Using Props for Online Teaching

Career Guide   ·   Hioffer    2018-05-07

Kids want to move. Every teacher has students who are constantly fidgeting, trying to find some way to keep their body occupied while they learn. This is perfectly natural behavior, and it’s something teachers need to recognize and incorporate into their own lessons.

A lot of people are kinesthetic learners, who work best when they can touch or interact with something physical. This poses significant challenges for online teaching. A traditional classroom offers a variety of opportunities for physical action, from playing learning games to the simple act of putting pen to paper. It is a unique challenge for the remote teacher to translate these physical activities through the computer screen. Even if the teacher isn’t standing next to their students, it is still possible to engage their bodies and their minds at the same time.

One of the most effective physical teaching strategies is Total Physical Response (TPR). TPR is a form of call and response, where the teacher performs a physical action related to the lesson which the students then repeat. For example, if I had a story where my main character was painting a wall, I would have my students take an imaginary paintbrush and make painting motions with their hands in front of the camera. Most students respond very positively to this approach. I can see their faces light up as they get an opportunity to play around a bit and just be silly. It can be too easy for teachers to press on from activity to activity without thinking about their students’ engagement. Stare at a computer screen for too long and anyone will start to lose focus, especially younger children. It is vital to “wake up” students periodically throughout the lesson by getting them to move in some way. Admittedly, the students can’t move very much without getting off-camera. Part of the challenge of designing good TPR is figuring out activities that are both fun and contained enough to keep the student in their seat. It’s an important balancing act that can really improve the mood and focus of a classroom.

Bringing in props is another way to build a more physically engaged classroom. Students learning online are usually in their homes, a much more relaxed and casual setting than a traditional classroom. It’s quite common to see students surrounded by stuffed animals, their favorite posters, or even the curious brother or sister who wants to take a peak at the class. Teachers should make an effort not just to impart knowledge to their students, but to get to know them as well.

Nothing gets a student more excited than talking about things that they love. I’ve see on a number of occasions one of my students grab something from their shelf or their desk that related to the lesson and show it to me. One especially bright student reacted to class discussion about magicians by showing me a few magic tricks of her own. This was clearly a student who was excited and passionate about her classwork, and took action to make her learning personal. Teachers should encourage their students to bring things from their room and their life into class, both to add a tactile element to the discussion and to show personal appreciation for their unique perspective.

Having students move and interact with their environment can make a huge difference even in an online class. TPR lets students play and have fun while reinforcing the teacher’s lesson objectives. Props and other objects allow the students to have a sense of participation and ownership in their own learning process. These tactics can avoid a lot of the pitfalls common to remote teaching and make sure  the class focused, smiling, and ready to learn.


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