Creating Digital Lessons for Virtual Learning

From the Beginning…

Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

For many of us that have been thrust into virtual learning, we have had little, if any experience with online teaching and even less preparation. Due to unfortunate timing, our campus only gave us one day to “prepare”.  I write that in quotations as preparation was really just giving us time to wrap our brains around the situation we found ourselves in both personally and professionally.  That first day consisted of teachers learning how to navigate their new online professional reality while figuring out how to support students and their families with their online reality. Given the amount of stress our teachers were under, they focused on editing pre-made Seesaw activities from the school or Seesaw library.  Once it became apparent that the school lockdown was going to last longer than the two weeks and our virtual learning would become the new normal; teachers were ready to find ways to personalize and create engaging and authentic digital lessons.

A screenshot of the Seesaw Activities library. You can sort the activities based on the subject and/or grades.

I’m writing this blog post as a simple “how-to” for teachers who are starting out with digital lessons and want to gather some useful instructional practices based on the last 8 weeks of virtual learning. In an effort to narrow down these ideas, I’m only focusing on the primary grades skewed toward iOs devices.  As I started writing this post I noticed a tweet from Kristin Ziemke that linked to “the structure of a digital minilesson” on her website and I had a slight panic attack.  Oh no!  She’s written exactly what I wanted to write in my blog post!  Thankfully there is plenty of room for expansion on these ideas about digital lessons.  In her infographic, Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris lists the following as vital structures to the good digital minilesson:

Infographic used with permission. Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris are the authors of Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom and their new book: Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age. Their website offers great resources for educators around the world.

Greet – Greet your students in your unique way, just as you would greet them when they arrive in class.  These sayings will be comforting reminders to your students.  I always love to joke and call my students ‘chicken nuggets’. 

Teach – Make connections or activate prior knowledge while giving students clear learning intentions.  With the knowledge of what they should know, students can become better agents of their learning.  They can begin to assess what are the learning expectations vs. what they understand. 

Show – Model what you want your students to do or show.  This is a strategy educators use in the classroom often and should not be ignored even if the class is no longer face to face.  Best practices offline can still work online. 

Do – Have students try the lesson.  Remind students that they are able to pause this video to re-watch any part that might be confusing or unclear.  They can also refer back to the video if they are stuck when completing their task.  This is perfect for students who are English language learners or have learning needs. 

Keep Thinking – Offer them ideas on how they can extend their learning. Where else can they apply this concept?  Can they share their thoughts and ideas with someone else? 

Where Do I Begin?

Useful Instructional Practices

Even with these guidelines, you might still be asking yourself, where do I even begin?  Here are some ideas on how to create more engaging and authentic digital lessons.  I’m focusing on asynchronous pre-made digital lessons that are geared towards elementary students. 


  • Keep your format similar to what you practice in the classroom.  Students thrive on consistency and even though it’s not face-to-face, you can still emulate your routines as much as possible.


  • During these uncertain times, seeing and hearing your image can give students some comfort and normalcy.  Adding your image and sound personalizes these lessons and boosts the engagement factor.

Tech Specific Tips for Digital Lessons

This section will focus on specific technology and give educators some ideas on how to enhance your digital lessons. Filming yourself teach a lesson as you would in class seems like the easiest way to record a digital lesson but this doesn’t allow for close up of the work and the best sound if you’re far away from the mic.  The points below help you take advantage of all of the technology that is available to help create engaging digital lessons.

  1. Screencasting
    • Screencasting allows you to record your own voice or video while recording the screen on a tablet or a computer
    • Here are some apps and programs that can screencast
      • Microsoft Teams – 6 months free trial
      • Quicktime with Screen Recording (iOs Devices) – If you open up Photobooth, you can also include a video of yourself during the lesson
      • Flipgrid
      • iOs Device Screen Recording – there is an option to screen record with microphone on iPhones or iPads that are already built into the iOs
      • Loom – Loom Pro is now free for teachers and students
      • Screencast-O-Matic
  2. Whiteboard Function
    • Use a technology that allows you an interactive whiteboard. If you’re just looking for a space to write or draw, you could screencast and write/draw inside notes, pages, ppt, etc.
    • Microsoft Teams and Zoom has whiteboard functions
      • Explain Everything – allows teachers to work in a cloud so you can open from the app or on the computer, etc.
      • Notability
      • Google Jamboard
  3. Multi-Page Document/Presentation
    •  Using a multi-page presentation will allow us to refer to a previous page or duplicate a page if we want to add to the work.
    • I was also able to incorporate pre-made videos of myself in the lesson this way but they were separate pages from the actual lesson
    • Many whiteboard apps come with multi-page functions
    • Here are some multipage options:
Here is an example of a teacher using Explain Everything for a word study lesson. As she is explaining, she has the rule underneath on the screen.

The biggest thing to remember about virtual learning is that we are currently crisis teaching and we’re all trying our best.  Nothing will be perfect the first time or even the hundredth time. Be kind and be patient to yourself. When creating these digital lessons, use your knowledge about pedagogy and child development to help you build strong digital lessons that make the most sense and will have the biggest impact on your students.