Teaching Elementary Students Virtually

by Rebecca Landor

Anyone out there trying to figure out how to keep your dog and pony show engaging on Zoom? If you’re like me, you are reading all the blogs, searching for something, anything that can keep your students engaged. As Carol Gaab has said many times, “The brain craves novelty,” and my brain has lately been feeling like mush. I can only imagine what my students are feeling!

I currently teach Spanish to my elementary students virtually, and I am also  a partner teacher in a fourth grade class.  My third and fourth grade classes have over 40 students present in a Zoom. Talk about burnout. One thing that has been helping me de-stress after a long day of working what seems like two jobs is drawing and sketchnoting. I thought to myself, “How can I bring what I love to my Zoom classroom?” Sketchnoting to the rescue!

What is sketchnoting, you ask? Isn’t it just doodling? Yes and no. It’s also referred to as visual note-taking, and let me tell you–teaching remotely while sketchnoting with kids has been incredibly successful. Sylvia Duckworth (educational sketchnote guru) says, “Studies have proven that images are much more effective than words when it comes to memory retention, comprehension, and motivation.” This isn’t a new concept, by any means. Shoutout to all those teachers using Story Listening out there! I love doodling my stories while I teach. But that just doesn’t cut it when 40 kids are jumping on their trampolines, eating snacks and having playdates during my classes. I needed to amp it up a little.

Sketchnoting is different because the kids are drawing what they hear. It gives THEM a chance to be the star, and I believe it helps them understand what they are hearing in a different way. Sketchnoting helps them with comprehension in a deeper way. It also holds them accountable while simultaneously keeping them engaged. Enter my favorite book to teach–Brandon Brown Wants a Dog! Normally, we act this book out till we can act no more (nothing more fun than watching a student pick up pretend poop with a napkin)! While Zoom acting is possible, it’s not ideal with the amount of students I have at once.

There’s so much that sketchnoting can be used for, but I give them a few options. As I read aloud Brandon Brown, students can outline the chapter, sketch a scene, or draw images/icons of what they hear. This gives ME a chance to read slowly, check for comprehension and translate when needed. After I finish the chapter or part of the chapter I am reading, I spotlight the students, and we talk about what they drew. This is great because it gives secret repetitions of what we’re reading, and with 8-10 kids sharing their work, they really know what, “Los perros causan problemas grandes,” means! 

I don’t do much formal assessment over Zoom, especially with the age group I teach, but I can see this being a great way to informally assess students’ understanding of materials. At the very least, kids get to look away from their screens for a bit, get that TL input they need, and create something they can be proud of! 

P.S. I was introduced to Sketchnoting because I took a class. This book is amazing though and gives a great synopsis of teaching with Sketchnoting. My students were also generally aware of what it is because our school librarian has been doing it with them as well.

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RL Image 2

This student wrote in Spanglish, and he chose to outline the chapter as he listened.

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This student drew a bunch of things she heard: the time, no name on the collar, secretly taking dog to his room, and definitely not a bad word (it says si or no).

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This student chose to draw one scene, and did a great job showing Brandon and his mom talking about getting (or not) a dog.

  About the Author   

Rebecca Landor works in the Winnetka Public School District and teaches 1st-4th grade Spanish at Crow Island School. She loves learning more about Teaching with Comprehensible Input, collaborating with her amazing team, thinking about sloths and eating avocados. If you can’t find her in her classroom, she’s probably traveling somewhere (if we weren’t in a pandemic)!
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