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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Twenty Tips for Online Instruction

By Larry Ferlazzo — August 17, 2020 12 min read
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(Today’s post is the second in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are effective instructional strategies to use when teaching an online class?

This new series continues a 25-post “blitz” that began on Aug. 1 supporting teachers as we enter a pandemic-fueled school year.

You can see all the posts from this month, as well as the 60 from the spring, at All Classroom Q&A Posts on the Coronavirus Crisis.

In Part One, Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, Gina Laura Gullo, and Vivian Micolta Simmons shared their suggestions.

Today, Jared Covili, Jenny Edwards, Ph.D., and Toby Karten provide their responses.

You might also be interested in Here Are Detailed - & Tentative - Distance Learning Plans For All My Fall Classes.

“Minimal but meaningful”

Jared Covili specializes in teaching strategies for classroom integration of technology such as Google tools, geospatial learning, social media, and digital devices. Jared’s background is in secondary education where he was a language arts teacher. Jared received his bachelor’s degree in English and his masters degree in instructional design and educational technology from the University of Utah:

“Online teaching” has become a vital part of our everyday school lives. With our in-person learning being affected by COVID 19, it’s important to think about ways to make our virtual classroom effective learning centers. Below are nine ideas to help you create effective online learning centers for your students.


Use video and show your face! Your students want to see you. Don’t make long videos. A good rule of thumb is to make videos between 3-5 minutes long. Attention spans online are much shorter than face to face.


Try to balance your assignments in your online classroom. Don’t feel compelled to create content that fills your “in-person” schedule. Focus on key learning concepts!


Have a set schedule to release new assignments/class materials to students and parents. Don’t release classwork randomly or late at night. Even though online learning is generally asynchronous, students and parents work better when they have schedules they can rely on.


Assign some of the same type of work you might have done in person. Have students use paper/pencil to complete some assignments and then snap a photo to submit online. If you would have a group discussion in class, use online discussion tools to do the same thing virtually.


In your online course, use announcements to share information with students and parents. Announcements generate email for parents and are easy to sort when searching. Parents want to be informed, so sharing information on a regular schedule can help them stay in the know!


Using modules, organize your content for the upcoming week. Create an overview homepage for the week to give students and parents the big picture and a to-do list. By being organized online, you’ll help your students understand your expectations, and they’ll be better able to find the content/assignments you’re sharing with them in your virtual course.


Using due dates for assignments helps students prioritize their work. Be sure to leave assignments open so students can submit late work. Be flexible with due dates.


Give students multiple attempts to do a quiz. Use quizzes as an opportunity to show mastery, not just as a summative assessment.


Students will remember the support (or lack thereof) during this time of transition much more than anything else. Be supportive and kind. Relationships with students and parents are just as important in an online environment as they are in person. Make sure you communicate your support frequently with those who matter most!

Using breakout rooms

Jenny Edwards, Ph.D., has taught students in K-5 and in grade 7, as well as students in higher education. She is currently teaching in the Leadership for Change doctoral program in the School of Leadership Studies at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, Calif. She has written Inviting Students to Learn: 100 Tips for Talking Effectively with Your Students (ASCD, 2010) and Time to Teach: How do I get organized and work smarter? (ASCD, 2014):

You are going to be teaching online. You may be teaching in that mode for the first time or you may have done it this past spring or another time. What might be helpful for you to keep in mind?

1. First, become familiar with the manual for the platform you will be using. You might also get together with a colleague and practice using the various options you will have available such as breakout rooms, mute, video, security options, chat, raised hand, etc. If you have a technology person in your school district, you could ask for training or go to that person as questions arise.

Once you are feeling comfortable with using the platform, you are ready to plan your lessons.

2. Begin each class with a warm-up to get to know the students and help them get to know each other. Depending on the age of the students you teach, what might they like to talk about as a warm-up? You could have them talk about their answers in the whole group if you have a small group of students, you could put them into breakout rooms to talk with each other, or you could invite them to write in the chat. You could ask younger children about their favorite toy or book, their pet, their favorite color, etc. You could ask older students about what they might like to study in college, the best place they have visited, their favorite vacation spot, etc. You could also ask students for ideas for warm-ups. These activities help students to get to know each other, and they help us to build relationships with them.

3. Have a visible agenda and outcomes so that students know the sequence you will be following in the lesson. Go over it after you have asked everyone to check in. Explain what you will be doing, why you will be doing it, and how you will be doing it so that they will be prepared and know the rationale behind your decisions.

4. Use the breakout rooms to keep students involved. The Thinking Collaborative website has numerous activities available for involving students that can be adapted to an online environment.

