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Tips for Teaching on Block Schedule During Distance Learning

Although I’ve taught on a block schedule for 17 years and have many strategies in my teacher toolbox, the pandemic has made me rethink how I teach during long class periods.  Using my professional knowledge, teacher intuition, formative assessment, and reflection on successes and failures, I’ve adapted my teaching for hybrid and online learning.  In the process, I’ve developed new approaches until we get back to normal (or at least something closer to normal).  Read on to learn about them.

Keep Zoom Sessions Short

Just as I wouldn’t lecture for long blocks of time, I don’t Zoom with students for a 90-minute class period. My class Zooms last about 45 minutes or half of a class period, and with the remaining time, I tell students to complete their independent learning assignments.  Within the class Zoom session, I break up our work into two - three separate tasks.  It's a slower pace than instruction during block in my normal classroom, but it keeps me and the students from becoming too stressed.  During the activities, sometimes I am talking, sometimes students are using the chat feature, and other times students are working with annotation tools and/or breakout rooms.  One advantage of a 45-minute Zoom session is that I can provide support to individual students or small groups who need help with their assignments with any remaining time.

Provide Longer Wait Time

Although I keep Zoom sessions shorter than regular class periods, I’ve noticed that it’s essential to plan for additional wait time during online learning.  I pause for a couple of seconds longer than I would in my regular classroom.  During online learning, students need more time to process their thoughts.  Additionally, lags with technology may slow down communication in a virtual classroom.

Model with Videos

Sometimes, to better explain tasks, I make short videos that model for students what they should be doing independently. For instance, when recently teaching a speech given by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I used my iPad to record how to annotate the PDF. With a video, students can manage their own learning and pause or repeat the video as needed.

Take Breaks to Look Away

Research shows that students shouldn’t be on screens all day long. I keep in mind the 20-20-20 rule, which says a person should look away every 20 minutes at an object that is about 20 feet away for a full 20 seconds.  On the rare occasions when I expect to have longer Zoom sessions, I schedule short breaks in between activities.  During these breaks, I direct students to look away from their screens and stretch so that we follow this rule.

Include Asynchronous Days

After struggling to get my students to attend Zooms consistently last fall, and with permission from my administration, I’ve added one - two asynchronous days in each week.  Students have specific assignments to complete on the asynchronous days, and I provide video directions for them.  In these instructions, I share the standards, learning targets, success criteria, and daily agenda.  During the short instructional video, I tell students what order to work on their assignments and show them where to find each of the activities in the daily folder on our Learning Management System. 


On these days, I often include lessons that are easier for students to do independently such as watching and analyzing a TED Talk or completing SAT practice.  I also make myself available for private Zoom sessions in “office hours” on those days so that students can meet with me for individual assistance.  (I’ve learned that many students don’t want to ask for help in front of their peers, but they will ask for help in a private session.)  To manage the office hours, I simply create a Microsoft Form and students sign up for 10-minute time slots. (This could easily be accomplished with a Google Form too).

Start with a Warm-Ups

Whether you call them bell ringers, starters, or warm-ups, these are great activities that can be used in virtual and hybrid teaching (particularly for longer class periods).  By giving students a task to complete immediately at the beginning of the class, I accomplish multiple goals.  First, these discussions and activities hook my students and introduce the day’s topics.  Recently, I taught a lesson using the book How to Read Like a Professor.  Since my students had never used it before, they made predictions on what the title told them about the content of the book in their warm-up discussion.  We discussed their predictions and when we read a chapter later in our class, they had a better understanding of their purpose.


Another benefit to warm-ups is that it improves my classroom management.  Since we are currently hybrid, it gives my in-class students something to focus on when they get seated.  It also allows me to take attendance and add virtual students from the waiting room into the Zoom. 

Vary Technology

Just as I would vary modes of learning in my traditional classroom for a 90-minute block, I alter online learning with different types of technology.  I use online discussions and assessment tools in my LMS platform, add videos and media albums, incorporate Word documents and PowerPoints, create polls and forms for surveys, and link to other tools such as Padlet and EdPuzzle.  We also have our online textbook, MyPerspectives, and Khan academy resources. 


