7 Ways to Increase Engagement in Distance Learning

We all know what it feels like to sit in front of a computer for hours on end. As a kindergarten teacher, I can see it in the faces of my little buddies! It took a good bit of time to adjust to so much screen time, but now we’re rocking and rolling. It feels less like screen time and more like a community when engagement is higher, so here are some super fun ways to increase engagement in distance learning for your little learners!

Increase Engagement to Increase Learning

Every adult in the world can easily tell you that if they’re not interested in something, they won’t learn it. The same principle applies to our little ones too. To learn something, anything, you’ve got to be interested enough that you focus on it and absorb it. This is why I firmly believe teachers are the best actors in the world! We can put on a show like no other, all in the name of education.

When you think about engagement in a lesson or live session, the number one factor to consider is students’ interests. Playing to their interests is going to automatically get them excited and involved! For example, my kindergarten class this year is obsessed with glitter. Even though we are virtual, I use glitter on everything I show them because they go nuts! Seriously: I have glitter spinners, I write my sight words in glitter, I decorate our word families with glitter. They love it!

Kindergarteners are an easy crowd to please, though, and as they get older it takes more concentrated effort to get them engaged. I know a crowd favorite right now is Among Us, and teachers everywhere are incorporating that into everything they do. I’m not sure if I should admit that I have no idea what Among Us is! I better go check it out.

With sixteen weeks of distance learning under my belt this school year, I have a good grasp on what engages my little learners. These seven strategies are not only fun for our kiddos, but for us too! I have truly enjoyed thinking outside of the box to bring joy and excitement into the digital classroom. Another bonus: they can easily be modified for learners of all ages to increase engagement in distance learning.

7 ways to increase engagement in distance learning

7 Strategies to Increase Engagement in Distance Learning


Yup, you heard me right! Simple, inexpensive, but outrageously fun stickers. I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love them! But…what do you do with them to increase engagement in distance learning?

You stick them all over your face! Do it as an incentive for whatever it us you’re trying to improve. Need kids to raise their hands more often? Put a sticker on your face every time they do! Looking for kids using a vocabulary word you’re studying? Slap another sticker on your face each time they use it out loud! The possibilities are endless.

You can use stickers on your face for thousands of reasons, and they’re going to think it’s hilarious when you teach an entire class with a face full of stickers. My personal favorite is this pack of 3,200 PUFFY STICKERS! There are so many themes, and they’re so colorful (and cheap)! My kids love these.

Don’t want to put stickers all over your face? You can still use them! I’ve used these Make a Face sticker sheets as longer-term incentives (think weekly attendance, completing assignments, etc).

We decide which face to build, and add onto it each class when they make their goal. When the face is fully put together, we get a class reward!

As a bonus, you can even put a few in their work packets if you do material deployments, or drop a few in the mail as a sweet surprise!

Take it outside.

Two weeks ago, I had the most fun I’ve ever had during distance learning: my Google Meet went outside! I created a sight word scavenger hunt, and you can click here to read all about it. I took my Google Meet all around my neighborhood and we found the sight words that were posted everywhere! They loved recording the words as we found them.

It’s so novel to students because even when we’re not virtual we don’t spend time learning outdoors. I’ve seen this done a few other ways as well. One teacher I read about taught science by getting pushed into her pool. Another teacher had her kids grab a bowl, go outside and get a handful of snow, and come in and play together virtually for a few minutes!

Let them share.

Learning from home provides unique opportunities for kids to show what they love and do at home. I’ve had my kids use toys as models for writing projects and go on scavenger hunts for something of a certain shape. They love showing things to the class and sharing about them!

Some ways you can incorporate this into your distance learning include:

  • Have “show and tell” as a reward if you have an incentive program in place.
  • Have kids grab something in their house that starts with whatever letter you’re learning.
  • Use a toy as a writing prompt.
  • Students can use small toys to practice addition and subtraction.

Use manipulatives.

Age doesn’t matter when it comes to hands-on activities. We all learn by doing! Whether you are fully distance learning or alternate with hybrid, each kid needs their own set of manipulatives this year (no sharing anymore!).

You also don’t need to break the bank buying “traditional” manipulatives. There are a million and one ways you can come up with your own, and here are just a few ideas:

  • Playdoh! This pack has 36 cans for under $25, so you can outfit and entire class (or two!). You can use playdoh for anything from forming letters, making shapes, to building area models and base ten pieces.
  • Beads! You can count, make patterns and shapes, create letters, and do much more. My favorite pack is this one that has over 2,400 beads: half are pony beads and half are alphabet beads! Kiddos can spell sight words, vocabulary words, their name, anything!
  • Food: use cereal pieces or small candies. They’ll get yucky after a bit so this isn’t a long term solution, but kids can just grab them from their kitchens in a pinch!

Be spontaneous!

You’ll see so much more engagement in distance learning if the kiddos never know what to expect from you! Incorporate some of the silly things that definitely lack this school year. A little random fun never hurt anyone!

  • “Accidentally” drop something, and come back on screen with a moustache.
  • Wear a wig but pretend you don’t know what they’re talking about when they mention it.
  • Use a recruit: have a family member keep popping up behind you, but when you look there’s nobody there! Add some practice to it by having them pop up with a sight word, math problem, etc.
  • Put a fake bug or toy under your document camera, and act confused when the kids tell you about it. What bug?!
  • Use a puppet and have it pop up in front of you randomly.

Have a special virtual session.

Yes, it’s additional screen time, but it’s for building community and having conversations. We definitely don’t get enough of that this school year! Hold a special extra session just to bond with your kiddos.

Eat lunch together virtually, watch a movie or show together, have a breakfast club, or go on a virtual field trip. Read a book in your pajamas. Do anything that makes personal connections and let’s you and students just relax a little!

Doing something special opens up lines of conversation that don’t happen during a regular lesson. Getting to know each other and building community will increase engagement because you’ll all feel more connected as people.

Invite a special guest.

Use outside sources to reinforce topics you’re teaching! There are so many community members that will join your session to talk about their jobs and give virtual tours of workplaces.

You can also connect with classes and people around the world! Get virtual pen pals to learn with, or learn about countries or habitats firsthand by seeing them live in a session.

Ready to engage?!

Take one of these ideas and implement it in the next week. It’s truly going to amaze you what a difference you’ll see! This is a perfect time to shift education in a new direction and its success depends on engagement.

The key takeaways here are these: build a community and be novel in your approach. This generation of kids is the first in education’s short history to experience learning in this way, and we are the first to teach it. Success or failure depends on us. Go forth and be engaging!

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