrow pointing to "Record"

Then it will only record your screen share and not the participants.

To access a recording

Once your meeting is over and you want to see the recording, you can click “Recordings” on the left-hand sidebar.

Zoom cloud recordings

Then find whatever recording you want and click on it.

This is what you will see:

How to use zoom: access your meetings

You click on whichever format you want to view (either Speaker or Gallery). You can also copy a link to let others view the recording. To do this, hover over the format you want and then click the link (the middle option that the arrow is pointing to).

Speaker view shows only the person that is speaking at that moment.


Speaker View Example

Gallery view shows everyone at once.

Example (I colored out the rest of the people in the meeting for their privacy):

Gallery view example

I would recommend sharing the Gallery view if your group is small and Speaker view if there are a lot of people at the meeting.

For more information about the views on Zoom, check out How Do I Change the View on Zoom? (For All Different Views)Opens in a new tab.

Additional Zoom features

Let’s go over some of the additional Zoom features you will probably need to use.


To screen share, you click “Share Screen”:

Zoom toolbar with a red arrow pointing to "Share screen"

Then pick what you want to share:

Screen sharing options

I would recommend picking a tab of what you want to share instead of your whole Desktop. If you are sharing a video and want the other participants to be able to hear the sound, make sure that you check the “Share sound” box on the bottom left-hand corner.


When screen sharing, you will see a floating toolbar. Click on the annotate option:

Screen sharing toolbar on Zoom with a red arrow pointing to "Annotate"

You will then be able to draw, erase, etc…

Annotate toolbar on Zoom


When screen sharing, Zoom also has a Whiteboard.

How do I use the whiteboard in Zoom?

Just as above, click “Share Screen,” instead of picking a window to screen share, click the “Whiteboard” option. You will then be given the same tools as annotating but on the whiteboard.

Zoom whiteboard

Fair warning: You may have terrible handwriting, like me, when trying to write with your keypad.

Zoom Reaction

Zoom reactions help you give nonverbal feedback during the lesson.

To use any of the reactions, click on the “Reactions button on the bottom toolbar”:

Zoom toolbar with red arrow pointing to "Reactions"

Then you can click on any of the shown reactions or click on the more option to see all the emojis.

Zoom reactions with a red arrow pointing to the "More" option

How do you raise a hand in Zoom?

Raise a hand in Zoom by clicking the reactions button on the bottom toolbar and then clicking “Raise hand”. 

This emoji will remain until you click “Lower hand.”

If you are calling into the Zoom meeting, you can raise your hand by dialing *9. This will tell the host that you have your hand raised. To lower your hand, you click *9 again. 

How do you clap in Zoom?

Clap in Zoom by clicking the reaction button on the bottom toolbar and then clicking the first option showing the clapping hands.

The emoji will stay on the screen for 10 seconds.

How do you use thumbs up in Zoom?

Give a thumbs up in Zoom by clicking the button on the bottom toolbar and then clicking the thumbs up emoji. It will stay on the screen for 10 seconds.

To learn more about Zoom reactions, including how to change their skin tone, check out our post on Zoom: Reactions, Nonverbal Feedback, & Gesture RecognitionOpens in a new tab..


You will use the chat feature in Zoom to provide feedback and talk to other students.

Where is the chat option in Zoom?

The chat option in Zoom is on the bottom toolbar. 

Zoom bottom toolbar with red arrow pointing to "Chat"

How does zoom chat work?

Zoom chat allows you to send messages, links, emojis, etc… to everyone or to specific participants. 

Where is the send button on Zoom chat? 

To send a message on Zoom chat, click enter.

Emojis in Zoom chat

Zoom chat with emojis

Click on the emoji option to send any emoji in the Zoom chat, including a smiley face, heart, and thumbs up.

Frequently asked questions about Zoom

Do you need a webcam for Zoom?

You need a webcam for Zoom if you are going to turn your video on (which is polite and recommended). Luckily, your camera on your laptop, tablet, or phone will work perfectly, but if you want, you can also use an external webcam (this is a nice webcamOpens in a new tab. on Amazon). Zoom makes selecting which camera you want Zoom to use easy.