I’ve heard that NearPod and PearDeck are wonderful apps, also, and hope to learn them soon.  However, I think it’s okay to use one or two main apps consistently to simplify learning online.  I’m careful not to overwhelm students with too many different technologies in one day or week.  In fact, I create structure and routines for virtual learning just as I would in my regular classroom.

Provide Opportunities for Interaction

In my regular classroom I frequently employ cooperative learning, movement, and group activities, and I know my students need to interact socially in a virtual block, too.  At the beginning of my Zoom session, I start with a “chat” question to prepare students to participate and work together with their peers.  These low-stakes questions are easy to answer and can also act as icebreakers.  For example, I may ask students to share what pets they have, tell about their favorite music, movies, and food, or set goals for the day. 

Use White Board Activities

During whole-class reading and discussion, I check for understanding with white board discussions.  Recently, I used the white board to introduce the abstract concept of freedom at the beginning of the unit.  Students had to brainstorm words and we created a “word web” by writing words that seemed related to the idea of freedom.  In another lesson with a white board, I asked students to type what they thought was the most important line in the poem “Theme for English B” after we read and analyzed it.  Then I asked each student to unmute their microphones and share why they selected those lines. 


For my hybrid students, I muted myself and put in headphones so I could better hear what everyone said.  I’ve gotten in the habit of plugging in speakers for my in-class students, too, and I project the Zoom on my front screen for days when our bandwidth won’t allow everyone on the Zoom together.

Incorporate Breakout Rooms

For group work, I’ve been frequently using breakout rooms.  Just as I would with my students in the regular classroom, I give them directions to productively accomplish their tasks together.  For instance, I ask them to choose one student to be a  leader and manage their time, another to type their answers on a shared Power Point slide or other document, and another to share aloud with the whole-class when we end the breakout rooms.  I will join each room briefly to make sure they don’t have questions, but I think it’s valuable to allow them to work without my presence, too.  I do keep these breakout rooms timed, usually anywhere from 10 – 20 minutes depending on the tasks. 

Most of the time, I create groups of about four students, but I’ve occasionally made breakout rooms with two - three students for more informal discussion and activities. No doubt, by varying the ways students interact during their virtual learning, it helps me manage the 90-minute block.


As the school year proceeds, I will continue to adapt my instruction and learn new strategies for teaching 90-minute blocks during hybrid and distance learning at my school.  Ultimately, keeping instruction active rather than passive is my number one tip for hybrid and virtual instruction, particularly with longer class periods like blocks.  


Do you have tips that you can recommend too?  Please add them in the comments.

Teaching on Block: Make It Amazing With These Easy Tips


When I started teaching, I worked at a school with a 7-period day and 46-minute class periods. I was accustomed to this schedule but then I started a new teaching position where the school system used a 90-minute block schedule. At first, I was afraid that 90 minutes would be horrible: How would I fill that much time with instruction? How would I keep students engaged? Over many years, I’ve learned to love this schedule.

Recently, many schools have moved to a block schedule as a strategy to make classes smaller because of the pandemic. I’ve seen many teachers post on social media and lament the change. They’ve asked for advice on how to teach so I have suggestions to help below.

Vary Activities

Whether they are 80, 90, or 100 minutes, block classes are long. Plan three - five activities in a class period. It is not productive to lecture for the entire time. In fact, research shows that lectures should be no more than 20 minutes for high school students and 15 minutes for middle school. Also, consider students with ADHD, who even struggle in shorter class periods. No doubt, it’s important to use a variety of instructional strategies to maintain students' attention. Of course, it’s always important to consider your content, age of students, and their abilities. Some students can focus for longer and can tolerate longer lessons. The science teachers at my school tell me they appreciate extra time for labs, and I need longer times for roundtable discussions in my AP English Literature classes.

As part of your daily routine, you may want to plan an opening activity, follow it with a mini lesson, provide guided practice, and then give independent practice. Lastly, you may want review and closure activities. In my opinion, the opening activities are essential because they will “hook” students and immediately focus them.

