Tips and Tricks to Make Virtual Learning a Success!
It’s no secret that during distance learning, students spend a lot of time in front of a computer or tablet. There’s really no way to avoid it, but there are some things you can do to make your virtual meetings more engaging and interactive.
In this blog post, you’ll find lots of ideas for getting your students more involved in the learning process when they can’t be in the classroom with you. Make sure you read all the way through because there are some great freebies for you!
#1. Reinforce expectations with a Virtual Learning Reward Chart
First and foremost, you want to set the stage for a successful virtual classroom environment. That means you need your students to know the expectations and want to follow them. When they’re not right in front of you, that can be difficult…so why not try a digital class reward chart?
A reward chart gives them a little bit of an incentive to make good choices. It can give you a concrete way to let them know when they’re doing well. Plus, when they earn the reward and you do something just for fun together, it gives you a chance to build those oh-so-important relationships.
And, guess what? I decided to put together a set of Mystery Picture Digital Reward Charts for my TpT store, but then I thought…why not give away a little sampler pack freebie so you can see what it’s all about?
With these digital reward charts, you’ll be able to guide your students’ behaviors and help them meet expectations by providing specific goals and a super fun incentive. Your class will LOVE working towards revealing the mystery picture and earning a class reward! With the free download, you’ll get two themes: Rock Band & Ocean…and each theme has charts with 10, 15, or 20 spaces.
In need of some ideas for rewards? I’ve got you covered!
Virtual Reward Ideas:
- Dress up day or theme day
- Go on a virtual field trip
- Do an art lesson – I love Art For Kids Hub on YouTube! (Quick and easy drawing videos that little learners can easily complete)
- Make the teacher dress up – students get to pick what the teacher wears for the day
- Hot cocoa party – send students an individual packet of hot cocoa – everyone drinks their hot cocoa together virtually
- Virtual lunch date
- Play some just-for-fun games – either digital or active games that can be played from home
- GoNoodle party (or brain break party) – 15-20 minutes of brain breaks
In-Person Reward Ideas:
- Silly sock day – take your shoes off whenever you’re in your own classroom
- Cuddle buddy day – students can bring a stuffed animal and they get to cuddle with it for the day
- Game day – students bring in a game that they know how to play and can teach to others – and you spend 30-60 minutes playing games
- Dress up days – PJ day, hat day, etc.
- Lunch in the classroom – eat with your class in your room instead of the cafeteria.
- Movie & popcorn
- Hot cocoa party
- Play time or extra recess
- Extra tech time
- GoNoodle party (or brain break party) – set aside 15-20 minutes and just do brain breaks
- Switcharoo – switch table spots, rug spots, line spots, etc. for the day
- Play a just-for-fun game like hot potato or musical chairs
#2. Use activities that get them moving
I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m sitting in a virtual meeting, my mind immediately starts to wander. It’s so hard to sit in front of the screen and stay focused on what’s happening there!
One way to help your students re-focus their attention is by planning an activity that gets them up and moving. Whether it’s a quick brain break or an activity with a learning objective, getting their blood flowing will help them stay on track. Here are some ideas to get your students moving during virtual learning:
This was one of my go-to activities when we first started distance learning last spring. My students had SUCH a blast getting up and looking around their houses for the items I called out. And afterwards, they loved getting the chance to share what they found!
I purchased Primary Playground’s Scavenger Hunt pack and I promise you, it is worth every penny! Though it’s a great price at just $4.00. There are over 100 scavenger hunts with all sorts of academic skills and fun themes. You can check it out in her TpT store here:
I think we all know the power of a good brain break! Luckily there are lots of places to find some really great ones. They may be a little different during a virtual meeting, but they’re just as important, so don’t let that stop you.
You could share your screen while you play a video from YouTube or GoNoodle. I especially like Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube – she has so many high-interest themed videos. A few of my students’ favorites have been Pokemon, Sonic the Hedgehog, Trolls, and Frozen. My personal favorite is this one that teaches kids about handwashing:
Sit or Stand
In the classroom, one of my favorite ways for students to get to know each other was to have them walk around the room and do surveys. We would also practice turn & talk with getting-to-know-you topics. Unfortunately, when you’re distance learning, those activities aren’t really an option.
