Distance Learning Tools

Disclaimer: Check with your school before using any of the tech tools mentioned here to make sure they comply with your policies on privacy among other factors.

A pandemic isn’t normal, so we must modify our teaching to meet the needs of our students in this current situation. E-learning, distance learning, online learning, or remote learning call it what you will, it all feels just the same, complicated. I just finished my first week of distance learning with my high school students. I teach four freshman English classes and one junior AP Language and Composition class. I will share what works for both me and my students. Happy Tinkering!!! I will be updating this blog on a weekly basis.

Update!!! I just fished week three of distance learning, and things are going a lot smoother. We are on Spring Break until April 20th. I organized my distance learning tools into four categories:

  1. Communication Tools
  2. Content Management Tools
  3. Video Conferencing Tools
  4. Instructional Tools

1. Communication Tools

I gave my students an overview of our “new” classroom with a handout that included my work email, Google Voice phone number, online hours, Google Classroom and Google Meet expectations. Below are some of the most common communication tools many teachers use with their students.

Daily Check-In

I have not implemented this idea from Mari Venturino, but I will after spring break. I think it’s an amazing tool that allows teachers to connect with their students. I included suggestions for a 5 minute meditation of their choice. Here is my modified Google Form to meet our current situation.

2. Content Management Tools

One way to make distance learning easier is choosing a learning management system (LMS) that works for you. This is where you will post announcements, assignments, assessments, videos, discussions … for your students. I highly recommend researching the LMS you are thinking about using as each one has specific features you might need for your instruction.

3. Video Conferencing Tools

Most K-12 schools are using Google Meet or Zoom to meet with their students. I will explain both the upsides and downsides of these tools along with a quick tutorial on how to create your meetings.

Google Meet

The upside to Google Meet. First, they just changed their settings so that only the host has control over muting and removing students whereas before students also had this option. You can see how things went awry very quickly. Thank you Google!!! Secondly, you can easily create meetings using your Google Calendar, which is also connected to your Google Classroom contacts. Finally, you can record your meetings and as of now you can have up to 100 students.

Update: If you like to see more of your students on screen download this Google Meet Grid View extension shared by my coworker, Chamnauch Khem.

The downside to Google Meet. The video quality isn’t the best, and it lacks features like breakout rooms. If your school allows it, below are instructions on creating a meeting via Google Meet.

Step 1: Open your Google Calendar and click on a specific time, and this will pop up. You still have to click on more options. If you want to bypass the more options, you can just simply double click on a specific time to go immediately to step 2.

Step 2: Start filling out the information below. ***The default setting allows for students to invite other guests circled in red down below, so make sure that box is unchecked before you save.

  • Title
  • Date and Time
  • Add Conferencing- select Hangouts Meet
  • Add notification- minutes you want to be notified before your Meet
  • Add Guests- type your students emails
  • Guest permission- uncheck invite others
  • Save

Step 3: Students have the option of Join Hangouts Meet using a link, which you can also copy and paste on Google Classroom. They also have the option of Join by Phone with the phone number and pin given right below.

***Optional: You can change the default setting. This will prevent you from having to change it every single time for future Meets. See pictures below for how 🙂


The upside to Zoom. First of all, it has way more options when scheduling a meeting. Second of all, I love that you can create breakout rooms. You can either set up groups in advance or select random groups during the meeting. Third of all, the video quality is much better. Finally, you can also record the meetings and as of now have up to 100 students.

The downside to Zoom. It has caused serious security breach with its users in the past. Yikes!!! Our district has decided to only use Google Meet. If your school allows it, see below to create a meeting with Zoom.

Step 1: Select Schedule a New Meeting. Fill out what you deem necessary for your meeting. Your options are: Topic, Description, Date, Time, Duration, Time Zone, Recurring meeting…

Step 2: You have more options such as meeting password, video , audio, enable join before host, mute participants upon entry, enable waiting room, ***breakout room pre-assign, record meeting automatically.

***Optional: You need to change the settings if you want to use the Breakout room feature. Go to settings, meeting, scroll down until you see Breakout room and allow. You should peruse all the options as this is what you are allowing or not allowing your students to do during the meeting. I don’t allow the private chat to prevent any problems with bullying or inappropriateness.

Video Conferencing Etiquette

I created this with high school students in mind. I think this covers most of the issues some high school teachers have faced with distance learning. You can download a copy of this as a PDF.

Scheduling Meetings

I changed my meeting time from 15 to 30 minutes. I have weekly one-on-one, small groups, and whole class meetings. I post an announcement on Google Classroom with instructions on how to sign up for a meeting along with a hyperlink to the schedule.

Here is the Google Slide if you wish to make a copy.

Here is a clean Meeting Schedule for you.

4. Instructional Tools

I’ve blogged about 8 Tech Tools for Teachers, so you might want to check that out later. This will be more about instructional tools specific to distance learning, which is probably the most important piece of this puzzle.

Quality over quantity. You shouldn’t introduce new concepts unless you know your students will need very little support from you. I would stick to what they already know and maybe add one new concept if they need to be challenged. You know your students better than anyone.

For me, my students learned how to annotate main ideas of a text and write a summary. So, I decided to stick with that objective and just add one new idea, The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell. Below are the tools I am using to organize and implement instruction.

Weekly Agenda

Give your students an overview of their assignments for the week, so they have the opportunity to manage their time.

Here is the Google Slide, so you can make a copy if you wish.

Posting Assignments

Students have at least six classes, and every teacher will post assignments differently. This without a doubt creates confusion and anxiety. This is how I post assignments on Google Classroom.

  • Title assignments with a short and specific topic. In a regular situation, I organize my assignments by units. In this unique situation, my topic is what our school calls our instruction, distance learning.
  • Add the dates, which is an idea I stole from another teacher.
  • For the love of learning, please number your assignments.
  • Arrange assignments in descending order, so students can reference and find them with ease.

Recording Lessons

This is essential for all students particularly helpful for English Language Learners and Special Education students. Your recording allows students to listen and see what you want them to do.


  • Lecture using Google Slides
  • Explain your Google Doc assignment
  • Navigate them on how to find their online textbook
  • Introduce a new website they will be using for an assignment.


Interactive Lessons

You can engage your students by using a variety of tools; however, less is better at the moment. Try to use apps, websites, … that your students are familiar with or you will find yourself doing a lot of explaining on how to navigate technology.

Discussion Boards

Students respond to your question and their classmates. It creates a online discussion while you set the guidelines like ask one question and answer two peers. Note: Most Content Management Systems have this feature.

Video Responses

Students can record their response to an assignment and respond to each other. For example, I asked my AP Lang students to respond with a fun fact about themselves, and their initial thoughts on Abigail Adams letter to her son. Their videos are AMAZING!!!!

Digital Portfolios

Students reflect and share their work with their classmates using Google Sites. We started this at the beginning of the year, so this is not new for my students. I created a shared Google doc for the class, and they copied and pasted their website links. I’ve been thinking about perhaps having them blog about their experience as we continue with distance learning. I included the instructions for you below. Their websites are only visible to other students, and it is not set on public.

Published by Noemi Gonzalez

I'm an experienced high school English teacher sharing best practices to inform, to inspire and to reflect on my own craft. Love implementing new ideas and efficient systems that make teaching manageable. Teachers need a surmountable amount of support to help them survive, and every year comes with its own challenges. When I am not teaching or creating, I love hiking, running, anything outdoorsy! I am also a mother of two boys, one in college the other in his last year of middle school. Hope you can utilize what I create and share on this platform.

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