Four ways to keep young learners engaged in your online classes

Primary student online classes

Teachers and students around the globe are having to adapt to new ways of teaching and learning. 

Although online classes are nothing new, many educators are now finding themselves having to quickly set up courses and content for their students, often without much previous experience. If you’re new to the virtual classroom, check out our six top tips for teaching English online.

Different age groups have their challenges for virtual learning, so here are four ideas to help keep your youngest learners engaged during your online lessons.

1. Get things ready

Most platforms have the option to share your screen with the learners. This means you can have lots of your content set up and ready to go at the click of a button. Use offline resources such as Microsoft Powerpoint to prepare any images you want to use before the class.

Some platforms, like Zoom, allow you to share a whiteboard with the students, which you can work on in real-time. However, you may find it easier to use a Word document with the text already prepared. That way the content will be immediately ready for your Young Learners to read.

Also, think about the materials your students will need during the class and start with a screen share showing what you’ll be using in your class each day. In this way, parents can get things organized. They’ll be able to find paper, pencils and colors, or open the page of the book you’ll be working from if your students have their own copies at home.

2. Get learners using gestures

It’s easier to have all the learners’ microphones on silent if you’re working with a group. This will help to avoid background noise and keep the focus on you. Get the learners to use gestures such as a thumbs up or a wave as a way of communicating with you. 

You can also use gestures to poll your students. For example, if you want to give them the choice of listening to a song or reading a story, say, “If you want to listen to a song, put your hands on your head. If you want to read a story, put your hands in the air.” Then count aloud how many learners choose each option.

Young learners are often eager to answer during lessons, so having them use a gesture such as waving at the screen when they know the answer is a good way to keep them engaged and use up some energy. Of course, you can also have individuals answer questions by turning their microphones off and on when needed.

Activities with TPR (Total Physical Response) also work extremely well and you can play games such as Simon Says or sing songs such as Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes if you find their engagement levels are dropping.

You can play a fun guessing game with your students too:

  • Have one student turn away from the screen and hold up a flashcard to the other students. For example, it could be an animal, a sport or an action, such as eating a burger
  • Have the students mime or act out what the flashcard shows.
  • Then have the first student turn back around to guess what his classmates are doing.

3. Use your routines

If you’re moving onto teaching online after working with your students in a traditional classroom environment, it’s good for them to have some consistency. Hopefully, you’ll still be able to use many of your routines, such as a Hello song or using simple games to review vocabulary from the previous class. 

Here are some ideas for flashcard games you can do with the learners:

Slow reveal

Put a piece of card or a book in front of the flashcard and slowly reveal different parts of it.


Hold the flashcard with two hands so it’s facing you and then flip it very quickly so the students see it.

Where’s the flashcard? 

Put the flashcards around the room behind you, with the back of them in view of the camera. 

Then nominate a student to choose a flashcard, for example, “Can I have the flashcard next to the plant?” 

Pick up the flashcard and describe it to the students for them to guess which one it is. You could then put the flashcard back in the same place and when they’ve seen all the flashcards, play a memory game. For example, “I think the red boots are next to the plant.”

4. Make use of what’s available

There are lots of resources available to use for online classes, so use the screen share option which most platforms offer. Check to see if your coursebook offers a digital version, or download an ebook.  

Include a storytelling slot in each of your lessons and have learners follow along by getting them to fill in missing words or complete the sentences for you. 

You can keep students engaged with songs or short video clips from YouTube too. Some people have found streaming videos doesn’t affect the quality of their lessons, others have found it’s better to save content offline. See what works best for you. 

Here are three of our favorite YouTube channels for your pre-Primary and early Primary learners:

  1. CBeebies is a channel from the BBC and features lots of different videos – from short clips of kids cooking in the kitchen to safari adventures and a hands-on video about how soap protects us from germs.
  2. The Kiboomers have a great music channel with lots of songs to get your Young Learners up and moving. Playing a song is a great way to have a break in the lesson and gives learners the chance to move around a little. Why not try the Freeze Dance Song in your next lesson?
  3. The Dr. Bionics Show on Peekaboo Kids has slightly longer videos, but they’re colorful, educational and engaging. For example, students can learn about the five senses or the life cycle of a frog.

What other advice would you give to YL colleagues who are new to online teaching? Let us know in the comments below!

Don’t forget to visit our Keep Teaching, Keep Learning page full of free resources to help you and your students transition to online classes. 

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