Back to School Activities to Support SEL in a Digital Classroom


 With so many articles now coming out about the mental health ramifications of Coronavirus on our students, planning ahead to improve the social emotional health of your students is one of the best decisions that you can make for a positive 2020 - 2021 school year. With many districts still furiously putting together a plan, finding ways to connect, communicate, and get creative with your students will only help you to adapt to whatever situation is thrown at you. 

    My most recent post outlined what social emotional learning is, the importance of it especially after the pandemic and quick ways to connect, communicate, and get creative with your students. You can read more about it here. Below, I will outline specific activities that can be done remotely to help build personal relationships with your students while you are remote or distance learning. 

Ways to Build Personal Relationships to Improve Student Social Emotional Health: 

    One of the key differences between school before the pandemic and opening in the 2020-2021 back to school season is that prior to Coronavirus, we had enough time in your classrooms to develop personal relationships with our students. We were already able to use our expertise to make connections and tap into our student's social emotional health. A concern for many teachers starting this back to school season is... how can I make connections with students I do not know. It is not an ideal situation and it can be difficult, however, utilizing the following suggestions will allow you to do your best to form a relationship with your students. 

Making connections, communicating, and getting creative: 

    Students need to feel connected to your classroom, you as the teacher, and their classmates. The stronger their connection, the stronger their internal desire to want to try their best in the class. 

    Communication is important, and a two-way street. It is important as the teacher to be clear in your instructions and ways that you are communicating about academics. Students need to feel comfortable to communicate in return. Students should and need to feel comfortable to tell you when they do not understand something or if there are things in their personal life that inhibit them from completing assignments or doing well in school. 

    Students know when teachers care. They can tell when you WANT to be there and when you are trying your best for them. However, they may get bored at the same monotonous plan. Try to get creative every once in a while with a new activity or how it is presented. This will keep students engaged and motivated in your classroom. 

Ways to Improve Student Social Emotional Learning in Your Classroom: 

Below are specific ideas to use in the distance learning setting to build and improve your personal relationships with your students. 

    - Video biography: When the back to school season starts, our new students don't know anything about us. They don't know who our children are, pets, fun hobbies, favorite sports teams, or snack that we gotta have. These are usually things that we share at the beginning of the school year, as we are together in the classroom, or something students observe us doing in the classroom. Much of that is removed. Before the school year starts, create a video biography for your students. 

    In the biography, start with an introduction. Tell the students who you are, what you are teaching them (especially for upper elementary school teachers who may be departmentalized), and how you cannot wait to get to know them. Share about teaching experience, which college you attended, and degrees that you achieved.  

    After you have shared a bit about your professional side, get into some fun stuff. Share the fun facts. Since this is a video, you can even show them your house, pets, or family members. If you are comfortable, have family members give a quick hello. This aspect of the video will show students that you are human, just like them. You are their teacher but you also have a life outside of school. Creating these connections will allow students to understand you better as an educator, but also as a person. 

    Another good idea to do after you have shared your video biography with the students is to have them respond. Their responses could be done in a FlipGrid format. Allow them to share about their personal lives. If you have your students do this, be sure to take the time to watch and respond. Watching their videos will allow you to learn more about who they are as a human being. 

Ready-made materials to implement this tip into your classroom. 
back to school getting to know you social emotional learning video project

    - Theme Weeks! In my school district, every few months we have theme weeks. They are weeks when we can show our school spirit. Often the teachers get into it more than the students. Bring the theme weeks to your eLearning classroom. Theme weeks can take the anxiety out of what to wear when they are seeing their classmates and it is a fun way to get the students to come to the meeting. Some ideas for a theme week can include: 
            - Pajama Week (This is easy enough when we are working from home!)
            - School Spirit - wear school colors or any spirit gear
            - Dress for the Decade - choose a decade and dress like they did
            - Favorite sport team
            - Choose a color (blackout, neon, etc)
            - Dress to Impress - sometimes dressing up even when you are at home feels good for the body and spirit
            - Dress for the future - dress for the profession you want to become (I dressed as an FBI agent once! 😂 )

                                             increase student mental health in your classroom through communication and connections

    - Tutorials - When introducing something new to your students, it is a good idea to create a tutorial to walk them through the steps. In the classroom, you would most likely be doing this as a whole class activity allowing the students to observe you. In remote learning, the video can serve the same purpose and allow students to rewatch it several times if they are having trouble. While it may seem more time-consuming, it may actually save you time in the long run as you can refer to the tutorial if there are questions and share it with parents. 

