Updated ideas for teaching online

As the coronavirus has started to spread, more and more schools are discussing how to make learning virtual. Although I have never dealt with a long absence to perhaps this degree, I have taught successful blended classes for many years where half of the class is online. I have also finished classes to learn how to teach online. I wanted to update my ideas since many of my posts are a few years old on the topic and technology is always changing.

First, make sure to check out Martina’s post about plans to help with readings. Noemi also shared some of her ideas for lesson plans. (We have also JUST reduced our price from last year’s El Mundo en Tus Manos to $10. In the packet, you can find a spreadsheet of all of the articles, so you can find articles that fit the themes that you are discussing. I use last year’s news this year to prep my students for newer editions, assess students and prepare them to read novels. I collect all of the articles from the country and students read them.)

Fluency Matters has also been extremely generous to offer free elearning modules for 21 days.

Also there is a list here of educational companies offering free subscriptions during school closings.

I wanted to start with general recommendations when you are writing online:

  • Write in bullets or at least in shorter paragraphs. It is hard to read blocks of text especially when you may be detailing out specific information that you want students to know. This is important for requirements of assignments. Think of it as a checklist.
  • Speaking of requirements, be specific! Don’t tell students to write a summary. How long do you expect the summary to be? Students cannot read your mind and most will not ask you. So you may have anywhere from a two word to a two paragraph summary of the text or video.
  • Think of something that students can produce to ensure that they have completed what you have asked. For example, don’t say: read this and be done or watch this video and be done. There is no way for you to know what students have done (or perhaps have not done!) Also, if you tell them to study on Quizlet, tell them to take a screenshot of a Quizlet quiz that they have taken.
  • Make it as meaningful as possible. I knew in my blended class that my students would be working online half of the time (or in groups.) You want students to feel like they are getting something out of it or they won’t complete it. Plus, it will in all likelihood be replacing a bit of your curriculum. Don’t fill it with worksheets and busy work! Your class isn’t like that, so you can make sure that your online work isn’t either. I had my students thank me during online snow days for giving them more interactive and fun work. I even involved their parents and family members! (More on that later!) Plus, you don’t want them dreading the work.
  • Do NOT try something new. Make sure that you have tried these technologies at least once or twice with your students before they attempt to do them at home. Or else, that will be a disaster. I recommend having students try these this week or next if you want to use these technologies without you.
  • Use this as a chance for your students to go deeper on a topic or two instead of trying to cover a wide range of topics. That way you can recycle much of the material. While some of your students may complete the work faster, it will take others longer to complete.
  • Include rubrics! Without rubrics, students are also confused about the requirements, and you aren’t there to explain it. Is it what you want or not? They really don’t know.

What technologies can you incorporate? I will provide what I have used in blended classes- but remember that I have used these technologies before in class. If I had to pick two of the easiest technologies (outside of Google) for both teachers and students, my votes are for Flipgrid (to replace class discussions) and EdPuzzle (to replace direct instruction.) If you haven’t used any of these technologies, read those two paragraphs then move on with your day (or reading!)

