10 tips for boosting remote primary lesson engagement

Teaching remotely can be tiresome for all involved, so here are some fun ways to keep things fresh with young learners
21st January 2021, 1:58pm
Rebecca McGrath


10 tips for boosting remote primary lesson engagement

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Teachers and students everywhere are now well versed in remote teaching - not a sentence I thought I would be writing 12 months ago.

It's fair to say the novelty of this has long worn off. For teachers and pupils alike, logging on to Zoom, Teams or Google Meet does not replace the buzz of a classroom.

Yet, as lockdowns progress, it is important that we find ways to keep engagement and energy up - especially for our youngest learners. Here are 10 ideas that I've used to help bring a bit of zing back to online learning.

1. Make the days memorable 

As we all know, during a lockdown, the days can sometimes blur together and feel somewhat endless. I like to find ways to make certain days special. 

Every Monday, I allow a different student to nominate their song of choice to begin class. They love having some control and choice in the classroom, and their classmates enjoy hearing their picks and dancing to their songs. Last Monday, we listened to Happy by Pharell. Even the shyest student couldn't help dancing a bit in their seat.

2. Dress-up days

You can also make each week special by letting kids dress up. Each week we have dress-up Fridays and I'll assign a different fun outfit choice.

One Friday, we may all wear red, for example, or the next week we all wear a hat. By all doing something together, we feel like a real class, even though we are all apart physically.  

The key here is to keep it simple so it doesn't become a burden to parents. I always choose things that I know every student can quickly find after a rummage in their clothes drawer.

3. Keep them on their toes

Learning on camera for hours at a time is not physically appropriate for anyone and can easily bore your students if you're not careful. I keep a close eye on my students so I can incorporate a movement break when they start to look sleepy.

I may ask students to find something in the room of a particular colour and bring it to the camera. I'll hear a lot of giggles if I ask students to only put a certain body part in the camera, like their left foot, as they try to balance on the camera. 

You can also give them a movement direction, such as 10 jumping jacks, after they complete a learning task. 

4. Play musical statues 

Incorporate music and movement by playing freeze-dance on camera. I have students stand up and dance while I play music for the class, then pause the music and students freeze. Parents love seeing their children in front of the camera, moving their body and laughing with their classmates.

5. Mindfulness sessions

Students also need to take mindfulness breaks for their mental wellbeing. I play a guided meditation from a programme like Calm or YouTube, and we follow it together on camera. 

If this is a new practice for your students, start with very short, guided meditations for, say, two minutes. One of the best guided meditations for beginners is a body scan. 

This type of meditation instructs students to mentally scan and relax each body part, from their head to their toes. Students sometimes find this silly at first, but with practice and guidance, they will come to enjoy this time.

6. Use audio

Create lessons that don't depend on students staring at a screen the entire time. I can play audiobooks and other types of stories from Youtube or Audible so students can hear and discuss literature without always reading it on the screen. 

I also put students into smaller breakout groups online so they can discuss the stories in book clubs with each other. 

See also

13 clever teaching hacks for Microsoft Teams

Remote teaching: 8 keyboard hacks to make life easier

5 tips for keeping home-working aches and pains at bay

A teacher's view: 'The expectations of online learning are higher'

7. Set tactile tasks

Give students physical, off-screen activities to complete in between lessons. You can give them recipes to create slime, play-dog, or other tactile creations.

8. Use their world

Take advantage of the different learning environments.

Let students use household items to display lessons about primary colours, shapes or maths concepts. 

Or you could ask students to interview family members for a language lesson, or perhaps family members to come on camera to be guest speakers to the class.

9. Be artistic 

Encourage students to get creative even if they do not have materials at home. We found that Google Drawings is a great way to create fun landscapes, abstract art or portraits. You can easily see students work in real time and monitor their progress, then you can share your screens for individual or large group instruction.

10. Play creative games 

Bond as a class by playing games in-between lessons. One game my students especially love is Pictionary on drawasaurus.org. There is even a chat box function to cheer on teammates.

This game gets pretty intense in our classroom and creates some real rivalries between teams! I never knew I had so many budding artists in my class. 

Rebecca McGrath is a high school teacher from New Jersey, in the US

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