    A tutorial will also allow students to see and hear what you are doing. This hits several modalities that allow for better comprehension. Tutorials are very important at the beginning of the year as you set up your digital classroom procedures. Students need to understand your routines so they can fit into them. Tutorials can be created for concepts but should also be created for classroom procedures such as: 
            - How to take assessments
            - Course expectations
            - How to submit work
            - How and where to ask questions or get in touch

    - A safe place to share - Think about creating a safe place or an outlet for students to share about their lives. Discussion boards can be created in some learning management systems such as Schoology where students can respond to questions asked by a teacher or student response. The more places a student has to share, the more comfortable they will feel opening up to you. 

    Another option is an activity like, "Three Things I Want My Teacher to Know". This allows students to write down three things they want to share with you. Some students take assignments like this seriously and will divulge information about their personal life that can make their classroom behavior more understandable. Read more about it here. You can access the material to implement this assignment into your classroom TODAY below. 

    Also, an activity that I absolutely LOVE... having students share what their bedroom looks like. Initially, this activity was completed as a companion to a book but it gave me so much insight into the life of my student that I also include this as a back to school activity. Get the assignment and read more about it here

    - Remind! - This is an app that allows you to safely communicate with parents or students through text messaging in a safe way. The app ensures that your personal number is not given out. Communication is key in any relationship. When we are distance teaching, aspects of communication can be lost. The more ways you can communicate with students and families, the easier your life will be. Being able to remind parents and students of new assignments posted, due dates, assessments, etc may seem like a lot of work on the forefront but it will save you time on the backend. Think of when grades are due and you won't have to chase anyone down because you already have all quarter. Your future self will thank you! 

I hope these activities provide you with a starting point as you enter the new school year. It is important to keep in mind the fragile social emotional state of our students and doing our best to support them as we transition back into an unknown situation. If you have comments or questions, please share them below! 

Other ready-made lessons and activities to get to know your students.  

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    How to Support SEL during Remote Learning

    supporting the social emotional health of your grade 4 5 6 students while teaching remotely

     Remote or distance learning was something that was mentioned but not really thought out until we were thrown into it in the spring of 2020. While academics always play a role in the learning process, one area that was severely neglected was the social - emotional learning of our students. It is no wonder why as millions of schools worldwide closed down without any notice and with good reason, as we needed to protect the physical well-being of all human beings. However, now that we have time to look back and reflect on our practices, this is an area that needs to be addressed and nurtured as we look to the future of what distance learning might look like. 

        Across the United States, one of the biggest complaints I heard from fellow educators was the lack of engagement from the students and how it waned as the school year went on. This happened despite having time in the classroom to make connections and form relationships with our students. So if we start the fall of 2020 eLearning, how can we engage students with whom we have no relationship at all? 

        My passion for this area has had me to research and brainstorm several ways that I can hone in on the social emotional needs of my future students. The three areas I need to cover with my students to have the best outcome of participation and engagement are making connections, communication, and creativity. Covering these three areas will set a solid foundation in having invested learners. 

    Feeling connected: 

        The ability to make social connections with one another is an area that can sometimes be overlooked when the curriculum is always on our mind. Feeling connected has many positive effects including: 
    • improving your quality of life
    • boost mental health
    • live a longer life
    • decrease suicide risk
    Students need to feel connected to their classmates, teacher, and as an integral part of the classroom environment. 

    making students feel connected to their grade 4 5 6 classroom fosters healthy social emotional learning skills


        Being able to communicate with one another is an important life skill to have. Much has been written on the importance of parent - teacher communication but communication between the student and teacher is just as, if not more, important. Communication is not limited to how an assignment should be completed. Communication should also include: 
        The way you communicate with a student is just as important as the words you use. Students are attuned to know which teachers like them and which teachers may not be fond of them. Avoid letting them know. Be sure to make eye contact, engage in a few minutes of personal communication to build relationships, and avoid power struggles. Try to respectfully talk about negative behaviors 1:1 or without other classmates watching and listening. 


        It may not sound like it but being creative will also help build a relationship and engage your students. For a teacher new to the digital world, I can understand the feelings of overwhelm as you struggle to not only develop relationships with your new students but understand a new digital platform and then vary what you are using the increase student interest.

    I get it! 

        When I talk about varying your teaching style and the tools that you use, just know that because you are distance teaching does not mean everything HAS to be digital. Sometimes a minor switch like that can reinspire a student. Even though we are on a digital platform, it is still vital to try to incorporate the different learning styles of our students. Simple modifications to assignments like having a student draw their response or make something to take on a kinesthetic/ STEM-like approach can reel in students who may otherwise be disengaged. It can inspire curiosity and keep them wanting more from your classroom. 

    Ways to support SEL needs for grade 4 5 6 students in the distance learning classroom

    Ways to develop a social - emotional relationship while distance teaching: 

    It can be a struggle to develop a relationship with your students in the classroom, nevermind over the internet but the following ways are some ideas that I plan to implement to make my students feel comfortable and connected to my classroom, improve and open the lines of communication as well as demonstrate a level of creativity that will engage and motivate my students. 