Peak Into A Day

In my ELA class on Mondays, I start with a relevant journal warm up. After students think and write for five - seven minutes, they meet with a classmate to share their responses; then, we follow that with whole-class discussion. The entire activity takes about 20 minutes. Next, I present the learning objectives, success criteria, class agenda, homework, and announcements, which takes 5 minutes. Then, I present a 15-minute Power Point presentation on a grammar concept and add 20 minutes of guided practice (whole class and/or small groups). After guided practice, students complete 20 minutes of individual practice, and end with a 5-minute closure activity. Transitions may take a few minutes and if there is additional time leftover, I may allow students to pack their supplies and prepare for their next classes. Ultimately, it’s easy to fill a 90-minute block with a variety of learning activities and lessons.

Use Transitions

For classroom management, you will want to have smooth transitions from one activity to another. Using an alarm is helpful at keeping track of time and managing the pace of class. There are numerous online timers but I just use my phone timer. When students start with an anticipation guide, journal activity, or bell ringer, I allocate five - ten minutes. In a 50-minute class period, teachers only have two - three minutes for starters. In middle school, teachers may use classroom lights, clapping, hand gestures, and other attention-getting strategies for their transitions. Furthermore, think about how to make connections between activities with your transitions.

Pace Curriculum

I plan in chunks for daily, weekly, monthly, and semester instruction. At the beginning of each semester, make a calendar and mark important dates such as standardized testing days, holidays, school events, and half days. Keep in mind that students may be restless after taking long standardized assessments. Also, pay attention to distractions during spirit weeks, and before school dances and championship games.

No doubt, if your supervisor gives you a curriculum calendar, you’ll follow that timeline. If you have flexibility with your curriculum, plan to cover all your standards on your academic calendar. Estimate time for lessons. As a beginning teacher, accurately estimating time challenged me, and now I am usually over-planned. It is easier to eliminate lessons than add them- especially in the middle of a class period.

After marking your calendar, map out units but don’t add many details. In my experience, timelines will change because of unforeseeable circumstances. Then make weekly plans. By making daily routines for specific days of the week, this is much easier. For instance, I have set times for Silent Sustained Reading, grammar, journaling, and test preparation. Finally, I add details in my daily lessons.

Incorporate Movement

Humans are not made to sit at desks all day long, especially tweens and teens. Carousel and gallery activities get students moving around the classroom. Stations allow students to rotate to various locations in a classroom. And students love meaningful fun activities such as trashketball games, speed dating, and conga poetry.

To facilitate movement, set up your classroom in a way that makes it easy for you and the students to move around. It’s also helpful to have procedures for moving desks or tables quickly so students can do group work or Socratic seminars.

Change the Setting

If possible, take students out of your classroom on occasion. My students go to our media center to select books, complete research, and learn about Banned Books. When the weather is warm, I take them outside to read or write. If your school allows it, plan a scavenger hunt or game in the gym.

This also allows you to collaborate with other staff. My media center specialist joins us in “tease to read” days. Often, I coordinate with special education teachers who take individuals or groups of students to a different classroom for part of the block.

For your students with attentional challenges, you may want to assign them jobs and errands such as taking the attendance to the main office or distributing and collecting materials. Once, I had a colleague who assigned different seats to a student with severe ADHD. In each class period, the student moved to three desks in distinct locations in the classroom.

Employ Cooperative Learning

Use pairing, triads, and larger groups to vary instruction. From day one, I use icebreakers and team builders  to create a comfortable classroom community. Students are expected to respect every other class member. One way I establish this expectation is to have students work in a variety of groups. I often use “think-pair-share” or “turn and turn talk” to give students an opportunity to rehearse their thoughts with a classmate before asking them to share in whole-class discussion. Another favorite strategy of mine is jigsaw. It’s helpful for students to work in two different groups for the same lesson, and by putting them in home groups and expert groups, it helps create accountability. I also use literature circles and roundtable discussions for our reading of novels.

Prepare for Early Finishers

It helps to plan for students who finish classwork early in a long block. I have been known to use Passion Projects and enrichment activities such as writing contests for early finishers. However, I make sure to check that they have completed the required assignments carefully before they can do these extra activities.

