Your House Is Now Your Classroom! Creative Ideas To Use To Engage Your Students Virtually
Updated: Mar 16, 2020
Where do you even start? There are many of us out there using online resources in our classrooms who are tech-savvy (or not tech-savvy) and know it’s hard to wrap our heads around how to teach and accommodate all your student’s needs from home. And on top of everything else, you’re now at home with your own family and have other obligations, too.
First, take a deep breath. Accept that you will not be able to accomplish everything and that’s ok.
I will do my best to touch on as many circumstances as I can throughout this blog. If your school has an LMS (Learning Management System) then you will have a place to house student assignments. If your school does not have an LMS or use Google Classroom, then we’ll have to get creative.
Step 1. Go over your school’s expectations and plan
Step 2. Assess your student’s needs
Divide students into groups. Do they have devices? Can they get online at home? Are their families still working and able to support them? Will you have very little contact?
Then take these categories and think of weekly tasks for each one. If you have other teachers at your grade level, collaborate with them. Each teacher can take a subject they help design for the week.
Before getting started, let your students know this is new for you, too. Explain that it may be challenging at first, but you can make it work. Make it sound like a big deal that they are the first ones to take this adventure with you. Talk about how lucky we are to live in a time where we can communicate, collaborate, and share virtually.
Think about what each day will look like
You can decide to break students up into groups by level or by their availability of tech at home. You can decide to meet with specific students at a certain time each day or assign your students each a day that they will work with you at certain times. The rest of the week they are working independently. Groups can gather for a mini-lesson on the topic for the week. Or it could be for a math lesson or guided reading lesson. Invite parents to listen too if they want to. Then they can help support their child at home.
Send a video home
If your students are younger, you may have to create some how-to videos to support your students and their families. I like Screencastomatic for this, but Screencastify is also good and saves automatically to your Google Drive. If you haven’t made many videos, each one will get easier, and you do get used to hearing your own voice.
How to communicate with your students
If you teach a younger grade and they are used to a daily Morning Meeting consider still hosting one each morning. If you have your own kids at home, they can join in, too. The best sites for this are Zoom or Google Hangout. Both allow students to call in if using a device is not an option. If this seems like too much for your students, consider creating a video they receive each morning. You can create a video using your phone and upload it to your LMS. Or you can use something like Screencastify to make your videos. Older students (and younger too) can use Flipgrid to communicate. It’s great for responding to the teacher’s morning message, working on a group activity or project, and sharing with the rest of the class. It gives students a voice when they aren’t able to see each other, or you, every day.
Make yourself available
Think about having “office hours” each week. Pick three-four hours a week that you will be available. Make sure two hours are in the morning and two are in the afternoon to accommodate everyone’s schedules. You can decide to have an optional Zoom or Google Hangout where students or parents can pop in. You can also decide to have students or parents simply call you. If you don’t want parents to have your phone number, sign up for Google Voice.
Create a required amount of time that students read each day
If your students are younger, encourage them to read to someone living with them: a grandparent, a baby brother, their goldfish, their pet dog, or their favorite stuffed animal. Older groups can work on tasks around the books they are studying. If they do not have books, look into Newsela, Epic, or virtual libraries. Or record read alouds for your students to listen to on their own. For younger students, encourage them to create a cozy corner where they will be reading during this time at home. Send a picture (or show them) where you like to read at home.
Documenting their journey at home
Create a project depending on your student’s grade level. Give them an ongoing assignment to document life being at home. Encourage them to create an entry each day. These can be done within a weekly Flipgrid. Or students can create their own way of documenting. Give them choices. Allow them to create videos, write in a journal, draw pictures with captions, create slides, a collage—anything! When everyone returns to school, each student will have a project to share with their peers.
Consider creating choice boards for weekly projects
These can have both non-tech and tech tasks on them. This makes them appeal to any of your students. See examples here. These could be presented each day or, if you are only meeting with your students on Monday and Friday, then they can have the week to work on it. Decide how many choices each student must complete.
If you haven’t created a playlist, now is your time to try
Playlists were first designed to allow students the opportunity to complete tasks at home so that they could collaborate when in school. In this case, think about the resources you wish for them to have for a specific subject. It can include articles, videos you’ve created (directions or how to solve a problem), pictures or charts—you can even add a quiz at the end to gauge how well they understand the knowledge. If playlists are new to your students, create a video that explains how to navigate them. Remind students that most playlists can be viewed in any order they choose. Blendpace is a great resource to find premade playlists (that you can edit) and also create your own.
Encouraging collaboration while working virtually
So many programs have this feature. Think about having students collaborate on something within a Google Doc or Google Slides. They can often communicate within their LMS, too. I keep mentioning Flipgrid, but again the possibilities are endless. Create a Padlet where students have conversations on a certain topic you are studying.
Giving students feedback
Student feedback can be given within their Google Doc. You can add comments or even do a quick Screencastify video where you give them feedback on a project as if you were meeting with them in person. Just record your screen as you point out what you like or needs to be edited within a project.
Depending on the age of your students, consider sending home a brief survey on Fridays to see how virtual learning is going for them. What can be improved? What are they missing? What do they like? Google Forms is great for this! Use this data to improve the virtual journey next week.
Think Project-Based Learning
How can this coronavirus outbreak turn into a learning experience? Have students create projects of their own. This will make your older students feel like they have a purpose that they are helping brainstorm a solution for. Have them team up with a few students to do this project. You’ll be amazed at what your students come up with.
Send an email home on Friday
If you feel you are out of touch with your students, then send a letter home every Friday updating students and giving them tasks for the following week. If your students are older, ask them to send a letter they’ve created to their peers summarizing the highlights of the week.
Other resources that I love
Newsela is offering teachers their resources for free right now. Add your students to a class and you’ll be set to begin. Newsela provides articles on just about anything at all different Lexile levels.
Storybird is a great place to create online stories. Students can use pictures to help come up with topics, or just write about a topic that the teacher has assigned.
Buncee is one of my all-time favorites. It’s basically Google Slides on steroids. It allows any student to create! This would be a perfect tool for logging their journeys at home.
Show Me has been around forever! It is basically a digital whiteboard. It’s excellent for recording a step by step problem you need to send to your students.
Remember that you can only do so much. Set realistic goals for yourself and your students. Try incorporating something new each week. Most of all, take care of yourself!
Still looking for more resources?
Click on this link to see the Padlet It will continue to be updates daily.