    Live sessions:

    This is not voluntary, but was a requirement for my school district however, holding the live meetings with my students was a way for me to connect with them face to face. While not entirely ideal, I did like the fact that the live meetings allowed me into my students' homes. During the meetings, we were able to connect in a different way than in school. Students were able to have an eye into my personal life, seeing my home, my pets, the mugs that I drink my tea in. It also gave me a lens into their homes. These connections helped to strengthen our bond and gave me ideas on what to talk to my students about in future sessions. During the live meetings, you can vary what you do:

        • Before tackling the curriculum, spend a few minutes checking in with the students. Instead, start with questions about the weekend or have a random poll to spark the interest of your students. 
        • Think of different SEL activities that you can do with your students. 
        • Group mindfulness activity: Mindfulness is linked to self - regulation and self - awareness, two areas I think most people I know can improve, especially young adults. Check out these ideas here

    Recorded sessions: Live sessions are so much fun but another way to build upon the social emotional health of your students is to make recorded videos. Quick recorded video clips help to better communicate with your students. Students would love to have a video of their teacher saying happy birthday to them for the whole class to see. Another idea is to make a recording for any important class announcements. The more the students see you, the better connected they will feel to learning. 

    recorded videos help communication in your remote learning  grade 4 5 6 classroom

    Updates: This is especially important if you are not allowed to hold live sessions through your district. Including updates weekly or daily is a good option to help stay better connected with the students. Many learning management systems like Google Classroom or Schoology include an area for announcements or discussion threads. To keep it manageable, you can use these features to quickly communicate with your classes. 

    Learning Management System: Many schools will hold a requirement of which LMS you need to use. You can still spice it up to make it fun. Bitmoji classrooms are all the rage right now. Think about spending the time to create one, it doesn't have to be anything crazy but getting creative and having your digital avatar in your digital classroom is something that kids enjoy seeing. 

    bitmoji classrooms are a popular way to engage students and personalize the learning experience

    This is a lot of information to take in and digest. Think about the different ways that you can open up your digital classroom to make students feel connected, open the lines of communication, and be creative. Next week I will give explicit ideas on fun ways to improve the social - emotional health of your classroom. 

    Supporting the mental health of our students in a digital classroom

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      How to Archive Your Learning Management System

      How and why you need to archive your digital class using Google Classroom at the end of the year

      Whether you loved it or hated it, distance teaching is finally over for this school year. Before you throw your hands up with joy to kick back and relax this summer, it helps to do a few housekeeping tasks to clean up your digital learning management systems. 

      Archiving a class

      There is an option called archiving a class in many of the learning management systems such as Google Classroom or Schoology. At the end of the school year, it is a good idea to choose this option. 

      To archive a class means that the class will no longer show in the main feed for your students or yourself. It will preserve everything that is inside of the class, but it will be placed elsewhere so that it does not clutter your space. I think of it as storing it in the attic in case I need it at a later date. 

      Reasons to archive a class: 

      There are a few reasons I choose to archive a class rather than delete it. 
      • Data: Using digital learning management systems can be awesome and provided comfort during remote learning. Having everything in one place has helped the teacher to organize and grade accurately. However, if you delete the class, you have lost all of your data. If you choose to archive a class, all student work as well as their grades remain within your reach. This is helpful if there is a later discussion about grades, effort, or ability. By archiving your class, you retain all of this information at your reach.  
      • Classroom materials: As teachers, there are often lessons and activities that we enjoy using with our students. You can think of your past classes as a digital lesson plan book of sorts. Archiving the class will give you access to the assignments and materials you used with your past students so that you can use them again with your future students. 
      • Organization: Archiving a class in your learning management system allows you to retain the ability to organize the main Google Classroom or Schoology page. Keeping the class active will continue to have it show on your main page, as well as your students. This causes visual clutter and can be confusing for students, especially though with executive functioning deficits. Archiving the class takes it off of the main page and "puts it in the attic" for them as well. 

      One hindrance is that by archiving a class, anything that you inputted into the calendar, such as Google Calendar, will still show up. This may not be an issue because most of the events were probably in the past but you can delete or unsubscribe the class from the calendar. You can follow the instructions here to do so

      How to Archive Your Class

      Archiving your class is quite simple whether you are using Google Classroom or Schoology. 

      Archiving a class in Google Classroom: 

      1. Go to the main page of your Google Classroom: 
      2. On the class card, you will see three vertical dots. Click on them. 
      3. Click Archive. 
      That's it! That's how simple it is to archive your digital class. 

      To view an archived course
      1. Go to the main page of your Google Classroom: 
      2. Click on the hamburger menu (three vertical lines on the left)
      3. Scroll down to Archived Classes - this option will ONLY be there IF you have archived a class before. 

      Archiving a class in Schoology:

      It is done for you! Schoology runs by your grading period dates so once the dates are in the past, your course will automatically be archived! 