It may be challening at first, but once you've taught on block schedule a few times, you may not be ablet to imagine teaching on any other schedule.

Have you moved to online teaching with block scheduling?  Stay tuned for another blog post with tips to help with distance and hybrid learning soon.

Why Students Aren't Writing (And What Teachers Can Do About It)

ncte, nwp, national day on writing

Every year the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) sponsors a National Day on Writing. NCTE celebrates writing with a social media campaign which asks people to share why they write using the hashtag #WhyIWrite.  This year (2020) it will occur on Tuesday, October 20th.

Starting with a Bulletin Board

In the past, even though there were many interesting ways to incorporate the day into my classroom, I didn’t have much time to add a new activity to my curriculum lessons. 
writing-instruction, high-school-English
Nevertheless, I still wanted to acknowledge the day.  So at the last minute, I looked at my empty bulletin board and decided my students would write tweets explaining why they write (thanks Glitter Meets Glue and Presto Plans for the clip art and exit slips). Most students were excited to complete this activity, but of course, there are students who don’t enjoy writing, so I gave them permission to be honest.  This resulted in a handful of tweets that said they write “because I’m forced to” or “because I want to pass English.”  This could easily become a virtual activity with Padlet, Google Slides, or another online bulletin board program. 

The Purposes of Writing Instruction

As a person who loves to write, these responses made me sad, so I pondered the following questions:  Why do teachers make students write?  What do we require students to write?  How do we ask students to write? 

The obvious answers are that we ask students to write to pass standardized tests, to meet course requirements, and to prepare them for college and work.  We identify purposes such as “writing to inform,” “writing to explain,” and “writing to persuade,” or we assign argumentative, narrative (enjoy this free narrative writing activity for Halloween), and literary analysis essays.

The National Writing Project

Thinking about how to implement best practices for writing instruction is not a new idea for me as I have worked with the Eastern Shore Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project, for many years.  In fact, in past summers I interned as a facilitator at our Invitational Summer Institute (ISI) where teachers from around the region in diverse grade levels and contents developed teaching strategy toolboxes for writing instruction to use in their classrooms.

Writing for Human Connection

What I was reminded of during the institute, though, is that a primary purpose for writing is to connect with others. Writing for human connection reminds us that we are not alone in this world.  Our stories connect us through our fundamental human experience.  We are in this thing called life together – whether the people we write for are our family, friends, community members, or seemingly strangers from around the world.  Most importantly, writing for human connection helps us understand one another, build empathy, and hopefully, create a more peaceful world. 

writingRegrettably, with testing mandates and curriculum requirements in mind, teachers may neglect to incorporate writing for human connection.  But it’s important, especially if we want to encourage our reluctant writers to feel positive about writing.  It's often hard to fit these lessons into our instruction, but sometimes we have to do what’s best for our students, no matter what pressures we experience from outside of the classroom.  Students want to write to express their feelings and to have their voices heard by others. During the pandemic, this is more important than ever because students often feel isolated in this virtual world. 

Tips for Supporting Writing Instruction

So how can teachers incorporate more writing for human connection?  Here are some possibilities:
1.  Journaling
Regularly let students write about their feelings, opinions, and reflections on a host of topics.  This writing should be informal and can take various formats such as diary entries, letters, lists, webs, etc.  This can be intimidating for a teacher who then asks, how will I grade these? And maybe the answer is that it’s best not to grade many of these journals. I just collect student journals occasionally, and I ask students to choose which journal they want me to grade.  This way I can give them credit for participation but also respond to at least one of the journals they've written in class.

2.  Choice
Give students choices and creative opportunities in their writing whenever possible.  One way I accomplish this is to provide a “menu” of writing activities (or choice board) that students select from.  For instance, when my students complete their reading of an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, they can choose from nine activities.  Some of these include reflecting on and writing about nature, researching and writing about the Tiny House Movement, or writing an imaginary diary entry with Thoreau’s perspective on life in current society. 

3.  Sharing
To help students connect with others, let students share their writing.  This does not have to be done with every assignment and it doesn't always have to be in whole-class discussion, but there should be frequent times for students to share in partners or small groups.  Teachers can also display student writing on classroom bulletin boards, school showcases, or encourage students to publish their writing in school newspapers, local publications, or online forums. I like to offer students "enrichment" points for entering writing contests like the ones sponsored by The New York Times Learning Network.

