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Knowing how to keep elementary students focused while delivering an effective lesson plan for different learning styles has always been a challenge. Children ages 6 – 12 have short attention spans, especially if they’re expected to hold still for hours, even without the distractions inherent to a home or remote environment.

The urgency of this question of classroom management for elementary-aged students has been greatly elevated with the rise of remote and hybrid learning environments. New challenges to student access, learner engagement, and communication and participation require an increasingly creative and dedicated approach to lesson delivery.

So let’s talk about how modern elementary school teachers can shift the focus back to them and maintain a hybrid and online learning environment that ensures the success of students connecting wherever they are.

Engaging elementary-aged students in a remote learning environment

It’s hard enough to keep wiggly, active children still and focused in an in-person environment – and that’s with interventions like recess and sports in tow. A fully remote elementary classroom offers a unique set of challenges to student engagement. Here are a few steps to create a more engaging and equitable remote learning experience.

Open up the chat

One problem in remote learning environments that became quickly apparent when schools started switching to zoom-based classes en masse is the participation disparity between quiet students and more talkative students. This gap becomes even more extreme in an online classroom. However, the benefit is that elementary kids in remote classrooms have unique access to more options for self-expression and participation than in-person can offer.

To facilitate better engagement for all, allow your students to access the chat to answer questions and participate in discussions. This can be broadcast to the whole group, or students can send messages directly to you to be read out loud. If allowing chat communication, it’s important to take extra time to pause after you ask a question or solicit a response so students have time to type. As with any kind of discussion, verbal or non-verbal, be sure to set boundaries and guidelines so everyone stays kind and inclusive.

Play, play, play!

As much as possible, make your lessons into a game to keep students’ attention focused on you and their classmates. And minimize distractions lurking in the home – such as their phone or nearby toys and other items.

Of course, there will be periods of quiet where students should be reading to themselves or engaging in other non-interactive activities. And this will require a different intervention to ensure focus. If the activity allows it, such as in a painting or crafting class, students might participate in a familiar sing-along to keep everyone in the same room. This is a practice used in in-person classes in the Waldorf pedagogy.

Expand into the real world

Incorporate as many hands-on activities, opportunities for movement, and other embodied practices into your lessons as possible. Sitting still at this age is tough, and more so when alone in front of a screen. So avoiding periods of inertia with plenty of time for movement can help young students to be less wiggly when an activity does require calm.

Make time for bonding

Building teacher-student and peer-to-peer relationships helps to foster that sense of team spirit that makes a lesson plan go more smoothly for young minds and bodies.

This relationship-building is also a critical step that will help students feel safe asking for what they need from you or letting you know if there’s something in the lesson they don’t understand. Having a relationship with your students is a necessary part of delivering a truly supportive and effective education.

Engaging elementary-aged students in a hybrid learning environment

Partial in-person and remote classrooms are a technological challenge for any age group. Here are a few best practices to employ to create community and deliver quality education to your hybrid elementary classroom.

Bridge the gap between remote and in-person students

Make sure your lesson plans, games, and discussions are accessible to both in-person and remote students. It can feel easier initially to deliver two different standards to either cohort, but ultimately this creates more work for you and drives a sense of separation for students.

During a small-group discussion, consider pairing remote and in-person students in hybrid groups to avoid facilitating an “us” vs. “them” mentality. Introduce games that can be played across a computer screen wherever your kids may be. Incorporate a remote/in-person buddy system to build better camaraderie across the spatial divide.

Bring on extra help

As a teacher, you need to exercise the eyes on the back of your head even more in a hybrid environment. But that doesn’t mean they have to be your own eyes – one or two TAs who can help you manage Zoom, troubleshoot other technologies, or help to support the kids who need a little extra attention make your job easier. This additional support can provide a better and more effective learning environment for your students.

Inhabit a dynamic space

Don’t feel obligated to remain glued to your screen. Remain in view, but feel free and empowered to inhabit the whole space in which you are teaching.

For example, if you have access to a whiteboard, physical modeling, or demonstration space for science or art lessons, try to make the best use of that space as long as it is clear and accessible through the camera. This will keep lesson plans more visible and engaging for in-person students and make everything feel real to remote learners.

Plan ahead, and test everything

It’s important to get creative with your delivery in a hybrid learning environment. However, you need to make sure everything works before you launch into your most dynamic lesson plan yet. This means ensuring your students have the basic skills needed to engage technology how you plan to use it, ensuring mics and cameras are adequately set up, and your in-person students are equally engaged and involved. Measure twice, deliver once, stick to the script – and have fun!

Final thoughts: classroom management strategies for elementary school students

It can feel daunting to provide an excellent learning environment to elementary-aged kids over a remote or hybrid sphere. But teachers can still rely on the tried-and-true techniques they’ve always used, with a few tweaks here and there to the application. And if you feel like it’s not working, ask your students what they need and what might work better for them. They’ll be only too happy to let you know.

Gain more insight on managing a remote or hybrid classroom from experts in our eBook.

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About Sidra
Sidra is head of Education Marketing at Class, and has worked in education for almost 10 years. You can find her doing yoga, drinking espresso, and watching F1 on Sundays.