Supporting Students Offline

Many teachers have had to make the difficult transition from in-person to online teaching in a short period of time with little training and few resources, while other teachers have not been given the option to continue teaching via an online platform. Many teachers in the latter case are understandably worried because their students have no structured guidance for how to maintain the momentum they had at school while they’re home.

If you are a teacher who doesn’t currently have the opportunity to teach online, there are still ways you can support your students’ academic and social-emotional growth. Here are some ideas to start your thinking:

  • Provide at-home journal writing prompts. These can be practical, such as “Find something in your home that needs to be fixed or improved. Write about what steps you can take to fix it.” Or, have students focus on something less tangible, such as “Write about how you used self-control this week at home. Include details: What was happening? How did you collect yourself? How did your use of self-control help the situation?”
  • Encourage students to write letters to classmates, you, or staff members. Discuss developmentally appropriate characteristics such as length, vocabulary, and grammar.
  • Model and practice social distancing for students at a meal pick-up location! Bring a sign to greet your students from an appropriate distance; consider adding a joke to get them to laugh from afar.Supporting students offline
  • Combine academic and social-emotional challenges for families! This could be an “Engineering at Home” task, such as building a fort or designing protection to keep an ice cube frozen, or a task like “Chemists in the Kitchen” where you encourage families to employ math (fractions in recipes), cooperation (working together), literacy (reading the recipe), and responsibility (use of kitchen tools and remembering to set a timer) to create a family snack together. Consider sharing one of your own favorite recipes or encouraging families to use a recipe that has been handed down for generations.
  • Nothing will make a student feel more special and connected than to receive a phone call from their teacher. Checking in to see how students (and parents!) are doing and will help ease your mind and reassure your students. Consider setting up a plan to connect with each student in your class on a rotating basis at a frequency that feels doable for you, and keep calls short. Have some open-ended questions in mind to ask, for example:
    • Without telling me what the food was, can you describe something yummy you have eaten this week?
    • Moving our bodies is so important! What is a fun way you’ve found to move your body or to get exercise?
    • What is your favorite part of your home?
  • Consider providing social-emotional challenges for a week:
    • Monday – Write about a time today that you took turns with someone you live with.
    • Tuesday – Think about how a character in a book you’re reading was helpful to others.
    • Wednesday – Ask your caregiver how you can help with lunch today. You may be able to get everything that is needed (utensils and plates), clean up, or even help prepare the food.
    • Thursday – Say “Thank you” to someone at least five times today.
    • Friday – If you start to get frustrated, take three deep breaths before you say or do anything.
  • Encourage families to find teachable moments. There are many skills that students of all ages can learn that parents are doing on a regular basis:
    • How to put air in a bicycle tire
    • How to stamp and address an envelope
    • How to read a map
    • How to read an analog clock
    • Where to find (and how to use) a fire extinguisher
    • How to load the dishwasher (or handwash dishes)

Taking the time to teach children these skills now can have a powerful impact on them later.

During challenging times, teachers naturally want to be caregivers to their students. Being away from your students is a challenge that is made exponentially more difficult when you are not able to see them regularly—but o there are still many ways that you can connect with your students and encourage them to continue to find joy in the act of learning.



Written by Sarah Fillion, Director of Consulting & Certification at Center for Responsive Schools
Tags: Encouragement, Virtual Learning, Working with Families

10 Replies to “Supporting Students Offline”

  • Anyone have any ideas on how we can include energizers/games in virtual small groups?

  • Kerri, We have ” office hours” on google meets with our class. I’m sure if you posed the question to the class they could come up with a solution. Include them in the process.

  • Hi Sarah,
    I like how your article speaks about finding teachable moments in the home. There are so many skills that I am shocked my students don’t know how to do, this would be a great time for them to learn to address an envelope or vacuum! I think I am so focused on academics, that I have forgotten some of those life skills that they could be working on.
    Something I have done to help maintain a community within my classroom is to have my students write to each other. I have assigned my students a classmate for the week, and they are to communicate with them during that week. I hope that it helps those students who are struggling without their friends around.
    I think your article would be a great read for many of my colleagues!
    Thank you!

  • Hello Sarah,

    Wow – thank you for all of the practical ideas for making learning at home meaningful! Your article highlights how this time at home is a great opportunity for students to learn life skills and make connections between the academic content and their physical living situation. Engineering challenges at home are a great idea for doing this. I think a lot of people have been motivated to get tasks done around their homes and there are many skills associated with those tasks that our students may not have (filling up a bike tire, for example). I also appreciate the list of social-emotional challenges you provided. I will definitely be trying some with my juniors next week, thanks!

  • Hi Sarah,
    Working with students who have significant disabilities has definitely made it challenging to work online, so thank you for the ideas for incorporating learning tasks offline. Because the focus of my program is life skills, it’s been a little easier to provide offline learning opportunities for my students. It’s been great hearing how my students are taking the skills that we learn in school and are using them at home. I really like the idea of providing students with journal prompts, where they can write or draw different cooking or cleaning tasks that they have completed at home. I’ll definitely be sharing this with my colleagues!

  • Hi Sarah,
    I think it’s so important that you stressed teachable moments at home! A lot of teachers and parents are super focused on the academics but I think this is the perfect time focus on those skills that go untouched. My district is fortunate enough to have technology and we are able to connect with students. We have incorporated a ‘life skill’ activity each day and have screen free Fridays. I love the idea of blending an academic activity with a social building activity for families.

  • Hello Sarah,

    Thank you for this relevant and encouraging article! As you stated, most of us were thrown into virtual teaching with no idea how to navigate this new normal. The suggestions that you gave are easy to implement and realistic for our families and students to achieve! I especially loved the idea of encouraging families to find small teachable moments throughout the day. Those simple skills you listed are important for students to know. One thing that I want to do moving forward is provide those social-emotional challenges for my students. I love that those not only provide them with an academic skill, but also help them grow emotionally!

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