Due to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, we're all trying to do our jobs in new ways. Politicians seem to think that teachers can just host a web conference and talk to students all day, but we know that's not practical nor beneficial for both you and your students.

To help you find new ways to engage your students, we've been scouring social media for some of the most interesting and exciting things teachers are doing under these unconventional conditions. Here are some of our favorites!

Note: Most of these activities require an Internet connection via a desktop computer, laptop, Chromebook, and/or smartphone.

Encourage Independent Reading With Free Literature Resources

Every student can benefit from independent reading while they’re stuck at home. But in many places, bookstores and local libraries are closed. If your students are in need of things to read, check out these websites. All of them are completely free to use and are accessible to anyone with internet access.

The Library of Congress hosts many digital, illustrated editions of classic books and fairy tales, including White Fang, Dracula, The Secret Garden, and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm. The website’s responsive reading platform makes it feel like you’re actually flipping through each book.

Since its inception, Project Gutenberg has archived over 60,000 free eBooks, including many classic works of literature for which U.S. copyright has expired. Most titles are available to read directly in your internet browser and/or by downloading an EPUB or Kindle file.

The Poetry Foundation’s website features an expansive collection of poetry written by classic and modern poets alike. You can browse poems by subject matter, movements, authors, and more. Recently, the Poetry Foundation created this directory filled with digital resources for teaching poetry to students of all ages.

In response to the COVID-19 situation, The Internet Archive created the National Emergency Library, a collection of free digitized books available for anyone to read. According to The Internet Archive, the National Emergency Library will be in service through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later.

Host a Virtual Escape Room

Sure, the idea of a virtual escape room seems a little unconventional, but this collaborative online activity is a ton of fun! At the Teacher Talk: Resources for Online Education blog, ELA educator Nicole Madere shares her complete methodology for creating a virtual escape room based on the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. You can adapt her lesson plan for any book, author, or other subjects of your choice.

Madere recommends using a web conferencing platform like Adobe Connect to easily get students working together in groups. Adobe Connect is currently offering an extended 90-day free trial for schools impacted by COVID-19.

Create WebQuests

Developed by Dr. Bernie Dodge of San Diego State University, a WebQuest is a unique learning model that encourages higher-level thinking in order to process information and solve problems. In a WebQuest, students are asked to answer specific questions about a topic using resources found entirely online.

WebQuests generally follow a six-part outline, as described by Dr. Dodge in his original paper:

  1. The introduction provides background information about the topic.
  2. The task explains the quest’s main purpose.
  3. The process describes the steps students need to take to complete the task.
  4. The resources list the websites students should visit to complete the task.
  5. The evaluation describes how students should organize and present their findings.
  6. The conclusion sums up the quest.

This article at Education World gives an excellent overview of WebQuests and provides instructions on how to create your own. If you need inspiration, check out these ELA-oriented WebQuests:

Take a Virtual Field Trip

Many museums, monuments, and landmarks around the world have partnered with Google Arts and Culture to bring virtual tours to life. Thanks to Google Street View, students can “visit” these famous places using a smartphone or computer. When planning a virtual field trip using this platform, consider creating a few simple prompts for students to complete so they’re not aimlessly “wandering” around.

Discovery Education offers several free virtual field trips and accompanying standards-aligned activity guides. For ELA students, we recommend the Teaching With Testimony Virtual Field Trip. This incredible presentation sponsored by the USC Shoah Foundation explains how storytelling has the power to shape the future. Note that portions of the content may be disturbing to some viewers.

For more in-depth digital excursions, check out Google Lit Trips, a project created by the educational nonprofit GLT Global ED. Google Lit Trips use Google Earth’s robust platform to let your students “walk” alongside characters from popular literature such as A Long Walk to Water, The Kite Runner, and Number the Stars. Placemarks along each character’s journey give students extra information about each book, including links to relevant media and discussion prompts. The free Google Earth Pro desktop app is required to embark on a Lit Trip.

Have Students Practice Daily Journaling

Journaling and other creative writing activities are perfect lessons for students without reliable access to the internet. Through journaling, students are not only developing their writing skills, but they’re also given an outlet to express their feelings during this uncertain and, quite frankly, scary time.

At his website, educator Kelly Gallagher shared this simple lesson plan created by members of the Magnolia High School ELA faculty. This journaling assignment is designed to help students capture this moment in history on a day-by-day basis using their own words. Because of the nature of this lesson plan, it can be extended over time as needed.

Have an idea that you want to share with your colleagues? Leave a note in the comments below, and we'll share it on social media!