      To view the archived course, click on My Courses which is found on the right-hand side of the main courses page. Then click archived

      Deleting a Class: 

      In Google Classroom you have an option to delete the class. You can do so but choose this option with caution. Make sure you read and understand the benefits of archiving. If you think it is a class that you will never, ever, ever use again, then you may want to delete it. 

      To delete the Google Classroom class, you first need to follow the steps to archive it. 
      1. Go to the main page of your Google Classroom: 
      2. Scroll down to Archived Classes.
      3. Click the three vertical dots for More
      4. Choose delete.  
      Get your digital learning management system ready for the back to school season

      I hope this informed you of reasons to archive your classes at the end of this remote teaching journey. If you are looking for more tech and digital tips for your Elearning journey next year, check out some of the posts below. 

      Looking for more digital tips? Learn more from these past blog posts

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        More Google Apps for Teaching in the Distance Learning Classroom

        Google Apps for the Remote teaching classroom to use when distance learning in grades 4 5 6

        Last week I shared 5 awesome Google extensions that I fell in love with. Some of them I have been using prior to remote learning, others I found during the time of eLearning and will continue to use when I get back into the classroom.

               While compiling a list of great Google tech tools to use in the classroom, I realized that there were so many and I needed to break the post into two to avoid overwhelm and give some time to play around with the awesome apps. You can get a closer look at the first FIVE here.

        Share to Classroom Chrome Extension:

               Share to Classroom is a Google extension that allows Google Classroom users to instantly share out a webpage. This helps to save time and confusion by allowing the teacher to instantly share a webpage they are on for instruction with their students. No worries about typing it out, upper and lowercase letters, or the names of weird symbols. The work is done for you within seconds.

        Share to Classroom allows you to instantly share a webpage to your students while elearning in upper elementary grades.

               I love this because it makes teaching easier and saves time for instruction. I try to relate concepts to real-life so that students can make a connection to what they are learning. This extension allows me to share out a local tide table with my students when learning about tides. We can review the need to know, how moon phases affect the tide, and how often they change. Using a website like this helps build a real-life connection and can be done so with ease using this extension.

               When sharing the page with your students, you have options.

        Push allows the page to be sent to them. This would be ideal during a lesson to make sure all students can see what you are showing on the Smartboard.

        Push notification in Share to Google Classroom makes real life connections in the remote learning grade 4 5 6 classroom.

        Ask a Question This option allows you to ask the students a question that they will respond to once looking at the webpage. Students can answer either a multiple choice or short answer question.

        Ask questions to your upper elementary students to assess remote learning while using Google Classroom

        Create an Assignment Use the webpage to create an assignment for the students to complete.

        Make an Announcement Add the website to your page as an announcement. This would be nice to highlight something on the school website. 

        Schoology +

               My district uses Schoology as their Learning Management System. You can learn a little bit more about Schoology here. I loved that I stumbled across this Google extension.

               Schoology Plus has a variety of settings that are upgrades such as

        Theme: There are 3 new themes to choose from including a rainbow theme that changes colors. It is so pretty!

        Schoology plus allows teachers more options to personalize their dashboard to suit their needs for grade 5 6 7 students.

        Desktop Notifications: If you are on a laptop or desktop, you can enable notifications to pop through to let you know when students have a question, assignments are handed in, etc.

        Order Classes: You can change the order of your classes on the grades and mastery pages.

        Archived Courses Button: This button will make it easier to see archived courses.

        I am hoping that there will be more upgrades to Schoology in the future, but this is a fun addition for now. 


               Math teachers can find it difficult to integrate technology into their classroom because there is not a lot out there for them to use. Equatio is trying to change that.

               While there is a free and paid version, the free version offers a lot for students and teachers.

               Equatio will easily create math expressions in Google Docs

        -       Allow students to use their touchscreen, voice recognition, or use the keyboard to create equations

        -       Read back math expressions


        Google apps to complete digital math assignments integrate remote learning in upper elementary

        If you are interested, click here to learn more about it

        Web Paint:

               This Google extension allows you to draw, write, highlight, annotate right on a webpage! I like to use this while I am teaching at the Smartboard. It allows you to draw attention to the title, hide everything but an image, add text, or underline important information. There is an option to share the work or take a screenshot, download, or print the information.  

        Use Web paint to highlight, annotate, cover text while distance teaching in the classroom

        Reverso Translate:

               Sadly, we all know that Google Translate has its fair share of issues. Luckily, Reverso Translate works a bit better to help us translate information from texts, even PDFs. This app can translate over 20 different languages and has great reviews compared to Google Translate. 

          I am excited to use this Google extension to help me communicate more effectively with parents. There are also educational games that you can play for students in foreign language classrooms. 

        easy and free google apps to integrate tech into your grade 4 5 6 distance learning classroom

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