Go to the dashboard and click on your picture (or sometimes initials) in the top right-hand corner. Then select “Settings”:

Zoom app dashboard with profile dropdown list and red arrow pointing to "Settings"

From there, click on the Video tab on the left, and you will see the Camera option where it has a dropdown list of all your connected cameras that you can pick from:

Video tab on Zoom's settings with a red arrow pointing to "camera" drop down list

Not having your right camera connected is one of the most common reasons why people can’t see themselves on Zoom. Check out our postOpens in a new tab. to find out the other causes and solutions.

How do I display my name in Zoom meetings?

Users can change their display name on Zoom by either changing their default before the meeting or changing their participant name during the meeting.

To change your default name, sign into Zoom on a web browser. It should open up to your profile page. Click “Edit”:

Zoom on web browser with a red arrow to "Edit" on profile

From there, you can specify your chosen “Display Name”:

Zoom profile edit with a red arrow to "Display Name"

To change your name during a Zoom meeting, click on Participants on the bottom toolbar:

Red arrow pointing to "Participants" on Zoom bottom toolbar

On your name, click the “More” button and then click “Rename” and put whatever name you prefer.

Participants list "More" option to show where the "Rename" button is

Can a Zoom meeting run without the host?

A Zoom meeting can run without the host by making sure you Enable participants to join before the host.

When the meeting invite is being made, leave “Waiting room” unchecked:

Zoom schedule a meeting with red arrow pointing to "Waiting Room"

And check “Allow participants to join anytime”:

Zoom schedule a meeting with a red arrow pointing to "Allow participants to join anytime"

Does Zoom kick you off after 40 minutes?

Zoom kicks free users off after 40 minutes. However, school Zoom accounts are normally Pro, meaning they do not have the 40-minute time limit.

To get the Pro school Zoom account, students need to sign up through their school login. For help, check out our post on Setting Up School Zoom AccountOpens in a new tab..

Keep in mind that school Zoom accounts will vary depending on the school’s account and plan, so you will need to check with your school to see if there is a time limit.

How long does a Zoom meeting link last?

Instant Zoom meeting links last until the meeting is over. Non-recurring Zoom meeting links last for 30 days and then expire. Recurring Zoom links last until it has been over a year since it has been used or has been deleted from your account.

Best practices for Zoom class

Here is a list of some tips and best practices to help you know how to use Zoom for online classes:

  • Have your video on (it may be considered rude to leave it offOpens in a new tab.). 
  • Wear appropriate clothes. Unless they specifically say audio-only, you should always assume it is a video meeting and be ready to turn your video on. 
  • Have the camera at eye level and try to make “eye contact”. You can get a laptop standOpens in a new tab. to help.
  • Be in a well-lit, quiet, and tidy place. The Lume cubeOpens in a new tab. can help with lighting.
  • Wear headphones or headsets to help you hear the class and for them to hear you. I have used Bose headphonesOpens in a new tab. for almost 15 years, and I LOVE them.
  • Don’t keep changing your virtual background since this can be distracting. 
  • Stay muted unless you are talking to reduce background noise. 
  • Stay engaged in the class by providing feedback and contributing to the group discussion. 
  • Turn off notifications, close email, get off social media, and put your phone away.

All of these should help you pay attention in your Zoom classOpens in a new tab..

Now you are all set! No need to stress! You can go into your meeting confident that you know what you are doing!

If this post on Zoom basics was helpful, please share it!

Check out these posts to learn more about how to succeed in online classes and how to use Canvas.

My favorite products for Zoom meetings and classes 

Thank you for reading this article—I hope you found it helpful! Here are some of the best products I have found to help make Zoom meetings and classes go smoothly. 

Noise-canceling headphones: All students and anyone attending a lot of Zoom meetings need to invest in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. I have used Bose earphonesOpens in a new tab. for over a decade, and I love them! I practically live in my earphones and have tried many different brands. Bose is by far the best brand at actually blocking out noise. 

Laptop stand: One of the best ways to look good on video calls is to have the camera at eye level. A laptop standOpens in a new tab. is an easy and affordable way to do this. 

Webcam: If you have a good laptopOpens in a new tab. with a functioning webcam, then you don’t need to buy an additional webcam, but if your laptop webcam is poor quality, you may need to buy a webcamOpens in a new tab..

Webcam lighting: Another way to look good on video calls is to have good lighting. A great way to achieve this is with lighting that attaches to your computerOpens in a new tab.. This will also ensure that you can be seen no matter where you attend are when you attend the Zoom meeting.

To see all of my most up-to-date recommendations for tools and products for students, check out this resourceOpens in a new tab. that I made for you!

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