Virtual Elf on the Shelf Ideas for Teachers

This year, classroom celebrations look a lot different than they ever have before. Some of us are hybrid, fully in person, or 100 percent distance education. No matter where we are teaching, we are all teaching with a huge amount of technology. So in the spirit of the holidays, let’s have some holiday fun with a virtual Elf on the Shelf!

I’ve been seeing a ton of questions on social media about how this can be done, but not many answers. So in this post, my friends, I’m going to share my ideas for hiding that little elf in our new virtual world! Read on for some inspiration and holiday fun!

What is Elf on the Shelf?

For those of you who haven’t ever done it before, the Elf on the Shelf is a cute little guy (or girl) that typically arrives in December 1st and stays until Christmas Eve. This elf watches everything and reports to Santa each evening, and returns by morning – often creating some mischief upon arrival each day.

There’s only one rule if an elf shows up in your classroom: you must never touch the elf! If someone does, the poor guy (or gal) loses its Christmas magic. Without its magic, the elf can no longer report to and from Santa or cause any mischief or fun. It’s so sad when this happens!

Occasionally, Santa will write a letter telling the kids how the elf can get its magic back. This usually involves apologies, classroom cleaning, and lots and lots of kindness!

Virtual Elf on the Shelf ideas

Taking the Elf Virtual

I am determined to be super creative and make this a really fun virtual elf on the shelf experience this December! The elf has been my favorite tradition each year in my classroom, and he’s brought so much joy! I can’t imagine not having him do that this year too. So without further ado, I’m going to share my plans to spread Elf joy this distance education year!

There are a few different aspects that I considered when planning for out elf to return this year from the North Pole. I want to make this experience as close to the in-person one as I can, so I’m digitizing (is that a word?) as many fun elf activities as possible. These are the main categories of activities we’ll be doing virtually:

  1. Introduction of the elf (arrival day)
  2. Class naming of the elf
  3. Daily elf antics
  4. Communication from Santa via our elf
  5. Elf departure before holiday break

Now let me share how I’m planning for each one, and hopefully provide you with inspiration!

Elf Arrival Day Ideas

This is the day that my kiddos will find the elf has arrived in our virtual class! This is probably the most exciting day. He arrives each year with a letter telling who he is and why he’s there, as well as instructions that the class should give him a name. So there are a few ways this can be done:

  • Using an actual Elf: The elf appears in students’ view of you, meaning he is physically hiding around you in your home or classroom. Let a student point him out and then “discover” his introduction letter with him!
  • Using a digital Elf: The elf appears virtually: there are a few ways this can be done
    • Use Go Guardian to pop the elf up on the screen with his letter for all of your students
    • Hide him in a Bitmoji room
    • Hide him in a digital work assignment where they’ll see him when they open their work
    • Log into your Zoom, Google Meet, etc. with a second screen that is the elf. Have him type his letter to the class in the chat bar!

I haven’t decided which method I’m going to use, but I’m definitely doing one of the all-digital versions. I have a toddler at home with me while I’m teaching, and she would definitely touch the elf! She’s not quite old enough to play by elf rules.

Class Naming of the Elf

This is pretty flexible and can easily be done (at least something is easy this year). In years past, I asked students to think of a name for the elf overnight and we’d name him the next day. The next day, I’d have each student write the name they chose on a post-it. We’d remove duplicates and read each name. After that, a class vote would decide what our elf would be called; I’d put the names in a graph and we’d record the vote results to find the winning name.

Since I’m 100% virtual this year, I’m going to do this a little differently. Our elf will appear during our morning live session, and we’ll read the letter he brings with him. I’ll have them think of a name and write it down on a piece of paper to read at our afternoon live session. Since our afternoon session is math, this is a perfect time to incorporate the graphing and voting to see which name our elf will receive!

After each name is read, I’ll share the graph on my screen with them, and we’ll vote one person at a time. I add one colored block to the graph to show their vote for a name. After everyone votes, we’ll analyze the graph and determine the winning name!

What will my elf do each day?

The most important tradition is the daily antics the elf plays when he returns from the North Pole. We can’t leave this out just because we’re doing a virtual Elf on the Shelf! So here are some ideas for both physical elves that might jsut show up in your background, as well as completely virtual options if you are using a digital elf.

If you have a real elf: your elf can pretty much do whatever he or she wants to do! This post I wrote last year gives you 20 different ideas for classroom antics that my elf has done before. If you’re teaching in-person or virtually in your classroom, most of these will work great. You can just show the elf each day wherever he is in your classroom!

If you are doing a virtual elf, like I am this year, more creativity is needed. But don’t worry – I’m going to share all my fun ideas with you for some inspiration!

Virtual Elf on the Shelf Ideas

Having a virtual Elf on the Shelf seems so fitting for this school year, doesn’t it?! Now that the most overwhelming part of the school year has passed and I’m much more comfortable digitally teaching, I’m so excited to incorporate more fun like this into my kiddos’ experiences!

After much brainstorming and planning, here are the ways that I think the elf can incorporate well into a digital classroom. I do think it’s important to mention that you should only choose one thing for the elf to appear in each day. Keep it realistic like the in-person experience, where they will only encounter him one time. Anything more than that and I think you’re going to be burning yourself out worrying about the elf.

Virtual Elf Antics

The elf shows up in an assignment. The elf can be hiding in a Google sheet or Powerpoint slide they’re going to work on, and they’ll encounter him as they work. It’ll be a cute surprise as they’re working! It may even motivate more work to be completed… *wink*

A surprise shows up in a screenshare. The crazy elf can make his daily appearance in a live session if you insert him into something you’re presenting that day. My kiddos will go nuts if they see him pop up in the middle of a book we’re reading…just saying.

He’s hiding around your Bitmoji room. Many of us spent more hours than we’ll ever admit creating these insane digital versions of our classrooms! Why not use them to hide that little guy? He can hang on a string of lights, sip a Starbucks at the kidney table, and really just do whatever he wants!

He’s a sticker on a virtual sticker chart. I’ve seen many people talk about using digital stickers as rewards and incentives. Make your elf a sticker! He can be the reward one day for a kiddo who does something awesome.

The elf takes a Canvas page. My district uses Canvas, but you can do this in other platforms as well. Create the page like you usually would, give it a typical name (like “All About the Sight Word “my”), but put nothing but a picture of the elf on it. When students open it, there he is!

I hope these ideas give you a little inspiration and some Elf Magic this December! If nothing else, remember this: we are overwhelmed and exhausted, but this is a magical time of year for the little people in our digital worlds. Let’s spark a little joy for them! They deserve it.

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