Ways to Keep Students Engaged in Distance Learning

Help keep students engaged and build intrinsic motivation during distance learning! Be sure to download the free editable student choice boards in the blog post!

We have long known that student engagement is a key component to learning. When students are engaged they feel connected and are willing to work hard.  When students feel disconnected from a lesson they become distracted and are less likely to learn.  

In this time of distance learning and remote instruction, it has become a lot more difficult to keep students motivated and engaged. We can’t rely on the strategies we use in the classroom when we are teaching from afar.  In this new virtual learning environment, we have to find new strategies to keep students engaged and motivated to learn. 

In order for a student to be engaged, they must first be motivated. In this op-ed piece, Larry Ferlazzo identifies four key elements of intrinsic motivation:

Autonomy: having a degree of control over what needs to happen and how it can be done

Competence: feeling that one has the ability to be successful in doing it

Relatedness: doing the activity helps them feel more connected to others and feel cared about by people whom they respect

Relevance: the work must be seen by students as interesting and valuable to them and useful to their present lives and/or hopes and dreams for the future.

Today I am sharing activities and ideas that apply these four qualities and will help keep your students motivated and engaged while learning from home!

Activities to Build Student Autonomy

💗Give your students the power to choose the books they read on online platforms. Encourage students to read books on reading websites like VOOKS or Epic but allow them choice as to what it is they read.  

💗Assign writing tasks that offer choice.  For example, you can upload three different Writing Picture Prompts and allow students to decide for themselves which one they want to complete.   

Writing Picture Prompts

💗Create weekly choice boards.  Make a list of different on-line and off-line activities students can do throughout the week.  They can choose which ones they complete and when they complete them.  

Download these FREE editable choice boards here

Ways to Build Student Competence

💗Assign tasks with clear instructions that students will be able to successfully complete on their own. Unfortunately, distance learning means we are not able to assist and answer questions for our students the way we do when we are together in the classroom.  To keep students from getting frustrated and giving up, make directions clear and concise! You may want to consider using Seesaw for student learning. The platform allows teachers to record voice instructions!

Digital Dolch Hidden Sight Words

💗Assign consistent activities for independent learning.  It’s too much to ask students to follow a new set of directions and try to complete new activities all the time.  Giving students tasks with consistent structures will help build their competence.

Writing resources such as my Sequence Writing Prompts and Sentence Building Activities include many different activities you can assign but they all follow the same structure.  Once you model for students and they know how to complete one they can independently and successfully complete these literacy tasks at whatever pace you assign them!

Sequence Writing prompts digital

Sequence Writing Prompts

Sentence building digital

Sentence Building Activities

Math resources such as this Cognition Coin Counting bundle and the Cognition Cube Bundle also have consistent structures that students can quickly learn to follow!  And with 40 different coin logic puzzles and 96 cognition cube puzzles, These are resources that you can assign over a long period of time!  

Activities to Develop Student Relatedness

We have always known that relationships matter but it is even more important now in this time of distance learning.  In a recent blog post, Building Student Relationships While Teaching Remotely I shared specific ideas for how you can continue to build meaningful relationships with your students, even from afar.   

Here are some other activities that help students feel connected and cared for:

💗Hold virtual class meetings. Use the time to simply check-in with students and allow them to share.  Have fun with them!  Schedule meetings on Fridays to play games together such as B-I-N-G-O, have an “art show” where they share a piece of art they created, go on virtual field trips together, have theme days!  Use the time to connect and build a sense of belonging and class community.

In these meetings give shout outs to individual students for specific things.  It doesn’t always have to be academic-based, maybe they had a birthday or lost a tooth!  Find ways to acknowledge students and make them feel special.  

💗Mail “Job Well Done” postcards to your students’ homes.  It’s a simple way to show your students that you are thinking of them and recognize their efforts, even from afar.  It’s a distanced “pat on the back” and may be just what they need to keep working hard that day.  There are lots of free postcards to download HERE.

💗Teach lessons and assign tasks that promote a growth mindset.  When students believe that dedication and hard work can change their performance in school, they grow to become resilient, successful students. They need this positive mindset now more than ever!

You can find a wide array of information, lessons, read alouds, and freebies to promote your students’ growth mindset in these blog posts: 

Growth Mindset Lessons and Activities

Growth Mindset Ideas and Freebies

The Best Growth Mindset Picture Books

growth mindset picture books

Ways to Provide Student Relevance 

💗Explicitly explain to students why a task is relevant and how the skill is useful in life. No matter how disinteresting content may seem, once students have determined that the content is worth knowing, then it will hold their attention and engage them.   

💗Continue to set goals!  In the blog post Goal Setting With Elementary Students I talk about the power of goal setting and how it helps to develop a growth mindset.  The activities I share in that post will help your students to set goals, measure their growth and celebrate their achievements. Seeing their results will give them the confidence and assurance they need to believe they can achieve even more!

💗Allow students opportunities to share what they have learned. Schedule a time to let them talk about their reading and share their writing pieces with classmates.  Knowing there is an expectation that they will share, and that peers and teachers are curious and interested in their work, will help motivate students to complete tasks and put forth their best effort.  

Distance learning is hard and different.  Strategies we relied on in the classroom may not work as effectively in a virtual learning environment.  But I know that as teachers we are experts in adjusting our ways to make things work, and it’s what we’ll do to find ways to keep students motivated while learning from home! I hope the information, ideas, and activities I have shared today will serve as a helpful guide and help you keep your students engaged in their distance learning. 


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