A good replacement activity is a game called Sit or Stand. To play, you just call out something like, “Sit down if you prefer chocolate milk. Stand up if you prefer white milk.” Then take a minute to see how many students made each choice and talk about why they chose it.
For a free printable list of Sit or Stand topics, head over to this blog post!
#3. Play digital games during virtual learning
Research shows that kids learn best through play, so incorporating interactive games into virtual learning is a great way to get kids excited about the topic or skill you’re teaching.
For my own distance learning purposes, I created digital versions of a couple of our favorite classroom games. And wouldn’t you know it…my students loved the digital versions during our virtual learning just as much as they loved them in the classroom!
Seek & Find
I was introduced to Seek & Find during my first year of teaching, when my principal sent me to observe how other kindergarten teachers were doing Morning Meeting. I absolutely fell in love with it because it’s so simple, yet it reinforces important skills. And my students seriously BEGGED to play it!
So when we had to switch to distance learning, I started creating digital versions for PowerPoint & Google Slides.
To play, a student picks one of the cards by reading the letter/number/word on it. Then you click on/remove that card. If the hidden object is behind it, that player is the winner! If not, the next student chooses a card. Play continues until the object is uncovered.
What’s so powerful about this game is that students who may not be confident in the skill can choose a card that they know. But they’re also listening to the other students pick cards that they may not know – so they’re learning whether it’s their turn or not.
And what I love about the digital version is that you can play it during a virtual meeting, or you can play it with students in your classroom by projecting it on your smart board or screen. And you don’t have to hassle with all the printing and laminating that the traditional pocket chart version requires!
If you’re not sure how Digital Seek & Find would work with your students, you can get a sample set in this MEGA BUNDLE of free resources!
You can also find learn more about Digital Seek & Find in my TpT store:
The other game that my students loved to play in the classroom is Mystery Sentence, which is basically Hangman without the dead guy.
To play, a student guesses a letter and the teacher removes that letter card from the board. If there’s another letter underneath, it’s in the sentence and gets moved up to its place.
If there isn’t another letter underneath, it’s not in the sentence and one of the 10 stars at the top gets removed. When all the stars are removed, the game is over and the teacher wins. But if students solve the sentence before they run out of stars, they win! Each game includes an optional 1 minute dance party to celebrate with. Here’s a little video preview:
This game is an excellent way to review & reinforce sight words, CVC words, vowels & consonants, and sentence features (they start with an uppercase, have spaces between words, and end with punctuation). And for those little sweeties who aren’t ready to focus on those skills, they’re getting some great letter identification practice!
It is so amazing to see how good students get at solving the puzzles…and that means they’re figuring out ALL those skills I just listed above. That’s why I ended up creating 4 different levels of Mystery Sentence Digital. Take a peek at the bundle in my TpT store, or just pick the level that’s a good fit for your class.
#4. Assign hands-on activities to complete during live meetings
Let’s be honest: in the classroom, we don’t do 100% whole group lessons for hours on end, so why do them that way during virtual learning? Although you may be required to spend a certain amount of time live with your students – and I’ve heard of some schools that are asking for hours of it – it’s not realistic to expect your students to stay focused on the screen for that long.
I get it – these expectations are coming from administrators who are just trying to make sure students are getting the face-to-face time they deserve. But trying to get 5 and 6 year olds to sit in front of a screen and listen for that long is just not realistic.
So why not treat your time in front of students just as you would in the classroom? Try a more realistic model: teach a short whole-group lesson, give them time to practice, then bring them back together to reflect on their learning.
If they’re doing the work and you’re still on a live meeting with them, they have the opportunity to ask questions and get help if they need it. Plus, you can make sure they’re staying on task and not getting the answers from their parents or older siblings. Er, wait….that never happens…does it? 😜
- Complete pages in curriculum workbooks
- Work on packets you put together for them
- Do a project or STEM activity
Modify activities you would have them do in the classroom
Think about what you would be having them do in the classroom and see if you can find a way for them to do it with things they have around the house.
