Using Disney to Reach My Learners

by - April 13, 2020

Virtual trip to Disneyland (DCA) with my students during a Zoom call for distance learning.This quarantine has forced me to become a bit more creative in how I reach my learners.  Since I am teaching them through a computer, my normal tricks just aren't cutting it.   Just four weeks in, and the novelty of learning at home had worn off for us all, leaving me with a hit or miss type of lesson structure.  Most of my kids were still attending the daily Zoom lessons, but the numbers were falling off as things became more "regular".  So I sat down over my Spring Break and decided something needed to change.

That's when it occurred to me -- I had to bring my love of Disneyland into my virtual classroom.  
I am a passholder to the Happiest Place on Earth and, being that we live in Southern California, many of my kids have been to Disney once or twice (or more.)  Whenever I speak of my Disneyland adventures, 24 sets of ears perk up and a little twinkle lights up in their wide eyes.  So it just made sense that I try and grab their attention, and still teach them something, while using Disney as a backdrop.

So I took them on a virtual field trip. 

Disneyland via green screen on a Zoom call with third graders.The day before our adventure, I sent out an email blast asking the kids to come to our Zoom meeting in their Disney finest.  Shirts, hats, pins, popcorn buckets....whatever they had, I encouraged them to bring it to the meeting.  If they didn't want to, that was fine too, as lots of people go to Disneyland wearing regular, plain old clothes.  We were for sure going to represent the gambit of Disney attendees in our meeting.
Getting kids excited about learning through DisneylandI downloaded a DCA gates background from all over the net (and from ones I had taken) and had that open as the kids were coming into the Zoom meeting.  I had some Disney music playing and I greeted them as if they were meeting me on the esplanade.   Here is the youtube video of esplanade music that I used.   This helped to get us all in the mood.  I never broke character (as someone going into DCA) and, though a bit confused, they soon got right into it too. They were asking a lot of "why are you with that background?  What is that background?  What is going on???" questions too.  ;)  

Reading Fluency to get into Disneyland Once the kids were all there, I asked them for their tickets.  Of course they didn't have any, so I did the next best thing.  I had them practice their fluency to earn their way into the park.  I screen-shared a comprehension passage about Walt Disney I found free on Read Works.  I went through our normal fluency routine, the kids read for 1 minute, and we were all allowed into the park. 

Taking a virtual trip to Disneyland with my third graders.I then changed my background to a picture of Buena Vista Street.  We talked a little about the rides we wanted to go on and the things we would do.  Then I changed my background to Willie's Churro cart.  I became very excited to grab a churro.  Then, I posed this question to the kids:  What is your favorite park treat?  I asked them to answer that question in a complete sentence, with supporting details to back it up, in the chat feature on Zoom.  Before they started writing, we went over what it means to answer completely and use supporting evidence (i.e.: the RACE strategy) and they were off.  

I have never seen a more eager to respond group of kids!  They COULD NOT wait to tell me what their favorite in park treat was (or for those who didn't know, just a treat in general.)  I was getting complete sentences, with capitals and periods, subjects and predicates AND extended detail.  It was AWESOME!

The next step was where our field trip turned into the prelude to an actual lesson.   I changed my background again to a picture of Soarin' Over California.   

Now this is one of the original rides at DCA.  This ride takes you on a hang gliding journey over iconic and beautiful features of our great state of CA.  In recent years, the film has become Soarin' Over the World, but right before the shutdown, the CA film was back!   Because I live in Los Angeles, most of my students have been to Disneyland, but since they are only 8, most don't quite remember the ride.  Luckily for us, though, a full view of the ride can be found on youtube.  I told them I had fast passes, and I put on the youtube video.

Engaging learners with a green screen and Disneyland virtual tripAs we were watching, I had the students take note of the types of places that were featured in the ride film.  We discussed why those particular places might have been chosen.  Some of the responses were that they were famous and iconic, that people would recognize them if the locations were included, and that they were super lucky to get a whale to jump right as they were filming (I didn't have the heart to break the CGI news to them!)
Using Disney rides to get the kids hooked on virtual learningThen, my daughter busted into our meeting and told me I just had a letter delivered.  I opened it in front of the kids and told them that it was from Mickey Mouse himself!  He had heard about our virtual trip and he wanted us to create an updated version of the ride where hang gliders were taken on a scenic tour of Los Angeles.  They were excited that I spoke to Mickey and didn't want to disappoint him (and since learning about Los Angeles history is a big standard for us in third grade, Mickey's request was perfectly timed ;) )

Learning about the world on Google ClassroomI opened up a set of three slides for the kids and told them they needed to choose 3 areas of Los Angeles to research (from a list I gave them of course.)  Then, I explained the information I....I mean Mickey!...wanted them to research, answered any questions, and sent them on their way. We will regroup and continue creating our own knock off of this ride once they finish their research next week.  The research slides I am having the kids use can be found here.  (they are not specific to Los Angeles, so you can use them for any type of location research -- cities, states, country, etc..)

All in all, this took about 30 minutes to complete.  30 minutes where they were hanging on every word I said.  They were fully engaged and are now set up for big learning objectives because of it. Disney was the perfect way to get them hooked on Distance Learning.  And I know I will be using this place a lot in my lessons to come.

Have you woven in any Disney love into your distance learning lessons?  Let me know in the comments!

Want even more Teaching and Disneyland?  Follow me on Instagram!  I can't wait to connect with you!

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4 Comments

  1. Omg I love! That is an awesome way to get students involved!

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  2. Amazing! I have been bored teaching on Zoom, so I definitely know my students are too! Thanks for sharing.

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