A few weeks ago, I published a blog titled “8 Ideas Designed to Engage Students In Active Learning Online.” Several elementary teachers requested that I work on a similar blog focused on younger learners. Below are ten strategies I hope will help elementary teachers to engage their young learners online.

#1 Create a Virtual Word Wall with a Bitmoji Classroom or Padlet

Teachers can virtually replicate the classic word wall in their Bitmoji classrooms. Teachers can hyperlink the individual words to videos so students can listen to the teacher sound out the word and define it. If teachers want students to identify new vocabulary words, they can create a Padlet Wall for new vocabulary that students can add to throughout a unit.

#2 Virtual Jigsaw Activity with Google Slides

Group 4-6 students on a shared Google Slide presentation. Label each slide with a topic. Either assign students a particular slide (by writing their names at the bottom of each slide) or allow students to select the slide they want to work on. Teachers can strategically assign slides to subtly differentiate learning or give students a degree of agency by allowing them to choose their slides.

I encourage teachers to:

  • Include a list of teacher-curated multimedia resources for students to explore.
  • Allow students time to investigate their topics and add content to their slides.
  • Dedicate time during a virtual conferencing session for the groups to share their work.

#3 Subject-specific Scavenger Hunts During Virtual Conferencing Sessions

When working with kids remotely, it’s essential to infuse fun into online learning. Scavenger hunts can increase student engagement during virtual conferencing sessions and create an incentive for students to want to attend.

Teachers can create scavenger hunts that are subject-specific and challenge students (and parents or caregivers) to find items around their homes. I encourage teachers to keep the scavenger hunt items general enough to ensure that all students will be able to find an item that meets the requirement.


#4 Digital Choice Boards

Choice boards are a favorite in many classrooms, but they also work well during distance learning. Teachers can combine online and offline activities, integrate the home environment and mix various subjects on their boards. If teachers make their choice boards on a digital document, like Google Docs, they can “make a copy” and modify them easily to change them at the start of each week.

As students complete tasks at home, teachers can ask parents or caregivers to help them take photos of their work, record videos of themselves solving math problems, or share their artwork or craft activities on Seesaw, Padlet, or FlipGrid.

Teachers can add fun online activities, like this website with free online puzzles for elementary students, to provide them with mentally stimulating games.

#5 Storytime + Graphic Organizers

Pulling storytime into a virtual conferencing session allows teachers to replicate a favorite class routine online. Teachers can read students a children’s book during a video conference or link students to a specific story on Storyline Online, where an actor reads a children’s book aloud to kids.

I encourage teachers to pair these stories with a graphic organizer activity (printable or digital) that asks students to think more deeply about the characters, setting, and events in the story. The Google Slide deck below has some activities that can be paired with storytime.


#6 Tell Me How on Seesaw or FlipGrid

Teachers can challenge students to explain a process and surface their thinking in a quick FlipGrid or Seesaw video. Instead of asking them to solve another set of problems or complete a writing task, ask students to explain how they would solve a math problem, write a story, or complete a task.

Once students have completed their recordings, they can watch their peers’ videos to hear how their classmates approached the same problem, prompt, or task. Watching each other’s videos encourages students to learn from one another online.

#7 I Do, We Do, You Do in Virtual Conferencing Sessions

Using a video conferencing session to facilitate an interactive I do, we do, you do modeling session can make this time more engaging for students. Teachers can model how to sound out a word, solve a problem, or construct a piece of writing. Then they can ask the group to help them tackle another similar example. Students can virtually raise their hands and unmute to share their suggestions assisting the teacher during the “we do.” Finally, teachers can project their screens, set a virtual timer, and ask students to try to apply the strategy on their own. After the time is up, teachers can pull the group back together and review answers or debrief. Giving students this time to practice during a video conferencing sessions creates space for students to try a strategy while still having access to the teacher and peers if they get stuck or have questions.

#8 Online Learning Stations

Learning stations are a staple in most elementary classrooms. They are used to engage students in a variety of activities, from reading to math to art projects. Teachers who enjoy planning stations can use a digital slide deck, like Google Slides, to create their learning stations complete with video instructions for younger learners. The learning stations can combine online and offline tasks and mix activities from various subject areas. Students and those supporting them at home can share offline work via Seesaw or FlipGrid.


#9 Acrostic Poem
Teachers can use the acrostic poem format to encourage students to explore the meaning of a word or the main idea in a story or text. Students can write a word, a sentence, or a poem that rhymes depending on their age. Teachers can format these acrostic poems in Google Drawing to allow students to work digitally or they can be printed for students who prefer to work offline or need a break from the screen.

#10 Online Fishbowl Discussion or Problem Solving Session

The classic fishbowl activity splits the class into two groups. While one group engages in a discussion or attempts to solve a problem, the second group observes. Prior to the video conference, the teacher will split the students into two groups–group A and group B. I’d suggest sharing your screen and having the students’ names clearly listed in a two-column chart.

Once students know what group they are in, the teacher presents group A with a question to discuss or a math problem to solve and sets the timer (e.g., 5 minutes). The students in group A will unmute and discuss a question or talk through the problem. While they engage with one another, group B will watch and observe.

When the timer goes off, the teacher can invite members of group B to unmute and share their thoughts. What did they notice as they observed their peers? What questions do they have? What suggestions would they make? After group B has had the opportunity to comment, the groups switch roles and group B engages in a discussion or problem-solving task while group A observes.