4. Inspiration
A participant from our ISI gave each of us a plastic egg with a paper that said, “Your idea can change the world.”  Teachers should encourage students to change the world with the ideas that they express through their writing.  Call students “authors” and reward them for sharing their writing.  In addition to entering writing contests, sometimes I also offer enrichment points to students who will read their writing aloud in front of the class. For distance learning, students could use Flipgrid, or they could record themselves reading their writing with their cell phones, iPads or laptops.  

The most rewarding outcome of the ISI was the opportunity to write for myself.  In years past, I had written eighty pages of a memoir but had stopped because of writer’s block. By responding and writing to daily journal prompts at ISI, I moved past my writer’s block and began to once again work on my memoir. For this reason, I often write with my students. Hopefully, just as the ISI motivated me, I can encourage students to share their voices!



How do you help students write for human connection?  I would love to try out some of your ideas.  Please share in the comments below!

Simple Ways Teachers Can Support the Emotional Health of Students

covid-19, social unrest

We all have difficult times in our lives, but 2020 has been hard for everyone. This year has been filled with challenges such as Covid-19, social unrest and protest, a troublesome economy, and more. No doubt, our students are struggling emotionally because of this turmoil.

Classroom teachers should always be mindful of the impact of emotion on learning but with the current situation in America and around the world, it’s more important to support students’ emotional and mental health than ever. As all teachers know, our work reaches far beyond our curriculums because we are nurturers, and we care for the well-being of our students. Why is this so important?

Emotion affects motivation 

One of the main reasons that teachers need to be aware of their students’ emotional health is that it can interfere with their motivation to learn. This spring, when schools changed instruction over to remote learning, many teachers blamed the lack of motivation from their students on their inability to grade students. (This was called “compassionate grading” in my school system.) And while that was certainly true in some cases (students even told me this), many students lacked motivation because of their feelings of depression, fear, and anxiety.

In the article, “The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory,” the authors note that “Emotion has a substantial influence on the cognitive processes in humans, including perception, attention, learning, memory, reasoning, and problem-solving. Emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention…(and) motivating action and behavior.” With this in mind, how can teachers adapt their instruction to support students?

Make learning memorable

Research shows that emotional events are remembered more clearly and accurately than neutral events.
  • Connect real-world topics to your lessons: What happens outside of the class is as important as what happens in the class. Whenever possible, I include discussions and activities such as these Back to School TED Talks that are related to current issues.  Furthermore, Dan Levy, a senior lecturer from the Harvard Kennedy School, says he may cover less content so that he can modify instruction for real life, and he knows his students will better understand the material. “It’s not about me. It’s about the learners. It’s as simple as that.” For teachers, this means we must prioritize the most important content. I often remind myself that it’s most important to teach an “inch wide and a mile deep.” If I’ve already taught a standard, then I likely won’t need to teach it again. This may prevent students from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Add Humor: Have you noticed how much a little humor can engage students? Think of some of your favorite speeches, television shows, and movies, and you’ll most likely notice that they make you laugh. It’s a great way to “hook” your students and help them look forward to their learning. Even though I’m not always good at making jokes, I like to add video clips that help my students laugh. Sometimes, I end the week with Fun Friday Videos such as the parody from the Holderness Family. 

  • Enhance instruction with exploration: Students are motivated by their curiosity and by choice. Whether this is through lessons that use inquiry activities like this one for The Great Gatsby, project-based learning, or choice boards, feelings of suspense and empowerment encourage them to take ownership of their learning. This, in turn, helps improve their confidence. For remote teaching and learning, this is essential.
  • Create positive associations: We’ve all probably taken classes that felt boring- sadly, sometimes even with the material we used to enjoy. Unfortunately, as educators have increased rigor, learning has frequently become tedious; however, teachers can make learning both challenging and exciting, sometimes incorporating celebrations. For instance, my students work hard at reading, annotating, and discussing the novel Snow Falling on Cedars in my AP English Literature and Composition course, but like the characters in the book, we also enjoy a strawberry festival. 
    During our reading of The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird, we’ve celebrated our completion of the novels with a roaring 20’s party and a tea party. These were in-class activities, but now it’s up to teachers to find ways to do these celebrations virtually. It’s okay for us to make learning joyous! I love this activity where students staged photos of their reading that was posted in one of my teacher social media groups. 