  • Flipgrid: Flipgrid is free for teachers which makes it wonderful! For the easiest explanation, you can write a question and students can respond to your question and can respond to each other, too. I also like how Flipgrid will keep your community engaged because they will still be able to see and talk to their peers. Consider matching up with another class in another state and discuss what their days look like while they are working online. Also, I HIGHLY ENCOURAGE you to record your own video instead of typing the prompt. This way, students will still be hearing your voice. That is also surprisingly important while students are working online.
    • If you have been using Flipgrid, but you haven’t tried any of these other ideas you can also have students respond to: images, YouTube videos, Kahoot, an article from Newsela.
    • Edited to add: I put together a Flipgrid tutorial on how to set up Flipgrid.
  • EdPuzzle: EdPuzzle also allows you to have up to 20 free videos. They have also extended to have more free videos if your school is closed. Once you find a video on YouTube, you can add: questions to check for comprehension, voice notes, or regular notes. As students are watching the video, it will pause and ask them a question to ask. If they need to rewatch the video, they can. I highly suggest adding multiple choice questions, so students can get direct feedback. Also, remember that many students rewatch videos especially in a foreign language, so keep that in mind when you are thinking about the time it will take students to watch the video. (Edited to add: EdPuzzle has just added an extra link if your school is closed.)
  • PearDeck: If you have been using PearDeck for awhile, it is extremely easy to embed videos and websites then to ask questions about these as well. If you have the paid version, you can have students complete the work at their own pace. You could essentially put your whole lesson into PearDeck and have students complete it. However, you cannot have students interact with each other with this tool. (See Flipgrid for that!) I discussed this with a friend- and the only reason that I recommend EdPuzzle and Flipgrid over PearDeck for novice technology users is the ease of use to set up the former two tools. But if you have been using PearDeck- you can keep doing so online. It can be extremely successful. Plus- the kids will love the break to draw what they understand. (And have you seen some of their new question templates like the end of class questions?! I love them and use them frequently!)
  • Seesaw: I love Seesaw for elementary students during online days. Teachers can easily assign any assignment and students can take pictures of what they are doing or they can make a video. It can also be a way for teachers and parents to communicate. The platform does it all! Teachers could ask students take a picture of their work then explain it in a voice note. You can still encourage critical thinking, and can leave feedback for students. Plus students can see others’ work and leave comments for their classmates. Again, this will help continue to foster community within your class while students are away.
  • Shake things up by assigning a GimKit or a Quizziz! You can also tell students to join at a specific time to make it synchronous to play- but turn it into a homework assignment for students who cannot make it. These games are both extremely engaging for students.
  • Zoom: Finally, if your school is going more of the synchronous route instead of asynchronous- check out Zoom. You can conduct classes with it and then your class is recorded AND DOWNLOADED! So you can easily upload it for other students to see it if they can’t be there for your class. It is super easy to use as well.

The question becomes what to assign on these platforms.

Edited to add: I am compiling a list of my EdPuzzles based on theme and level. If there are other sources to reference, I will add them here as well!

While some of them are straightforward like Flipgrid, I encourage you to play around with options and really expand on their ideas. With Flipgrid, give students to time to listen to their classmates, respond to what they said and reflect on their own thoughts as well throughout their days off.

Have students revisit videos that they have watched. If you assign an EdPuzzle one day, have students relate it back to the class on the following day. In a few days if you assign another EdPuzzle, have the students compare and contrast this video from the one that they watched before. It requires students to rewatch the material without you having to find 10 EdPuzzles for them to watch every day (which would be boring!) If you provide strong thinking routines and a rubric that explains expectations, students will continue to engage and re-engage in the material.

I also love allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of videos or reading through creating a video! Make sure you put enough parameters in so that students don’t spend all day on it. Explain how long the video should be and what their focus should be as well. (Or you will see a lot of bloopers!) Make sure to focus on communication. But it is a fun assignment for a day. I have also encouraged students to use family members in their videos. While we do need to be mindful of parents who are working, it is fun for them to use a sibling or even their pet. I assigned this with seniors, and it was fun to watch when we returned.

If you have older students who can collaborate on an activity like Google Docs, I encourage it! Have students discuss their days over FaceTime (or write them out on Google Docs) then they can compare their day with their partner’s day in the target language. Have students create an acrostic poem together each writing half of the letters about a theme that you assign. Again the more that you can allow students to make connections with you and their classmates, the more engaged they will be.

Finally, students can also create a Google Form to share with their peers. In this assignment, they could create a quiz for any material that you have covered or create a survey for the topic. For quizzes, students can self assess. Or after taking the surveys of their classmates, students could reflect on the results.

I hope that my post has given you enough nuts and bolts of how to plan online and sparked some of your own ideas of how to teach online. If you have more ideas, share them and I will happily add them to the list!


8 thoughts on “Updated ideas for teaching online

    1. Noemi, Thank you for the digital notebook! I plan to use it with my Spanish I language learners. I’ve also forwarded it to our English Dept. Chair! I appreciate you sharing!

      Sue Foley

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