At the start of a new school year, especially with some unknowns when it comes to whether we will be full in-person or shifting between learning environments, having various tools available as educators is necessary. Teachers are always looking for new strategies or digital tools that will help students better retain the content and promote student engagement and meaningful learning. I'm always adding to my growing list of ideas to try out with my own students.
The start of the new year (academic or calendar) presents good opportunities to explore new options with our students. I also believe that it is important that students understand why we choose to use a certain teaching method or implement a new digital tool. Students need to be part of the conversation and understand how the choices we make will be the most beneficial for their learning.
Beyond helping students to build their language skills in my Spanish classes, I also want them to have learning opportunities that promote more student choice, foster more collaboration and communication while also helping them to build essential SEL skills.
Read more: Fostering the development of SEL skills in your classroom
7 Tools for creating more interactive learning spaces
Building a supportive learning community for students and ourselves is important throughout the year, but it is especially important to start a new school year with a solid foundation. Here are seven tools to explore in the new year. Some of these may be tools you already use, but they now have new features or different ways to bring them into your classroom.
Book Creator is a great collaboration tool for students. Regardless of where learning is happening, students can interact by creating a collaborative book! There are also new templates available just in time for the new school year. The “About Me” template will help younger students to share stories and build relationships in the classroom. The “Empower the Learner Profile” template is for older students and will help them focus on self-awareness as they create a profile to share their challenges, hopes, strengths, talents, and more with their classmates and teachers.
Draw chat makes a great choice for having students collaborate on a drawing or sketch ideas during a class. Whether for classroom use or meetings, you can draw, chat and also communicate through audio and video conferencing from within Draw chat. You have the option to upload a PDF, images, and more, and then have students annotate on them.
There are many ways to use Flipgrid to build a classroom community and have a space for students to interact with one another. With the newer Flipgrid features, there are many ways to be creative with videos and help students build confidence as they communicate with peers. Flipgrid is free for educators and students to use, and it also has Immersive Reader for accessibility.
Read more: How to create accessible e-learning design
A newer feature of my students’ favorite game is Gimkit Draw. In this game, students are given a choice of three words to draw, and classmates must type in their guesses as the drawing appears on their device. Gimkit Draw is beneficial for visual learners, and it helps students feel more connected to one another as they interact during the game. There are additional modes to play in Gimkit, and teachers receive detailed session reports with student progress to help guide their instruction.
Padlet is another great option to promote interactions between students, whether in the same classroom or virtually. With Padlet, each student can post and interact with their peers and share their experiences in the digital space. It can also be great for promoting global collaborations.
Read more: 4 Ways to promote collaboration in digital spaces
WeVideo provides students with a lot of choices for creating videos to share learning. At the start of the year, students can create an About Me video that can be shared with classmates and teachers. Video is powerful for building relationships and creating a learning community. WeVideo is also a good way to make announcements, use it for check-ins with students, or even create a school or class newscast.
There are so many ways to use Whiteboard chat with new features being added every week. Teachers can create whiteboard spaces that can be shared with students or create individual whiteboards to enable teachers to view their work in real-time. For a few of the many options available in the toolbar, you can add a poll, have a timer, place a piano on the space, and much more. You also can have a video call right within Whiteboard chat. It also offers language translation features.
Read more: How teachers can use smart boards in the classroom
These are just a few quick tools that can help to promote more interaction and collaboration whether we are in or out of our classrooms. The benefit of having so many different tools available is that we can leverage them to create spaces where our students can feel more connected to us and each other. With these options, we can weave activities into our classes that engage students in learning the content while developing these essential SEL skills. By exploring new tools and promoting student choice, we spark curiosity for learning, and student needs can be better met.