Teach coping strategies

Teachers routinely become counselors and surrogate parents to their students; they spend more time with their students than many other adults in their lives. Consequently, we can help them handle their stress by encouraging healthy activities.

As parents and educators know, many students suffer from test anxiety, and apprehension from “normal” school activities becomes worse with the threat of illness and death from Covid-19 to students, their family members, and their friends. This stress can lead students to make poor choices in regards to drugs or alcohol. It can also increase the incidence and severity of mental health illness.

  • Practice deep breathing: Research shows that deep breathing techniques help reduce stress. In the journal, Scientific American, author Christophe Andre explains that “deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of parasympathetic nervous system…When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body: the heart rate slows and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases; muscles relax.” Clearly, it’s important for students to understand that their physiology affects their emotional state. I’ve been known to use the Calm app for a meditation exercise before standardized assessments.
  • Incorporate Physical Activity: Again, it’s crucial for students to understand the mind and body connection. Doctors and scientists have frequently discussed the benefits of exercise and movement. Exercise reduces fatigue and improves concentration. As explained in an online article by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.” Studies show that physical activity can improve sleep and concentration. Physical activity may be harder to incorporate during online learning or while social distancing, but I’ve encouraged students to take writing walks and find other ways to get routine exercise. 


  • Inspire Positive Self-Talk: Many people are their own worst critics and teachers can help students to “talk” to themselves in kinder and more reassuring ways. It’s important because our inner voices affect how we think and feel. Teachers can encourage students to use positive self-talk by modeling it with themselves, creating positive self-talk statements, and helping students change negative thoughts to positive statements. For instance, if a student says he/she was “lucky” to score well on a test, tell them that they did well because of their good study habits.
Of course, if teachers are concerned that individual students may need additional support, it’s always important to reach out to a child’s parents and to school counselors.  Be sure to take care of your own emotional health as well!  These strategies may help you avoid burnout during distance learning.

Finally, in addition to making learning a positive experience and helping students learn coping strategies, teachers can improve their students’ emotional health by building community in their classes. This reduces social isolation, prompts feelings of belonging, and develops a safe and supportive environment for learning. In the classroom, I frequently employ cooperative learning and am considering using virtual discussions, Zoom, and classmate connections for online instruction. I’m looking forward to finding new ways for students to connect in a virtual environment. Do you have suggestions? Please share your ideas in the comments below.



Works Cited

AndrĂ©, Christophe. “Proper Breathing Brings Better Health.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 15 Jan. 2019, www.scientificamerican.com/article/proper-breathing-brings-better-health/.

Hough, Lory. “Making Learning Memorable.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, 3 Mar. 2015, www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/03/making-learning-memorable.

“Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Apr. 2020, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html.

“Physical Activity Reduces Stress.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA, 2018, adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/stress/physical-activity-reduces-st.

Pragholapati, Andria. “COVID-19 IMPACT ON STUDENTS.” EdArXiv, 11 May 2020. Web

Tyng, et al. “The Influences of Emotion on Learning and Memory.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 10 Aug. 2017, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.

Easy to Implement Ideas for Teaching Remotely

Do you know the key to successful remote teaching?  After doing it online for four weeks, I can’t say that I’m an expert, but I have reflected on what I've learned. I have ideas to share with you, which I hope will make your online teaching easier!

1. Build community. 

Warm Up Discussions
Just as we need to make our classroom environments safe, comfortable places to learn at the beginning of the school year, we need to take similar steps to ensure that atmosphere online.

I’ve done this by including daily warm ups for informal chats. For instance, I’ve had my students post photos of pets (or funny animals). We’ve also played “Two Truths and a Lie” to demonstrate the differences between verbal and nonverbal communication.

