Teaching Digital Routines

Many of us will be doing some kind of distance teaching this year, whether we are teaching fully remotely or a hybrid with students in front of us and students on the computer at home. While we may feel very comfortable teaching routines to our students in the classroom, teaching routines on a computer may be unknown and overwhelming to you right now. Well, I am here to help!

The Basics for routines

When teaching routines, I will follow the same procedures I do in the classroom.

  1. Explain the routine:  “Ok everyone, right now I’m going to teach you an important routine that I will use when I want to get your attention.”
  2. Model the routine for the students
  3. Ask the students what they noticed I did and explain anything they may have missed
  4. Explain the WHY: “It is important for me to get your attention so that you don’t miss any new directions. This will help you to learn and stay safe.”
  5. Ask a few students to model it for the class
  6. Review how the students did – positives and anything to keep practicing
  7. Give the whole class an opportunity to practice

Even if we are on the computer, I will still follow this basic outline.

Attention Getters

The first thing you want to teach students is to respond to your attention getter. This may be different on the computer. You want a way to get their attention if they are all unmuted and talking to each other as they greet each other. Or maybe you’ve given them a task to try at home, but you want their attention after it is finished. Just like in the classroom, you need a way to get their attention quickly. One way is with a sound, like a chime, bell, or chant. For example, these are some common attention getters I used in the classroom.

On the computer, I might use a non-verbal quiet signal where I put one finger in front of my mouth and one hand raised in their air and then I will teach my students to “catch my signal” when they see it. They will raise their hands too and become quiet. As other children start to notice that it is getting quiet, they will look up and see the signal and start to raise their hands too. If this isn’t working for my group on the computer, then I will probably try a chime.

Why not just mute all? Well, I want to teach my students to take on that responsibility themselves, so they aren’t stuck when it comes to unmuting themselves (more on that in a minute). It also doesn’t guarantee that they know I am waiting for their attention. They may keep on talking, not realizing they are muted!

Raising hand routine

Once students know my attention getters, I want to teach them how to raise their hand. For some students, this may be completely new, and for others, they will need to connect their experience from the classroom to the computer.

I will ask students, “How do you think I will know if you want to share something? If everyone talks at the same time, I won’t be able to hear you! What can we do about that?” Then I will take a few ideas and suggestions, and one of them will most likely be to raise a hand. We will then practice raising our hands quietly.

After teaching and practicing this routine, it will be important to reinforce it. This means that when I see students raising their hand, I will call on them saying, “______ used a quiet hand. Go ahead ______”. Even after teaching and practicing routines, students will still need reminders, and that is perfectly normal. If you hear or see someone start to call out, you can just show a quiet hand being raised and not respond to them until they have raised their hand. I find it’s better to remind non-verbally whenever possible, because you are not rewarding their misbehavior and you are not taking away from other children’s experience.

Muting/unmuting routine

kindergarten routines

This is a new routine to everyone, but it is definitely one that I want my students to know how to do on their own. There definitely will be times that I have to mute someone, especially if there is loud background noises, and I need my students to know how to unmute themselves if they want to share something. I find a visual reminder so helpful here – I use a printed picture of the mute symbol and I hold it up for my students. I didn’t really practice this in the spring, because no one had any idea how long this would be needed.

However, this year, I plan on playing a few games where they can talk or sing silly songs and then I’ll show the mute symbol and they have to mute themselves. Like a red light, green light game but with muting instead! It’s so important to practice routines with your students, but they can still be in a playful format! Depending on what your students did in the spring, they may not need too much practice with this. My summer school students were experts at muting and unmuting because of their experience in the spring.

Showing you are listening

One of the first lessons of the year is always about listening. It will be especially important this year to teach students to show they are listening. I use my social emotional curriculum for this lesson – the whole first month is all about listening. This year though, I want to stress the why even more. Why is it important to show that we are listening? When we are at home, there is a lot around us that could distract us, and our time together is short. As the teacher, I need to make sure that you understand what I am teaching you, and one of the ways I do that is to see that you are listening.

Non-verbal motions for engagement

kindergarten routines

Normally with in-person learning, we have so many ways to gauge engagement and understanding. However, on a computer screen this is increasingly difficult. I found that having a few routines to engage the students to be beneficial for both their engagement and for my understanding. I want to make sure my students understand what is happening and I also know that you could easily check-out if you are just passively listening.

Thumbs-Up and Thumbs-Down

This is such a simple way to check for understanding and for other types of engagement. I use this all the time! For example, “show me a thumbs up if you feel like you understand and a thumbs down if you want to see an example”. A check for understanding. You can also use this routine as an engagement strategy. For example, “Show me a thumbs up if you also like vanilla ice cream like the character and a thumbs down if you like something different”. Instant engagement!

I also like to use the “me too” non-verbal signal. It is the same as the American Sign Language symbol for “me too”. Thumbs and pinky are out straight, other fingers are tucked inside, and then you move your hand from your chest to straight out in front of you. I have the students use this when they agree with what someone is saying, if they wanted to say the same thing, and/or if they had the same experience. For example, if someone said that over the weekend they went to the park, anyone that also went to the park could show that by using this symbol.

Similarly, I like to teach my students the ASL symbol for “different” so that they can show when they had a different experience or they respectfully disagree with someone. To make this sign, you put your two pointer fingers out crossed on top of each other and then slide them across each other. I can reinforce this routine by pointing out when I see students using it. For example, “Oh Billy, while you were sharing about going to the park, I noticed Sarita and Johnny show a me too. They must have gone to the park as well!”

See how I quickly introduce these routines in my welcome video for summer school:

Communicating with Parents

Whatever routines I teach my students, I want to share them with the parents. Since they will be supporting the learning at home, I want to be clear about my expectations. Parents are always our partners in education, but this year this is especially important to remember!

kindergarten routines
I used a Google Site to share all expectations, activities and share prompts with families.


While the idea of teaching a new group of students on a computer can sound overwhelming, teaching routines will follow the same routine that you use in the classroom. You will explain and model the routine and allow students to practice the routine.


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