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3 Ways to Create Opportunities to Participate Online

Let’s acknowledge the truth: We’re all losing stamina online.  You and I are tired of planning instruction for the virtual world.  Our students are tired of staring at screens.  Their parents gave it everything they had at the very beginning, and now, well, they’re giving in.  Oh!  And did I mention it’s getting warmer?


Many of us, including myself, have focused on covering the standards because we want our students to acquire and master the grade-level skills they need to move forward in their learning.  Of course, having a very targeted instruction is essential.  However, school isn’t just about teaching content.  It’s not only about a teacher performing.  In fact, the most important function of school is to help children thrive in society.  


We cannot, with online learning, teach our students the physical aspects of living together in society such as asking to borrow something or waiting your turn to use the same object.  We can, however, teach students to communicate by creating opportunities to participate.  Of all age groups, this is particularly important for preschool through second grade students.  


You guessed it, the students who need the most support are our language learners!  You and I both know that reading and writing will not come until our students have strong listening and speaking skills.  


Today’s post presents three ways to help develop students’ interpersonal skills.  Create opportunities to participate through class meetings, special friends groups and “D’you know?” time.  Not ready to try them all.  Fine.  Just try one and see how your students re-engage with you and their classmates.  



1. Class Meetings 

My school in Brooklyn was a huge follower of Responsive Classroom.  Whether I taught kindergarten or fifth grade, it was an expectation to host a Morning Meeting.  Morning Meetings were a time when we gathered and built community through a four-step ritual.  


You can follow the Morning Meeting routine on a daily basis.  Or, if you think that families simply cannot lend a screen every day at that specific time, you can choose to host a whole class meeting once a week for 40 minutes.  This will give you ample time to tack on additional activities that help students exchange.  


Here’s how a longer class meeting could run: 

  • Wait for all participants to join.  Greet them as they join.  Notice things on them or in their surroundings, and talk about them, just as you would in class: “Ángel, did you get a new haircut?  Who cut it?  Go, Dad!”  “Dimitri, I love how you brought your notebook.  That’s right, if you don’t have your notebook yet, go find it and come back and join us.” 
  • Sing a song your whole class knows.  This is not the time to put on a video.  This is a chance to see everybody’s faces singing.  If you can, teach your families to use the Gallery view on Zoom so they can also see each other’s faces. 
  • Set a timer to transition to teacher guided activities.  It can be a digital timer or an hourglass for the little ones so they can see the time passing by.  
  • When the timer is up, mute everybody so you can explain without any background noise.  Muting is important because the teacher’s voice is the only voice they will hear other than that of their families around them.  It minimizes external noises and distractions.  
  • Read a book, especially a book about feelings, facing fears, families supporting each other or perseverance.  
  • Ask questions both during and after the book.  Ask students to raise their hands, and then make sure to feature them by spotlighting their video if you’re using Zoom.  Unmute one student at a time as you include everyone in the conversation. 
  • Lead a class activity.  This can be a drawing inspired by the illustrator or a drawing to show their feeling, a drawing to show something they feel they have accomplished recently.  
  • Share out the work produced.  Let some volunteer students, and other students you handpick to share out the work produced.
  • Highlight one student per day during morning meeting. Whether their name starts with the letter of the week or they have a special interest in a topic you're studying, put the spotlight on them and their families to help them feel connected.


2. Special Friends Groups

As teachers, we observe special friend groups within our class. When given a chance to partner up, they always go for the same students.  On the playground, they’re seen walking side by side or running after each other.  The whole class setting doesn’t allow those students to share those social moments that are yet so vital to their well-being.  

I recommend having special friends groups.  These are not small instructional groups.  They’re groups that gather specific groups of friends.  For twenty minutes each week, give those students a chance to share something together.  You don’t need to direct as much you would during a whole class meeting, but you may want to suggest that everyone bring a special object or think of a special kind of story.  It’s important to prepare them for this because many students freeze up in front of a screen.  

Again, welcome everybody.  In this case, do not mute anyone.  The 5-6 students should be able to share freely.  Let one student share their story or project, and encourage others to ask questions or comment.  

Alternatively, these playdates can be formed using a 50/50 ratio of language learners to speakers of the target language, similarly to how they would be grouped for small group work in the classroom. Teachers can scaffold these language-based playdates by providing conversation prompts and vocabulary for support.  

 3. "D'you know?" Time

How many times did I hear my students say “Tu sais?” or “D’you know?” and then ramble off about something they learned or did with their family.  For some reason, some kids chose the most inopportune times to share: we needed to get to the cafeteria, or we were late for pick up, or it was time to clean up.  Still, I always loved hearing the excitement and pride in our little chat.  


In  online sessions, are we providing time to recreate those personal conversations?  Let’s make sure we do that, even if it’s for 10 minutes every two to three weeks.  It makes a difference for students, and it helps us connect with them.  Schedule one-on-one time.  

Kids love communicating with us teachers because they know that we’ll ask follow up questions.  We’re programmed to do that.  Actually, in doing so, we also model for them what it means to be interested in others.  Just as important, we grow their enthusiasm for the activity they did, the accomplishment they have made, the new piece of information they learned.  


Here is how some of these conversations could go: 

  • D’you know?  I can close my zipper all by myself!
  • No way!  Show me.  How long did it take you to learn?  You must have shown yourself that you could do it if you persevered.  It’s always so important to push yourself to do something new.  Is there something else you want to do all by yourself next?

  • D’you know?  I made muffins with my dad!  
  • Oh! What ingredients did you use?  Was it good, tasty or delicious?  You know, I’m always looking for new recipes.  Could you share this recipe with me?

  • D’you know?  We found a new book and it’s SO cool!  
  • Really?  I’m always looking for new titles.  What’s the title of the book?  What is it about?  Why did you like it?  Wait, let me take some notes.  See, I’m writing down the title of your book and your name so I can remember to look into it.  

We can’t give our students the full experience of being in school.  Still, Zoom, Google Meets, Skype - all of these platforms can be used to teach students how to communicate.  Those will be essential skills they will need when they head back to school and need to ask someone to give them some space.  It’ll be important to them when they need to raise their voice to tell someone to keep their hands to themselves.  Communicating will help them get through these long months as they sit cramped in small spaces with sibling rivalry at an all time high.  Let’s give them safe spaces to talk and most importantly, be the social beings they are. 

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Jacqueline Chiffert - June 3, 2020

Very inspiring, merci !

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