One thing I discovered right away when we first started distance learning was that our district’s math curriculum was not going to work at home. Almost every lesson involved manipulatives that could not be sent home.
Although I taught the lessons the best that I could, I quickly found that my students needed more opportunity for hands-on practice. So I started taking the skills and concepts from the lessons and creating activities that could be done with items around the house.
What resulted was Home Learning Hands-On Math: 50 lessons written in a way that parents can understand, without the need for special materials and manipulatives. The activities in this resource would be great for students to work on during a live meeting.
Here’s a FREE sample lesson – click on the image to download your copy and give it a try. Then check out the whole pack in my TpT store!
After students have had a chance to do some independent work, you can bring the class back together and reflect on what they learned through their work. Which brings me to another way to engage students in virtual learning: let them share their work and/or skills with the class!
#5. Provide opportunities for students to share their work/skills
Giving students a chance to share their work has several benefits, especially when they know in advance that they’ll get to show their work to their classmates:
- It may motivate them to put in more effort if they know others will see it
- They’re likely to feel a sense of pride when others give positive feedback
- They can learn from the work of other students
- Someone else’s ideas/abilities may inspire them to try something new
- The classroom community is strengthened when students get the chance to speak and listen to each other
- Students get to take more active ownership in the learning vs. just hearing from the teacher all the time
That being said, I would never force a student to share their work or show a skill if they don’t want to. When students are shy or scared, making them share something with the class may be traumatic for them. If you do have a student who’s afraid to speak about their work, one thing you could do is ask them if you can share it instead. That way they have a chance to feel pride in their work without having to do the big scary thing of speaking in front of the class.
Here are some things you could have students share with one another during your virtual learning sessions:
- Writing pieces
- Art/STEM projects
- Seesaw/Google Classroom assignments
Invite students to read to the class
In my experience, students LOVE the chance to read to the class – even those who aren’t quite readers yet. Over the years, I’ve approached this a few different ways, but usually I would let 1 or 2 students read each day. And this is totally do-able during virtual learning! You might just need to remind them to show the pictures after they read a page.
To get them excited about reading to the class, I’d first make a big show about how impressed I am with their reading, then I’d pretend like I just had a sudden idea, like, “Oh my goodness, that gives me an idea! You’re such good readers, maybe YOU should start reading to the class!“ And then I’d ask who is interested and jot their names down.
As far as what to have students read, you could go a couple different ways. You might invite them to pick a favorite book from home and tell them to practice with their grown-ups before it’s their day to read. Or you might stick with leveled readers you’ve been working on together. Or you might let them pick from either of those options.
No matter which option you choose, your students are going to love showing off their reading skills – and they’re going to love listening to each other read for a nice change of pace too!
Virtual Show & Tell
Show & Tell is a great way to reinforce learning and practice those super important skills of speaking and listening. And it doesn’t just have to be kiddos showing off their shiny new toys. There are tons of ways to make sharing time more meaningful, and doing it virtually opens up a whole bunch of new options.
Instead of bringing in an actual object, students can just take a picture or draw a picture of the thing they want to talk about. They can share about things that they wouldn’t be able to in the classroom. Here are just a few ideas:
- Family and pets
- Places they’ve visited
- Something from their house that fits a certain criteria (color, shape, beginning letter, etc.)
- Things they’ve learned
- A skill they have (they can even make videos!)
- An object they’ve found in their homes/neighborhood that go with the theme or learning topic (trees, flowers, animals, etc.)
If you use Seesaw for virtual learning, you might be interested in the Show & Tell activities + 6 pages of topic ideas that are included in my Building Classroom Community Seesaw pack. You can learn more about it in my TpT store:
What do YOU do to keep students engaged in virtual learning?
Do you have any great ideas to share? We’d love to hear them! Comment below with your best virtual learning ideas!