School is back in session with the start of the new year, and that means it’s time to implement some new and creative ways to engage your students! As teachers and students across the country continue to attend a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid classrooms we wanted to share a few ways to invigorate remote learning for the start of 2021. 

Students have been through months of on-and-off remote learning, and may be experiencing Zoom fatigue as well as higher levels of stress, worry and anxiety as a result of upheaval in the country. All these factors may contribute to students feeling disengaged and unmotivated when it comes to virtual learning.

What can we, as teachers, do to refresh our students and increase engagement to set them up for success in this semester?

Here are five activities to start the year off on the right note and get students engaged in learning in 2021!

Set Intentions

What better time to set intentions for the rest of the year than in January? We’re leaving behind the weight and negativity of the past year, and looking forward to the future with hope and aspiration. For middle school students, choosing a word for the year to guide them can help them start off the year on the right foot.

This is also a great time to encourage students to reflect on 2020, and consider their goals for the upcoming year. Use this as an engaging and creative activity to help students ease into being back in school, and prepare them to dive into lessons with more motivation and enthusiasm.

Bring Real-World Professionals into The Classroom

Career exposure in middle school helps pave the way for future student success, and to this end, we’ve launched “Read to Lead LIVE!”, a free student-centered webinar series that gives students a front-row seat into career exploration. Each session features a working professional who shares their leadership experiences and career journey, giving students a unique chance to learn more about different careers first-hand. By bringing real-world professionals into your virtual classroom, you open doors and career opportunities for students that may have never existed otherwise. 

Sign up for the next Read to Lead LIVE! session on February 5th with Misty Copeland, principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.

Start a Virtual Gratitude “Jar”

Gratitude has been shown to have immense benefits, both in good times and in bad, but it is a habit that is difficult to cultivate. Help get your students in the habit of being grateful this new year by starting a virtual gratitude “jar”. 


Want to take engagement to the next level? Use Flipgrid’s video platform and ask students to record videos of themselves talking about things they are grateful for, or you can create a shared Google Drive folder for students to upload their daily or weekly gratitude notes. Not only will this help develop students’ Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) skills, but it will also give them something to look back on in tough times.

Build a Bitmoji Classroom

Building a Bitmoji classroom together can be an engaging activity to build connections and boost energy with students virtually. Students will love the chance to create their own Bitmojis and can even use these images to spruce up their assignments or projects. 

You can also use this as a way for students to help personalize their virtual learning environment and ensure the Bitmoji Classroom is culturally responsive.

While they may not be physically in a classroom, students are bound to be more enthusiastic about learning in a space they helped design and create, even if it is virtual.

Motivate Students to Read Through Game-Based Learning

Career exposure in middle school helps pave the way for future student success, and to this end, Read to Lead has introduced Live! webinar sessions with the aim of helping students take career exploration to the next level. Each session features a working professional who shares their leadership experiences and career journey, giving students a unique chance to learn more about different careers first-hand. By bringing real-world professionals into your virtual classroom, you add some excitement to your lessons and boost student engagement.

Starting school in January virtually doesn’t have to be a drag. By incorporating these four activities into your virtual classroom,  you can engage, motivate and captivate your students and put them on the path to a productive and successful year ahead.

Curious to learn more about Read to Lead? Sign up for free and get immediate access to three different virtual workplaces, over 30 games and a multitude of lesson plans and resources to bring the real world to your virtual classroom.

About Read to Lead

Read to Lead, created by the nonprofit organization, Classroom Inc., uses the power of game-based learning to empower middle school students to build literacy, life, and career skills. Teachers can sign up for a free account to get started!