Teaching in the age of a pandemic — part 2: including remote learners in the hybrid classroom

After weeks of teaching in cohorts, my school moved back to “mostly in person”: the vast majority of my students are physically in the classroom, with a small group of students attending my class via Zoom. These remote students are either vulnerable, or protecting someone in their family who is vulnerable. I quickly noticed that all my attention was sucked in by my in-person students, while my remote students were becoming more and more invisible.

In this post, I share my attempts at making sure my remote students feel seen, accepted, and respected in the classroom. How do you create a sense of belonging in such a dehumanizing set-up?

1. Set-up and expectations

My friend and colleague Anna Gilcher suggested I connect to Zoom from my computer AND from my phone. This was a game changer!

  • The phone is sitting on the whiteboard tray, facing the classroom, thus allowing the remote learners to see their classmates.
  • I have found that the phone also becomes a fantastic portable doc cam, allowing the teacher to show specific spots in the classroom.
  • Make sure your phone is connected to your school wifi.
Top left: video feed from my phone; Top right: video feed from my computer; Bottom: a colleague is kindly posing as a remote student for this picture

Now that my students can see each other and the happenings of the classroom, I need to make sure my remote learners have a voice. Therefore, I have a different set of expectations for them:

  1. If you need my attention, don’t raise your hand, say “Madame”.
  2. I will check on you on a regular basis during class and this is what it will sound like: “Ça va Lillian ?”
  3. Office hours for remote learners so I can check in with them on a one-on-one basis. Precious time!
  4. Expectations for myself: I am granting myself permission to speak more English this year, making sure my remote learners are with us is more important than hitting a % of TL spoken.

2. Routines & Rituals

A routine is a habitual procedure, whereas a ritual is a more meaningful practice. We obviously need both in the classroom but teachers don’t get to choose what is a routine and what is a ritual. The students do. I guess our jobs is to implement routines with such care, collaboration, and conviction that they may become rituals.

I have implemented simple but consistent opening routines (rituals?) for my remote learners.

  • Greet the class, then everyone greets remote learners by name (in the TL):
    • Teacher: Hello everyone!
    • Class: Hello Madame.
    • Teacher: Everyone says hello to Samantha.
    • Class: Hello Samantha!
    • Samantha: Hello everyone!
    • Teacher: Everyone says hello to Jade.
    • Class: Hello Jade!
    • Jade: Hi!

2. Tasks and activities

A lot of my classroom instruction had to be modified just for the remote learners to be able to follow, but I have tried to be intentional about making the remote learners the center of the activity or task, wherever possible. Two prime examples of this intentionality are:

  1. Special Person Interviews

Special Person Interviews are a great way to get to know students whether or not we are in a pandemic. But I have found it to be especially helpful and inclusive in my hybrid classroom.

  • Get to know your remote learners by having the teacher and/or the class interview them!
  • My favorite Special Person resources for Novice Learners

2. Building a One Word Image (imaginary character)

When we build an imaginary character together, I like to rely on voting with eyes closed when the class needs to come to a consensus. However, I also sometimes ask the remote learners to be our tie breakers. If the class is debating between three names, I let the remote learners decide what the name of the character should be.

Similarly, when we draw our character, I ask my remote learners to take a picture of their drawing and email it to me. Guess which drawing we are going to look at the next day to review the character?

These are some of the ways I am striving to include my remote learners in the hybrid classroom. If you are in this situation, I would love to hear what you do to with your remote learners because my work is far from done.


  1. When my district offered parents a choice of hybrid or all virtual over 1/3 chose all virtual. So on my hybrid days I have 2-8 people in person and then 9-17 people on the other end of the zoom. When there are more on the computer than in person it changes the dynamic, I think, from what you are describing. Do you or any of your readers have any thoughts or suggestions for that situation? It seems from your examples like you have the majority in person and only a few at home; I have the opposite.

    • Bonjour, you are correct, we have the opposite situation and it does change the class dynamic. I hope people will chime in but I would say the set-up should be the same (computer and phone so they can see each other). You would also probably need to set expectations around providing directions and answering questions for each group. Finally, I think it would be fun to do Special Person Interviews in your set-up, for the two groups to know each other better and bond! You could then have each student from one group present a student from the other group! I see a lot of opportunities for the two groups to interact.

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