I have received lots of questions about how to use my ELA mini lessons in a distance learning environment. Teachers are finding themselves teaching virtually throughout their day. I’d like to provide a few tips to help you use my ELA mini lessons while teaching through a computer. These tips will help you master teaching ELA mini lessons virtually.
Please keep in mind that all district and all state requirements are different. What I’m suggesting below may only partially work with your district guidelines. As I say with my pacing guides, these are simply suggestions or a starting point that I think would help you out! If you have other ways that you’re using my ELA units while teaching ELA mini lessons virtually, please comment below and share!
New to This? Here’s Where to Start with Teaching ELA Mini Lessons
If you’re new to all this and either didn’t have to experience it last spring or are a first-year teacher, you may be wondering where to even begin. These are very different times for the teaching community right now. Some teachers are teaching in their classrooms. Some of those teachers have kids, while others don’t have kids. Other teachers are teaching at home, over a computer screen. Wherever you find yourself teaching, you’re most likely required to instruct a certain number of hours a day and provide students with digital activities to complete.
First, let’s discuss where to teach your mini lessons. I would suggest using Zoom or Google Meet for any live streaming. Your district may require you to use a different platform for face-to-face meetings, but Zoom and Google Meet are the most commonly used platforms. They allow for students to sign in using a laptop to watch and discuss their new instruction.
These two platforms are where to begin with your on your teaching ELA mini lessons virtually journey.
- Google Meet
Then, let’s think about how long your mini lessons and content should last. I would suggest aiming for about 10-15 minutes of direct instruction, much like you would in a classroom. If you’re going to add a read aloud into the mini lesson, I would suggest 20-30 minutes of direct instruction and the reading. However, I’d try to break this up with a movement activity in between especially for the younger students.
Think about this scenario:
- Introduction to standard and setting an intention for Zoom call
- Anchor chart introduction
- Read aloud
- Movement break to get up and stretch
- Back to direct instruction with modeling
- Release students for independent practice
Live Read Alouds
Let’s chat read alouds. In a perfect reality, you’re in front of students while reading a mentor text for RL and RI standards. Unfortunately, that can’t happen in a virtual world. However, you can try to make that read aloud as similar as possible to the real thing. First, you’ll introduce the standard you’re teaching, discuss the cover, and identify the author and illustrator. Then, you’ll dive into reading.
In a normal read aloud, you’re most likely going to be able to stop and ask questions about the standard. For example, if you’re teaching Story Elements there will be times during the story where you stop to ask setting specific questions or beginning, middle, and end questions. You should still do this while you’re virtually teaching! Give students an opportunity to raise their hands to answer questions. Some teachers may have a “mute all” rule during specific parts of a mini lesson. During this time, allow students to unmute themselves to share their thoughts and answers.
- Option 1- Read the book and display it under a document camera.
- Option 2- Hold up the book in front of the camera so you can pop in for questions.
Anchor Chart Creation Can Still Happen!
Anchor charts are a staple in any mini lesson. It’s an opportunity for the students to learn all about the standard itself while getting a lesson in kid-friendly language. Most anchor charts are also interactive. That’s where these virtual lessons will be different. Students won’t be able to interact with the anchor charts as usual. However, it’s still something I suggest doing for every single standard. In each of my ELA lessons, I provide mini posters. These can double as anchor charts if you don’t want to create a new chart or can’t make it interactive. These mini posters would be perfect to display as a screen shared (information below) item while you teach.
Another option would be to buy a cheap easel from Amazon or Walmart that can sit behind you in your home or an empty classroom. This easel can hold your anchor chart paper that complete in front of your laptop over a Zoom call. Students can still watch, listen, and engage while you create an anchor chart. They just aren’t there to add to it, write on it, or stick Post-It notes to.
The easel I’m suggesting is a taller easel since most of you will be using anchor chart paper. The table easels are fabulous if you’re using smaller paper, but if you intend to stick to your anchor chart pads, you’ll need a tall easel like the one below. This link is an Amazon affiliate product!
Using Zoom? Try Screen Share
As stated above, I shared how you could try screen share. This is a feature on Zoom that helps you show what you have pulled up on your computer. So, if you don’t want to print out your mini-poster chart, you can open the PDF and share the screen. That way, while you’re teaching about the mini-poster and discussing it, students have a visual to refer to. This screen share also works if you’re showing students a read aloud passage or poem. They can follow along as you read.
