10 Strategies Designed to Engage Elementary Students Online

A few weeks ago, I published a blog titled “8 Ideas Designed to Engage Students In Active Learning Online.” I had several elementary teachers request 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 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 work well during distance learning too. 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 students take photos of their work or record videos of themselves solving math problems or sharing their artwork or craft activities on Seesaw, Padlet, or FlipGrid.

#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.

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A Flipped Learning Flow for Blended or Online Classes

Need support preparing for fall? Check out my self-paced online course Prepare for Fall 2020: Blended & Online Learning.

As teachers prepare for a new school year, many are brushing up on their video production skills. Teachers know there will be times when they will need to lean on videos to allow students to access information asynchronously. Video has several benefits in a blended or online course. Videos put students in control of the pace they consume and process information. They can pause, rewind, or rewatch video content. Videos also become a resource for both students and parents as they work remotely.

When teachers use video to transfer information online, I encourage them to blend that video content into a complete learning experience.

Pre-video Activity: Before students watch a video, teachers can generate interest in the topic and create some context for the video content with a pre-video activity. This activity can happen in the classroom or online. Teachers can present students with an unfamiliar problem or prompt to pique their interest, ask them to generate questions about a topic, or assess their prior knowledge.

FlipGridRecord a response to a question
Explain what they know about a topic
Describe how they would solve the unfamiliar problem
PadletBrainstorm questions or wonderings
Make predictions about a topic
Post a picture of a problem they solved offline
SeesawRecord a video responding to a question or describing what they know about a topic
Post a photo of a picture they drew about a topic or a problem they tried to solve
Google Classroom QuestionAsk students to engage in a text-based discussion where they share what they know about a topic, brainstorm questions, or make predictions

Flip & Engage: As students watch a video, can you engage them around that video content, so they think more deeply about the information presented. Pairing the video with an engagement activity can also provide teachers with a strategy for checking to ensure that students watched the video.

EdPuzzleAdd audio notes, multiple choice, and short answer questions to videos
PlayPosit Pair videos with a range of question types including fill-in-the-blank, check all, poll, and discussion
Google Classroom QuestionPost a question that asks students to identify key information in the video, make connections between concepts, or ask questions
Digital or printable documentsProvide a structured note-taking template to help students identify the key points presented in the video

Post-video Activity: After students have seen the video, the post-video activity should encourage them to apply what they learned. This activity can act as a formative assessment strategy to gauge what students learned by watching the video and what gaps or misconceptions still exist that need to be addressed.

Google Forms Kahoot!
Create a quick quiz, review activity, or exit ticket to gather formative assessment data
Digital document Present a writing prompt asking students to respond to a question or questions related to the video content
Google Drawing or CanvaAsk students to create a concept map or sketchnotes to visually display key concepts from the video and their relationship to one another
G SuiteGroup students in a shared virtual space (e.g., Google Docs or Slides) and present them with a collaborative challenge that requires them to apply what they learned

Once students have completed the post-video activity, teachers can use the data collected to determine which students need additional instruction, scaffolds, or practice. If students are learning online, the teacher can organize a small group virtual conferencing session to spend time supporting the students who need additional help or instruction. Hosting small group video conferencing sessions allows the teacher to engage students in a discussion, modeling session, and guided practice.

Video is likely to play a significant role in blended and online courses this year. I hope this strategy helps teachers to weave that video content into a more complete learning experience to ensure that students can be successful learning online. If you have additional strategies that you use with your students or additional tools you think might help other teachers, please take a moment and post a comment!

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Preparing for Fall 2020: Blended and Online Learning

2020-2021 promises to be an unpredictable school year. Most of the teachers I know, including my husband and most of my friends, are not sure whether they will be returning to school on a hybrid schedule or teaching entirely online. That is making it a challenge to prepare for the new school year.

I’ve designed a self-paced online course to support teachers who are trying to prepare for the fall. The course is composed of six modules. Each module consists of four video lessons, action items, and templates, resources, and links to related readings. The action items encourage teachers to take what they learned in the video lessons to create resources they can use with students. Below is the breakdown of the course content.

Module 1: Teaching Presence–Designing Your Blended/Online Course

  • Lesson 1: Design Your Course Syllabus
  • Lesson 2: Set Up Your Virtual Classroom
  • Lesson 3: Curriculum Mapping for First Semester
  • Lesson 4: Helping Students Get (and Stay) Organized

Module 2: Teaching Presence–Designing Blended/Online Lessons

  • Lesson 1: Explore the Building Blocks of a Blended/Online Lesson
  • Lesson 2: Formative Assessment Strategies
  • Lesson 3: Differentiation
  • Lesson 4: Student Agency

Module 3: Teaching Presence–Blended/Online Instruction

  • Introduction: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction
  • Lesson 1: Asynchronous Instruction–Tips for Creating Strong Video Content & Engaging Students Around that Instruction
  • Lesson 2: Flip & Engage–Design a Three-Part Flipped Lesson
  • Lesson 3: Synchronous Instruction with Video Conferencing

Module 4: Teaching Presence: Facilitating Learning Online

  • Lesson 1: Designing Dynamic Discussion Questions
  • Lesson 2: Teaching Students to Say Something Substantial
  • Lesson 3: Deciding on a Realistic Facilitation Role
  • Lesson 4: Facilitating Synchronous Online Discussions

Module 5: Social Presence–Building Community Online

  • Lesson 1: Creating a Safe Space Online
  • Lesson 2: Getting to Know Your Students Online
  • Lesson 3: Building Community with Online Icebreakers
  • Lesson 4: Checking-in and Asking for Feedback

Module 6: Cognitive Presence–Student-centered Blended/Online Learning

  • Lesson 1: The Station Rotation Model
  • Lesson 2: Choice Boards
  • Lesson 3: Playlist Model
  • Lesson 4: 5Es Learning Experience

My goal was to create a course that would help teachers to develop higher levels of confidence as they approach the new school year. Research has established a clear connection between teachers’ feelings of self-efficacy, their level of engagement at work, and their job satisfaction (Granziera & Perera, 2019). Teachers who report higher levels of self-efficacy are:

  • more confident when faced with obstacles or setbacks,
  • take more risks,
  • experiment with innovative approaches to design and facilitation,
  • and are more satisfied with their work (Allinder, 1994; Coladarci, 1992; Dembo & Gibson, 1985; Granziera & Perera, 2019; Klassen & Chiu, 2010; Tschannen-Moran et al., 1998).

I hope this course will help teachers to feel more confident in their abilities to face the unknown this coming school year.

A certificate for 30 continuing education units (CEUs) is available for anyone who completes the entire course. It will be issued automatically when a teacher has completed the course.

School leaders interested in purchasing multiple licenses for your teachers can complete this form.

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