Supporting Online Students: Best Practices for Grades K–5

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If you’re an educational leader, chances are you’re familiar with distance learning options or even have experience running or building a virtual program for your school or district. If so, you know distance learning can be an incredibly powerful option for many students and families, but it’s not exactly “plug-and-play.” Effective online learning—especially in the elementary years—requires knowledge about how to translate instruction to an online environment and what teaching strategies work best online. If you’re looking for some guidance or inspiration for your online elementary program, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll cover best practices to help you support your online students in grades K–5.  

Communicate closely with families. 
When it comes to online elementary, it’s about making it a positive and enjoyable experience for students and families. Parent involvement is essential, and it begins with communicating in a way they’re familiar with, such as texting. “We’re finding this new generation of parents would often rather get text updates than pick up the phone to talk,” says Megan Grothman, Global Partnership Manager for ASU Prep Digital. It’s also versatile since it can be used to communicate updates, send screenshots of student work, or even share the day’s schedule or Zoom room. “Like any communication, the key is to engage parents so it feels like a team interaction and not like a phone call home to say their student is struggling,” advises Grothman.  

Create opportunities for students to connect virtually. 
“In an online environment one of the biggest success factors is maintaining relationships between students,” says Grothman. “The conversations you have with kids are as critical as the feedback you give them.” For younger learners, simply having time to talk and stay connected in an online space with others their age is a powerful and positive experience. One way to facilitate this is by hosting virtual “recess” sessions where teachers chat with students and ask them questions, play a game like online bingo, or host a show and tell. The goal is to make it feel fun and special and to get students talking with each other. 

Maintain a balance between online and offline activities. 
For most elementary students, sitting at a computer all day long isn’t realistic, and it isn’t always the best way for them to learn. Offline activities can help students make connections in tangible ways. Consider incorporating activities to encourage students to explore their environments, their backyards, and their neighborhoods. But don’t forget to create instructions for parents to facilitate these activities. This can be as simple as a list of questions to ask their child after their daily lesson, a list of sentence starters, or a scavenger hunt of objects or behaviors the student can observe around their home. 

Create online experiences for students to share their knowledge. 
“It’s our job as educators to guide students in meaningful ways to share their learning,” says Grothman. “We can’t just get on Zoom and go through slides. We have to intentionally facilitate experiences where students are sharing their knowledge.” Thankfully, elementary students are often much more comfortable speaking up in video calls than older students. To help create a structured and organized sharing experience for young learners, Grothman suggests using Nearpod, which is a digital tool to help teachers deliver interactive videos, games, and activities while also collecting student feedback to gauge their understanding of concepts.  

Be thoughtful about integrating apps and technology tools.  
“For students in K–5, we want to increase exposure to applications and technology, but in a balanced and authentic way,” advises Grothman. The goal with elementary students is to create consistency and predictability to help them build routines and schedules. Younger learners can become easily overwhelmed, so think about “scaffolding” the technology and apps you plan to use in class. Once they’ve mastered one tool or platform, you can start thinking through additional apps or technologies and determine the right time to introduce them.

Help students become aware of digital etiquette. 
In elementary grades, it’s important to remember students are still learning how to interact with each other. Online elementary education adds another layer of mastery to this lifelong skill. “We want students to not only understand how to interact online, but how to manage mistakes when they do happen,” says Grothman. “The idea is for students to embrace the mistakes as learning opportunities to help them become aware of what it means to be a good digital citizen,” says Grothman. 

Partner with ASU Prep Digital
ASU Prep Digital is an accredited online K-12 school providing districts with single online courses, full-time virtual programs, innovative learning recovery solutions, and professional development options. We would love to collaborate and develop a customized program for your school’s needs. For information about partnering with ASU Prep Digital, please email