I would love for elementary teachers to share other strategies they found useful in engaging their students online during the spring.

Need support getting started with blended learning or online learning? Check out my self-paced online course.

33 Responses

  1. Dear Catlin, I really appreciate your amazing efforts and super duper work! Thanks a bunch. I would like to share some ideas with you as well.

  2. clearly described all points in one single post.Online learning presents additional challenges. Online students must have the motivation and discipline to work in isolation. A lack of face-to-face accountability makes it easier for an online student to give up without anyone noticing.

  3. Great ideas! Scavenger hunts are great for young learners. I’m a huge Flipgrid fan too! I also used Jamboard as an interactive whiteboard, you can read a couple of ideas in my post here https://teflzoneracheltsateri.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/6-google-jamboard-activities-your-students-willl-love/
    Collaborative writing with google docs also helped a lot (both homework and classwork). I found that students love break out rooms – they give them more privacy for pair work than the physical classroom and when they share in open class, I hear amazing things! I realized that though monitoring during pair work is good, over monitoring may be what’s making them shy and hesitant, so I don’t always join break out rooms to “check on them”

  4. Wonderful information! During the shutdown, I couldn’t reach some of my 30+ English language students. The ones that I could reach used their mother’s cell-phone to connect with me on Marco Polo. Marco Polo is a video chat app where you can talk with individuals or groups of students live.

  5. Hi,
    At the end of spring semester I asked my 3rd graders what they liked the most about our online learning. They mentioned virtual classrooms, collaborative projects in Google Slides, choice boards, interactive platforms, such as Edpuzzle and our synchronous meetings which is basically most of the activities on your list!
    In addition, they loved starting each day with my morning message – 2-3 minutes long welcome to a new day, with my face and lots of visuals. Some message also had a question of the day to engage students right from the start.
    Another popular activity was mystery guests in our synchronous class meetings. When I did it in my class, the guests were parents or other teachers who could contribute to what we were currently learning about. The mystery component of the mystery guest built huge excitement among the students and the results were very positive.

    • Thank you for sharing your 3rd-grade students’ feedback on online learning, Katarzyna! Our students are the best resources when it comes to learning about what works online 🙂

      Take care.

  6. Is there a Secondary list also. I am creating a session on online engagement for my secondary teachers and can use any help that available. Thanks.

  7. Good ideas, but kindergarten and first graders are going to be limited with what they can read etc. Any resources you would suggest to simplify the remote learning would be great.

    • In our kindergarten building, we are just now venturing into the online learning format with the start of this school year. We have found that Seesaw is an amazing platform, with easy to use pre-loaded activities, capability to create your own lessons, and very kinder appropriate user options (touch screen drawing, typing, video, or camera options for responses). We are really excited about it!

      • Yes, Seesaw is AWESOME for elementary. The creative tools give students agency over how they share or demonstrate their learning. I also love the video and audio recording capabilities that teachers can use to communicate information online. I’m so glad you have access to it!


  8. I love your creative thinking of on-line or off-line strategies to engage students in learning. I’ve done the scavenger hunt for grouping in math. I liked the fish bowl idea.

  9. Have any of these great ideas been tried with first graders ? I still don’t feel that they will be capable to do any of these independently.

  10. All great ideas! I teach prek . I have already been using Google slides and it has made my lessons run more smoothly. At first I wasted too much time trying to look for the different windows on my desktop, or trying to hold up my laptop to my homemade whiteboard and bulletin board. I have also had scavenger hunts with my students and they have so much fun describing what they found.

    • Hello Catlin, thanks for getting back to me and pointing me to this post. You have such amazing ideas and I’m pretty sure all my teachers will love. Cheers!

  11. Such great ideas! We already use quite a few in our virtual classroom already. My kids love the scavenger hunts!

  12. Good morning, Dr. Catlin Tucker thanks for the information given through this PD that you have because in the begininng I felt teaching kids online would be a little difficult in an Elementary School level. And I teach AU kids and keeping them engaged with them not being in front of you I though would be very challenging but with your knowledge on ways to help is going to make it a little easier and will have the kids and parents more intrigued.

    • Thank you for this kind comment, Prince. I’m thrilled this has given you some ideas for how you can engage elementary level students! I think the more we can tap into their curiosity and design creative tasks, the more likely they are to stay engaged even if we are not in front of them.

      Take care.

  13. Hi Caitlin!

    I really enjoyed your ideas for how to better approach online learning. I’m a 5th Grade teacher, and while many of my students love using the chromebooks daily, I’ve found myself sometimes having trouble incorporating them as much as I’d like to. I love your idea of Literary Stations with the use of Google Slides. I think this can help students be more independent, but in a way that engages them. I also love your idea of video conferencing. One thing I’ve used this year for conferencing was Flip. It allowed my students to create videos discussing their ideas for their books or Math problems. From there, I left video feedback that helped them engage in more virtual conferencing, and let them look over my feedback to support them during independent practice.

    Thank you so much for these ideas! I can’t wait to try them out this year.

    • You’re very welcome, Ryanne! I am thrilled this was useful for you.

      I love Flip because it is so versatile. Glad you are finding a way to leverage it for conferencing!

      Take care.

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