Ideas for Distance Learning

Nine weeks ago, the teachers of Ontario were asked to do something most of us couldn’t have conceived of when the school year began. We rose to the challenge and in under two weeks we started to deliver distance learning to the homes of the students of Ontario. We did all of this while our own children cried in our arms, our puppies jumped on us, our computers and internet failed constantly and we became the sole earner in our home as our partners lost their jobs. I often am amazed at the skills the teachers of Ontario collectively possess but this was unbelievable. Teachers pulled together to meet their students needs so fast and 9 weeks later we are still sitting at our computer screens for hours at a time to continue this important work.

I teach a class of students with Developmental Disabilities which has made distance learning difficult since they have a limited ability to read or write and incredibly complex learning needs. It has taken a large amount of creativity and unconventional ideas to attempt to meet their needs. I ended up doing a mixture of weekly assignments, online platforms, postal mail and live synchronous learning to try to reach out to every one of my students.

(Just a note about synchronous learning… I used my professional judgement that live synchronous learning would meet the needs of my particular students because of their learning profile and emotional needs. However, live synchronous learning comes with a lot of challenges and pitfalls. I have been very cautious in introducing it to my students and have had at least one TA join me for every session. My team gathered online and spoke at length about parameters and rules for synchronous learning before we started and I have worked with parents to ensure that professional boundaries are maintained. I know that the teachers of Ontario will make the right decision about what kind of synchronous learning will best meet the needs of their students using their professional judgement.)

With four weeks left, I’m sure the energy level is starting to fade for many of our students. Keeping them engaged and excited about learning online is getting tougher and tougher every day. Today I want to share some ideas that I have come up with over the last nine weeks in the hopes that one idea can give you something for your students to do over the next four weeks to keep them going. These are ideas to do with your students if you are meeting with them on Google Meet, Teams or another form of teleconferencing service.

For my students with special needs, the goal for all of these activities was to have students actively engaged in communication with me and their classmates. The activities also focused on social skills such as taking turns, working with others and having patience.

  • Who is it? I took pictures I had of my students and zoomed in on one part of the picture such as an eyeball or running shoe. It became a guessing game of who they thought the picture was of. This game allowed my students to express how much they missed their friends and to celebrate their awesome classmates.
  • Charades The students and staff all took turns pantomiming an animal. The other students had to guess what the animal was. For my students muting and unmuting their mics has been very difficult, therefore, I encouraged my students to take turn guessing.
  • Find Something in Your House On plain pieces of paper, I wrote the colours blue, pink, black, red, green and purple. I showed them to the students one sheet at a time. When the students saw the colour, they had to go and run and find something from their home that was that colour and bring it back and explain what they have found. This is by far their favourite distance learning activity!
  • Freeze Dance I used my Bluetooth speaker to play music and we grooved and moved to some of our favourite songs. I stopped the music every once in a while, to allow the students to pose in their favourite dance move.
  • Pictionary The staff in my classroom all took turns drawing a picture for the students to guess. My students are amazing guessers at my less than perfect drawings. We work on taking turns and celebrating our friends when they get the right answer through this activity.
  • Show and Tell about your pet or stuffed pet My class and I are real animal lovers and we have had many, many conversations about our pets during this time at home. I can tell you so many things about Roxy, Sugar, Herc, Rona, Coco, Fenway and Pepples. It has been a great Segway for many of students to talk about their feelings when we talk about our pet’s feelings daily.
  • Making a Bird Feeder My students and I got the materials together for a very simple bird feeder and made them together as we chatted online. We each hung it up in our backyard and watched for visiting birds.
  • Art show and tell My students have done countless art projects from chalk drawings outside and poster boards for their friends’ birthdays. We often have a sharing time to show their art and discuss their pictures.
  • Exercise Time I lead a half hour exercise time for my students. We all bring our water and get our sweat on.
  • Lego building show and share I invite my students to build anything out of lego and tell us the story of what they have built.
  • Nature share My students have been noticing things that they have seen on family walks such as ducks, a bald eagle and a beaver. No alligators yet, but you never know in the last four weeks.


Thank you, thank you, thank you for going above and beyond to help your students through a profoundly difficult time. I have never been prouder to call myself an Ontario teacher. You are truly amazing!

Updated: May 31, 2020 — 7:20 pm

The Author

Tammy Axt

I am a teacher of students with special needs in the Peel District School Board. This is my second year in the role and I am in the middle of a steep learning curve! I am loving every minute of this new experience with my amazing and awesome students.

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