Video Chats   
Although it’s received some criticism, Zoom has worked well for me. Our school system joined the Clever Portal to make it more secure for our students, but with the correct settings I think Zoom is fine in most situations even without extra security. I use the waiting room, require a password, and mute students upon entry. Of course, if students will behave badly in class, they may behave poorly online too. Consider what group of students you’re using Zoom with and manage them the way you might in your regular classroom.
    
I also have been keeping Zoom sessions short. I give students norms before starting the session and a brief plan for the activities we will complete. The students and I enjoy seeing and hearing one another in video chat lessons such as these for our book discussions.

2. Set the tone and establish your classroom culture.

School at Home
At the beginning of online learning, I posed questions about work spaces and routines. Students either post photos or described their school work spaces. I modeled by putting a photo of my own desk area to encourage them to find a quiet place for school work. While I know this may be challenging for students who have many distractions at home, I’ve encouraged them to find creative solutions (for instance, by rotating desk space with siblings).

Returning to a school routine is also important. I’ve noticed many of my high school students are online at 2 a.m., but I’m holding my office hours at 9:30 a.m. (later than the regular school day so they can still get needed sleep). I’m encouraging them to wake up at a reasonable hour.

In all of these online discussions, I make sure to comment, even if it’s just with a short phrase. I want my students to know that I’m involved, listening to their posts, and available to support them.

If you would like an activity to support your online classroom culture, these Twitter task cards might be perfect for you! I’ve recently updated them with 10 additional task cards that are specifically geared for distance learning. I also have ones for the end of the school year where they reflect on their learning.

Netiquette

Teach students how to send professional emails and make appropriate online posts. Even though my students use social media, they may not know the best ways to use the Internet for online learning or work. For that reason, I purchased this excellent Power Point and lesson to make sure students understood different forms of communication, and why it’s important to use the right tone online.

3. Take breaks and plan for off-screen learning.

20/20/20
After a recent conversation with a friend who is the mom of three young boys, I was reminded of the “20/20/20 rule” to prevent eye strain from working online. It may be helpful to encourage students to set a timer so they take a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. It’s important that during the break, students focus on an object 20 feet away so the eye muscles can relax.

Writing Walk
To get students off their screens but keep them practicing English Language Arts skills, you may want to incorporate a FREE descriptive writing walk activity that students can do when the weather is warm. It’s great for improving their ability to use sensory detail in their writing and would make a good opening activity for a narrative or poem writing assignment.

Games
Students will get bored quickly if teachers simply send home worksheets. To keep students engaged and physically active, they can play games such as Trashketball. Although this is normally played in a classroom, there may be ways to modify it for distance learning.  I made a video for how I think it may be played at home.


4. Encourage social interaction.

Revisit Discussions
During these past few weeks, I’ve noticed that students, especially teens, long to have conversations with each other. It helps reduce their social isolation. Those conversations can be related to their learning.  For instance, when using anticipation guides to hook my students and prepare them for an upcoming text, I turn those previously face-to-face conversations into discussion forums. 


After they post their original thoughts, I ask them to revisit the discussion forum on the following day.  I direct students to reread their classmates' comments and add one more comment to the discussion.  Because students may post throughout an entire day (not just during our traditional class period), this helps ensure that their are having a true dialogue.

5. Keep it simple.

Clear Directions
Communicating online is different than in person and it’s essential to keep directions brief and organized. I keep the saying "KISS" in mind and number each warm up or activity on an opening "page."  Also, since I our school system uses Schoology, I've followed the advice of my colleagues and organize each day with its own folder.  This makes navigating our course and finding assignments simple.

Shorter Lessons and Activities
Because of slow internet, laptop problems, and learning of new technology, it can take twice as long to complete online learning as in the classroom. For this reason, I limit daily activities and lessons to three per day.  We are accustomed to teaching on a block schedule, so three fifteen - thirty minute activities seems reasonable. Of course, I make adjustments along the way if needed.  Flexibility is also vital for online instruction (and in the regular classroom).

Remote teaching definitely has unique challenges, but we’ve got this!  I hope that some of these ideas help you.  What would you add to these ideas?  Please share your tips in the comments below.








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