How to Keep Online and Blended Students Engaged around the Holiday Season


Amanda Cunningham
Wednesday, December 9, 2015 - 12:00pm

With the holiday season in full swing, we asked some of our FuelEd teachers and staff for some advice for teachers and parents on engaging online and blended learning students with the smell of Winter Break in the air. Here is what some of them said:



Before Winter Break

“To keep online learners engaged, other teachers and I have created competitions between classes or between two teachers to see which class can turn in the most assignments, get the most students on schedule, etc. Make sure to give the competition a festive name, like Winter Wrap-up or Snowflake Challenge, so that it is seasonally themed.

The winning student(s) received a few extra credit points or a free question on an exam. But make sure to create a max amount of points they can win so that they can't just skip an entire essay!

I’ve also seen teachers extend these challenges even further and make the pledge that for every assignment turned in, every grade raised, etc., the teacher will donate a certain dollar amount to a local charity.

We also once had two regions that competed against whole regions. The losing region's manager had to let her kids throw pies in her face on camera! I know of another teacher who dyed her hair a purple in exchange for a certain percentage of student improvement.  I haven't been brave enough to try either of these, but they’re great, crazy ideas!”

     -Kelli Hicks, Teacher, English, ESL, and Sociology                  

“My tip is to devote blocks of time for everything. Kids want to play and goof-off during the holiday season, so let them play—just set a specific time for it. 

If they need to work for 30–40 minutes in each course every school day, then make that time really count! Use those 30–40 minutes to study and study hard. Then when that study time is done, it’s playtime—guilt free, all around fun, playtime.”

-Mike Gray, Teacher, English Language Arts

  1. Send your students motivating e-cards that you can design yourself. (Yes, parents can send cards too!) Include a funny animal picture, bright colors, and engaging text to encourage them to continue to keep working! Below is an example I used for Thanksgiving.

  1. Check-in with your student or child often. Discuss their progress and their work, ask lots of questions, and then listen to their explanations and ideas. This encourages academic engagement for blended and online learners and keeps them thinking about their courses and progress (they’ll love the time spent with you as well).
  2. Discover great online educational activities. This is a great time to have your students start a blog, wiki, and review any online recordings found in their course resources. Respond to blog posts, and watch educational videos with them to participate.
  3. Spruce up their workspace! Add a small décor that will make their environment just a little more enjoyable. New pencils with holiday designs can be fun to use while taking notes. A small plant or a personalized, encouraging sticky note with snowflakes drawn on them can make the area more inviting to work! Don’t go overboard though, because it would distract instead of adding a little extra to make them smile while they are working.                                                                                                             -Carolynn Mortenson, Missouri State Lead for Instructional Services

“This is a tough one! Our online and blended engagement is the worst during the holiday because it is hard for students to focus, especially our credit recovery students. 

To try to combat this slump, I will send weekly due-date reminder e-mails along with progress reports to remind them where they are. I also post encouraging course announcements to help keep students focused.

Other than this, I just try to be on my game and lead by example. I show the students that I am working hard during this time of year too by: 

  • Grading items quickly
  • Responding to e-mails and journal communications promptly
  • Changing announcements weekly with generic holiday themes

I always ensure that every student feels included in celebrating the holidays, no matter what holiday they celebrate this time of year.

Basically, I just make sure to maintain the same level of hard work that we do all year long!”

  -Kristin Trostel, Teacher, social studies

“Caffeine and candy! Just kidding, I would say that the best way to motivate students during the holiday season is the same way teachers always have: provide them opportunities to engage in meaningful activities that are relevant to their lives. 

Students need a buy-in when it comes to motivation. If they don’t see the point in completing an assignment, then they just won’t do it, same as adults. Practically, this means looking over your content for the weeks leading up to break and finding areas where you can make it more relevant, engaging, and purposeful. Enhance your lessons with new, engaging content to keep them focused!”

-Bobby Offterdinger, Education Consultant                        

“Winter break from a brick-and-mortar classroom can be a great time to catch up or get ahead in online classes. I always try to encourage blended student engagement by reminding them that putting in a few extra days or hours now will mean less stress as they begin the New Year. I also try to help them set a specific goal (e.g., complete Unit 5 before Christmas) so that they can see their progress and feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach that milestone.”

   -Andrea Ritchie, Instructional Manager

During Break:

“To engage online and blended learners, extend learning outside of your classroom by finding activities that are relevant to the themes you are addressing in your classroom. Think about not only supplemental activities that you have already taught, but anticipatory activities for what they will be engaging in after the break.

Some ideas for teachers are:

  • Provide students with stamped and self-addressed envelopes to your home or school, asking them to write a letter about their holiday break. Require a specific number of verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc., making sure to focus on the writing skills students have learned in the classroom.
  • Give students a starter story and the option of creating their own continuation of the story during break. They can then read it to the class when they return from break.
  • Example: “One day while sitting home on my winter break, there was a knock at the door. When we answered, there was a box delivered with my name on it. I didn’t know who it was from or what was inside it. I brought it into the house, opened the box and . . .”  
  • Set up a book club meeting both before and right after break to encourage reading participation over the break. Make sure to encourage over-the-break reading!

Since a student’s online and blended learning materials are accessible to parents as well, they can see what their child has been learning and can then target learning strategies around those skills.

Some tips for parents are:

  • Turn holiday tasks into learning activities.
  • Example: Your child can help you determine the width and length of wrapping paper needed to wrap gifts.
  • Handwrite letters to family members for holiday greeting cards or add a handwritten note to your traditional cards.
  • Kids love electronics and there are many apps to utilize for learning. Encourage reading using an eBook or audio book, and encourage writing through creating a new story. ”

-Renae Abboud, Education Consultant

Do you have any great tips for engaging blended and online students around the holiday season? Share them below in the comment section—and don't forget to share our tips with others!


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