5. Before going to the breakout rooms, have a PowerPoint slide with the instructions written on it. Grinder (2013) recommends that teachers provide the instructions to students visually. Students do not always listen when we give instructions. By writing the instructions on a slide, students will know exactly what to do. When students are in the breakout rooms, you could also broadcast the instructions to them by copying and pasting into the broadcast area if that option is available on the platform you are using.

6. Hold students accountable for what they discuss in the breakout rooms. You could ask them to choose someone to report to the large group what they discussed when everyone returns, they could do an assignment together in the breakout room to turn in, etc.


Grinder, M. (2013). ENVoY: Your personal guide to classroom management (11th ed.). Michael Grinder and Associates.

“Establishing norms and expectations”

Toby Karten is an award-winning special educator, international presenter, and author who is passionate in sharing her knowledge with others to build on the strength of students with special needs in inclusive classrooms, thinking about what to do and what to do better! She has taught students ranging from preschool to graduate level across the least restrictive continuum. Her interactive live and online presentations, digital resources, and more than 30 publications offer practical and creative inclusive applications:

The best strategies for online classes include establishing norms and expectations for students, teachers, and families. This includes digital routines to learn skills and concepts beyond devices. Students can be applauded with both a digital clap icon and actually clapping that is seen and heard through video and audio tools in a Google classroom.

Norms can include an expectation that students log onto lessons each day and offer respect to their families, teachers, and each other. Check out digital citizenship lessons from code.org for ideas. Go beyond checklists to also offer understanding for varying home situations, whether instruction is synchronous or asynchronous. Understand that students have different equity and access to devices and family support. Norms and expectations include ongoing communications for teachers, administrators, support staff, and families to create an online village of support!

Even though teaching in an online environment requires different types of structure, support, and resources, teachers promote independence and individualization. Visuals and reminders can be personalized with audio notes, interactive videos, recorded directions, and photos of familiar objects to concretize specific parameters, along with the materials needed, and the time requirements. Some students will also require intermittent checks, collaboration and reinforcement from school staff, family members, caregivers, and/or peer mentors to ensure the appropriate behaviors, work quality levels, and fidelity to the schedules. Although we ultimately want to ensure that new learning occurs, there also has to be time slated for practice, repetition, and enrichment.

In addition, schedules need to include stretches of time for family activities that promote home responsibilities, which may include tasks such as yard work, learning how to make a bed, or reading a book to a younger sibling. Students gain an array of skills when families spend time together&mdsh;playing games, telling jokes, and getting reacquainted. Turn taking, counting, problem solving, and following directions are not exclusive to scribed text in standardized curriculum guides and a teacher’s manual.

Online ways to “stay on target” are offered under these five headings:

(1) Establish positive attitudes

Focus on solutions, whether that’s more frequent handwashing, task analysis to increase positive behaviors, having video playdates, or connecting virtually with teachers, family, and friends. Different, but onward!

(2) Help, do not enable

Goldilocks said it best, but what does “just right” look like in online learning? Supports need to help but not enable children or families. Instead of spoon-feeding answers, provide the resources and tools that lead to discovery. That includes a “do-it-yourself semi-supervised cooking lesson,” providing a link to a math video tutorial, offering science visuals for more difficult vocabulary, or asking a child to tally his or her progress. Monitor frustrations, but help, do not enable. Goal is to target learning and self-efficacy.

(3) Plan and prepare

Proactivity is crucial for “what if” scenarios. If online connectivity is lost, prepare alternate activities. As age- and interest-appropriate, kids can color, read a comic book, listen to music, post an Instagram, or perhaps call their grandmother. Provide sensory items and procedures to soothe and regulate meltdowns. That might mean looking at a montage of family photos, counting to 10 or 20, listening to or reading a book, or pounding some clay. Having consistency with schedules is important, but expect the “curveballs.” If the cat walks across the keyboard, it’s OK to laugh, but then it’s back on track to avoid a total derailing. In challenging times, honor the distractions but offer redirections with strategic planning and preparation.

(4) Balance emotions and academics

Evenly distributing our weight is tough to do, whether we’re trying to stand like a tree in a yoga pose or juggling difficult agendas. Unprecedented times require managing “wobbly” behaviors and emotions. It’s important to learn, but in healthy doses. Balance textbooks and screen time with fun times, like teaching the dog a new trick, stretching, learning a new language, playing a video game, or creating a watercolor, haiku, or animated video. Acknowledge and validate emotions but balance academics and emotions.

Tip 5: Breathe and smile

Deep breaths lower stress levels and offer positive connections to internal organs and glands. Although we can receive a message to “breathe” on a device, we need to regularly “message ourselves” to continually take deep breaths of inhalation and exhalation. Mindfulness leads to coping strategies. Upturned lips are difficult to see, but masks don’t mask smiles.

Together WE CAN and WILL succeed with online instruction!

Thanks to Jared, Jenny, and Toby for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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