How to Begin the School Year Digitally

After spending more than a quarter of the school year distance learning during the 2019-2020 school year, we can count on depending on technology in the classroom, even more, moving forward. So much is unknown, but one thing we know is that there will be a hybrid of in-class and distance learning, in some way, shape, or form.

Starting the school year using technology will look a lot different than ending the school year using technology.

I recommend the following tips for Google Classroom™, but you can adapt them to meet other learning platforms as well.

That said, here are 5 ways to digitally kick off back to school that will help you establish norms, routines, and expectations within your upper elementary classroom.

1 – Model Digital Assignments

From the very first week of school, I highly recommend modeling how to complete digital assignments with your students using a projector, if in class, or a screen recording, if distance learning. As you model, be sure to vocalize each step along the way.

Here are some tips about digital modeling:

  • Highlight which buttons you are selecting using a pointer stick or laser pen, if in person, or a highlighted cursor, if distance learning.
  • Use descriptive words to share what buttons you’re selecting on the screen. Think color, size, memorable icons, etc.
  • Remember that kids may not know words like “rewind” or “fast-forward” because they’ve never used VHS or cassette tapes. Instead, use “go back” or “move forward.”
  • Set expectations regarding the length of written responses and how to restate the question before answering. If your students need practice restating questions and using text evidence, I have a blog post on how to use the RACE strategy.


Click here to check it out!

  • Emphasize the importance of the red and blue squiggly lines. I learned very quickly that some students do not know that these indicator lines mean FIX ME. Share with students how to select the misspelled word or grammatical error and how to use logical steps in choosing which word or phrase fits best into the sentence.


If you’re looking for a fun way to model an assignment for your students and an engaging way to get to know each other, I recommend my Digital Back to School Activities for Google Classroom™ which include:

  • Doodle themed get to know you activities
  • Icebreakers
  • Social-Emotional learning activities
  • Resources to develop procedures and routines
  • Back to school writing and math activities
  • Best of all, it’s NO PREP!


Click here to learn more about my Back to School Activities Print & Digital Unit!


2 – Submitting Assignments

Model for your students how to enter Google Classroom™ and submit an assignment. Be sure also to highlight that when an assignment has been turned in, it can no longer be edited. I promise you, emphasizing this several times during the beginning of the school year will save your sanity as the year goes on.

Be sure to also:

  • Show students how to access their Google Drive and explain that Google Drive is the equivalent of a folder where all their work is saved.
  • Show students how to make a copy of an assignment.
  • Model how to make a copy of a document and how to rename it. You may want to show students how to access Google Apps like Docs, Slides, and Drive on the Safari browser on the iPad. There are a few more functions available when using the browser. I would not recommend using the Chrome browser for this as it will auto-open the Google Apps if installed on the iPad.
  • Model how to add an attachment to Google Classroom for submission.


I highly suggest doing a screen recording for this step. The screen recording can be posted within Google Classroom™ as a reminder resource for students or emailed out to parents who may be helping their child at home. If you’re using an iPad, there is screen recording built-in! Click here to learn how. If on a PC or Mac, you can use a free tool like Screencast-O-Matic.


3 – Show students how to access their revision history

If on an iPad, show students how to access their revision history through the Safari app. This will save you lots of questions from panicked students who have mysteriously lost all of their work. Best yet, they’ll think you’re some magical wizard with this tool!



4 – Model how to write an email

Anyone else losing their mind during distance learning with 300+ emails from students that were filled with one-word answers or “hhhiiiiiiiiii” messages? Me too.

Model email communication from the get-go. Many teachers, including myself, were reluctant to show students Gmail™. However, it became a necessary tool very quickly.

Practice drafting an email with students. Write one to the principal, to another teacher in the school, or the bus driver.

Be sure to model:

  • appropriate email greetings
  • using complete sentences
  • how to ask politely for something
  • how to share a quick anecdote or piece of friendly information
  • sending well wishes or wishing the recipient a good day
  • how to wrap up an email
  • email signatures
  • the appropriate use of emojis (because we know they’re going to use them anyway, so we might as well give them norms on how to use them correctly)


5 – Add video instructions

This last tip is something I wish I would have started sooner. I began adding video instructions to my assignments. Video instructions helped tremendously. Not only did the videos help me build rapport with my students, but they also freed me up from questions so I could work with my small groups without interruption.

Here’s are the benefits of video instructions:

  • For my students, they were able to go back and listen to instructions again if they had a question.
  • For my students’ parents, they were able to see the language I used with my students, how I directed them, and what I expected from them.
  • For my SPED and ELL students, they were able to play and pause directions at their pace. They were also able to use my video instructions as a verbal checklist prior to submitting their work.
  • For my co-teachers and support staff, they were able to know what was expected from my students without needing to touch base with me while moving in and out of my classroom throughout the day.



To add video instructions, I used my webcam or my phone and shot a quick 30-second to 1-minute video. I uploaded this video to YouTube and selected “unlisted,” so it could not be found within search results. (Alternatively, you can upload the video directly to your Google Drive™.) Then, I selected “Insert” and then Video. From here, I inserted the video and resized it to fit the page.

I always made the first slide the video slide with very short written instructions; this became routine for my students.

Video is also a great way to hold a digital morning meeting. If Zoom™ or Google Hangouts™ isn’t working for you or your students, try adding a quick video morning meeting to your morning work.

Morning Work 3rd - 6th Grade Freebies


Need digital morning work? I have a full YEAR-LONG DIGITAL SET for 3rd – 6th grades in my store.

Here are the benefits of this digital morning work resource:

  • It includes EVERY Common Core standard for reading, language, and math, as well as social studies and science (NGSS) too!
  • The paperless version for Google Classroom™ can be completed online and graded together.
  • The standards spiral the entire year to keep skills fresh!


Click here to check out the YEAR-LONG Digital Morning Work resource available for your grade level!


Here’s what people are saying:

  • “This is FANTASTIC and in my opinion PERFECT morning work. It touches on reading, math and content skills. It is just enough to be meaningful without being overwhelming! Brilliant resource!” – Beth
  • “I absolutely love this! I love how they also include science and History! Well done! Thank you!” – Danielle
  • “This is honestly one of the best things I have gotten on TPT! I absolutely love how thorough everything is. Thank you so much!” – Upper Elementary Educator


Thank so much for stopping by!

The Teacher Next Door - Creating upper elementary resources that target standards for busy teachers


If you liked this blog post and you’d like to learn more about digital learning, check out the following:

How to Support ALL Students Using Google Slides

Google Classroom FAQ

What You Need to Know About Google Forms


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