Outside of your mini lessons, screen sharing is a great way to show students HOW to access their independent work. You can remind them where it is located in their Google Classroom or other platform that holds their assignments. Screen sharing is also great for you to walk them through how to do a new online activity that you’re introducing to them! The options are pretty endless for screen share. Make sure to click the “Share Computer Sound” button when screen sharing if you’re sharing a video. That way they can hear it.
Document Cameras Can Be Your Best Friend
If you’re in your classroom, you may have access to a document camera. If you do, this is going to be very useful for your mini lessons. This will give the students as close to a real-lesson experience as possible.
With your document camera, you can…
- Act out a partner game that they would usually do in person. (All of my RL and RI lessons usually have a couple of partner activities. Since this isn’t possible virtually, print it out and pretend! Let students watch you act out the two partner pieces. It’s still a fabulous learning experience.
- Read a book.
- Model how to find text evidence.
- Create a foldable flip book that may be included in the mini lessons.
- Sort a matching game that would normally be done in small groups.
If you do not have a document camera, you can still show the pieces of the mini lessons that aren’t shareable virtually. You can hold them up to your camera and walk the kiddos through the matching game or partner activity.
Pre-Recorded Videos of Modeling (If You’re Home)
Another piece of teaching ELA mini lessons virtually is the modeling piece. Modeling is so important when you’re in front of your students. Let your modeling continue even if you’re online. Some of your hands-on partner games are not something you’ll be able to hold up on the Zoom call. You won’t be able to display everything. Instead, you may need to lay out pieces of the activity and share it. First, when you’re lesson planning, you’ll print, cut and prep all the resources. Then, you will set your phone up (on a makeshift platform) and record a video of you manipulating the pieces of the activity. Finally, you’ll upload this video to your computer and during your Zoom, you’ll screen share and play the video for kids. They can watch as you “model” how to complete this standards-based activity.
Using Graphic Organizers that Aren’t Digitally Converted
While you’re teaching ELA mini lessons virtually, you may find yourself in a situation where you need something digital, but you only have it in PDF format. I am currently making my way through all my ELA units and I’m trying to digitize as much as I can. However, you may need a mini lesson activity that hasn’t been digitized. Don’t fret! There is a way to make PDFs useable in this situation.
- Option 1- Screenshot the pages you need and add the JPEG files into your Google Slides. The screenshot image now becomes the background of the Slides. Then, students can add text boxes to these new Slides and interact with them much like they would pencil and paper!
- Option 2- Print to PDF. If you want students to use pages 12 and 13 from one of my RL or RI sets, but they aren’t available with digital conversion… You can ‘Print to PDF’ these pages. Head to the ‘Print’ tab. When you hit print, you’ll select the page numbers you want. Then, you’ll click the drop-down menu and click “print to PDF”. This will create a brand new PDF of only the pages you want. You can then upload these to Google Classroom for students to print out and use with a pencil OR you can use Kami. Kami is a software that students can use that allows them to write over a PDF.
Present Content, Give them Independent Work Time, Reconvene to Discuss
In a normal setting, you’re going to introduce content to students, and let them practice that content. Also in a normal setting, you can walk around your classroom, checking for any struggling students or any misconceptions or misunderstandings. This is not the case in your new virtual setting. If you release students to practice, you can’t guarantee that they’re able to complete those assignments. What I would suggest is meeting back on Zoom after you release them to practice.
After you teach your direct instruction…
- Give them standards-based passages related to the content you taught
- Assign a graphic organizer to complete with a book they have at home (again focused on that mini lesson you just taught)
- Have them watch a video related to your mini lesson
- Let them play an interactive, educational activity you found that supports the standard
In the image shown above, this is an RI passage from one of my standards-based RI units. It’s the same exact passage that students would use in the classroom setting, but now it’s provided virtually. This would certainly be something I’d suggest following up your mini lesson with!
Looking for even more tech help outside of your mini lessons?
I have an intro to Google Classroom that I wrote back in the Spring when distance learning first happened. If you’re wanting more tips and tricks on digital learning, check it out!
Need Links Back to Those RL and RI Units?
I have RL (literature and fiction) standards and RI (informational/nonfiction) standards. These are my best-selling ELA units. If you own the bundle, then everything I wrote above applies to all of your ELA lessons. However, if you’re wanting to dip your toe into ELA standards-based units, I suggest starting with the reading RL units.
The first units I suggest kicking off your year with the first Literature standard! It comes with lessons, graphic organizers (with digital), passages (with digital), task cards, interactive notebook pieces, and an assessment. Check out your grade levels here!
Thanks for reading! I hope you’re walking away with actionable steps for teaching your RL and RI mini lessons.
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