Instructional Uses of the Internet for Elementary Age Students

Linda Burkhart and Kimberly Kelly

Communicate With Another Class Through Email

Corresponding with key pals provides an authentic and motivating opportunity for students to read and write.  At the elementary level, it is best to have children use the teacher's email so messages can be screened.  Children do not have to do their writing online or in an email program.  They can write in any word processor, or on an Alphasmart.  When the whole class is ready, the teacher can paste individual student letters into one email to the other teacher who will print them out for his/her students.  Some teachers have the children write in one long file so this process is simplified.

Many elementary teachers have had more success when groups of children write to groups of children in another class. This way, the risk of having one or two children without a response or having problems when children are absent is eliminated.  You may want to try an email project with only one reading group at a time to keep it manageable.

Email exchanges have been most successful when they focus on a particular topic.  Sometimes classes read the same book and share ideas as they go.  Another idea is for one class to write cliff hangers and have the other class finish the stories.  Some classes have done parallel science experiments or conducted surveys and then compared results with the other class.  Instead of using a personal or business email account of the teacher, you can sign up for a free email account and use it for that project.  Gaggle net is a free email service for students with good teacher controls and filters.  N2mail is a free email service with kid-safe advertising and a filter option that allows you to accept email from only desired sources.  It can be accessed from any computer that has access to the Internet.

Gaggle Net
This is a free email service for students with good teacher controls and filters.  They will call your school to make sure that you are a teacher before allowing you to sign up your students.  Advertisements are kid safe.

N2 mail - Free email

Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections

Classroom Connect
Find other teachers with similar interests.

Communicate With an Expert or a Significant Person

Consider having the class correspond with one significant person.  This person could be someone you know who happens to be an expert in a field related to what you are studying.  For example, teachers have had their class write to a friend or relative who lives in another country.  This is a comfortable way to begin using email with students, because you know who they are communicating with.  Alternatively you could set up partnerships with employees of community businesses.  Parents of some students might fit into this category as well.

There are online services where experts, in a variety of fields, stand ready to answer children's questions.  Many of these services have archives on their web sites of previously asked questions.  These archives are a rich source of information and may be searched before formulating a new questions.  The answers are often geared to the grade level of the child who asked the original question.  The archives can be used as a stand alone source of information, even if you do not plan to use the Ask an Expert part of the site.  Some services try to explain the answer in detail and some services provide the student with further resources to find the answer themselves.  Responses can take anywhere form a few days to a few weeks.  Some of these sites use a web form to send a question and others use an email link.

Note:  If your version of Netscape is not set up to allow these email links to work, simply copy the email address and then go to your regular email, such as and send your question from there.

Virtual Reference Desk: Ask a Service Locator

Tips for Teachers Using Ask A Services
This is a draft document by Abby Kasowitz, with lots of good ideas for using Ask a Services.

Gather Data for Use in a Class Project

Have pairs or small groups of students access a web site to collect data or information that can be used by the whole class.  This is a good type of activity for one or two computers in the classroom, because each group of students is only at the computer for a short time. For example, third graders studying the regions of the United States can go to a weather web site and type in their assigned city.  They collect high and low temperatures and weather conditions on a chart for a period of days and then create a graph.  The students compare their findings with those of their classmates who were assigned to cities in other regions to get an authentic look at climate differences.

Yahoo! Weather by Weathernews Inc.

Facts about the United States
Each group of students can be assigned one fact to collect about a state.  Information is compiled by the class to give a larger picture of that state for a class discussion and building of a display.

Take an Internet Excursion for a Science, Social Studies or Language Arts Unit

Locate a web site that is related to a topic that you are studying that offers some aspect that is well portrayed and can be used effectively to help students learn that piece of the curriculum.  The site should have information in a form that makes it especially good for illustrating a particular concept.  Aspects that might make a quality web site might include some of the following features: current information, graphical representation, comparison of data, large amount of information collected and/or synthesized in one place, authentic examples, simulations, auditory or video examples etc.  Use a projector or a connection to a large TV as a multimedia chalkboard as you teach the concept.  Enlarge the text using Netscape preferences - fonts so that information can easily be read by the students sitting farthest away.  You can also make the text dark and the background white with Netscape preferences - color.  This is useful when sites have a busy background or if the designer has used colors with poor contrast.

The site can also be made available for students to visit individually or in small groups for gathering further information.  In this case, it is helpful to have a graphic organizer or list of questions for students so that when they revisit the site, they know what types of information to be looking for and have a way to demonstrate what they have learned.

Exploring Leonardo da Vinci

Native American Research Module

Web Exhibits
This index differs from other indexes on the internet because it is focused on illustrated  educational exhibits, not just references. Some of the exhibits are from large organizations like National Geographic or PBS, while others are smaller, little-known exhibits from various organizations.

Follow an Online Expedition or Trip

This idea can be done with the computer connected to a TV or projector with the whole class, or it can be done as one station that groups of students rotate through in a cooperative learning activity.  Use a graphic organizer or worksheet so students will know what types of information they are expected to find. This can be a one time event or an ongoing adventure where students check back periodically to follow an experience.  For example, follow a group on a trip and read about experiences in foreign countries from journals written by the travelers and plot their location on a map.  Write questions and send them to the travelers.  Sometimes there are suggested lesson plans and writing prompts included with this type of web site.

Classroom Connect: AmericaQuest Splash

Online Expeditions

Asia with Pride: Pride of Baltimore 11 - trip to Asia

Read Works Written by Other Children

There are many sites with child authored information.  Much of the information on the web tends to be at a reading level that is often too difficult for elementary school age children.  However, there are increasingly more sites written by children on topics of interest to kids.  Another way to use these sites is for editing practice, since sometimes works are posted with errors.

Discover real live heroes from around the world.  These true stories about heroes have been written by children.

Kid News
Online kid's newspaper with articles written by kids.

Children's Express
News stories written by and for kids.

Read for Information about Current Events

One of the strengths of the Internet is the ability to get current information on a variety of topics.  There are numerous online television, radio and newspaper sites.  Teachers should visit these sites first, close to the time of use, to make sure that the news is appropriate for elementary students.  (There are web sites that screen news for elementary ages, but they charge a subscription fee.)

In addition, there are web sites that specialize in providing current information at appropriate student reading levels. Commercial periodicals intended for children usually don't post current issues, but they often post some sample articles, related articles or archive past articles.  These sites also post current follow-up articles, related activities and web links.

Weekly Reader
Weekly Reader provides many articles sorted by grade level intended as follow ups to articles in their printed newspaper.  They review the news of the week and present challenges and writing prompts related to the periodical.  Check out "This Week" and "News Cruise."

Scholastic News Online
Scholastic News archives past issues and also provides update articles for the current issue.  There are also online activities to go along with the most current issue.

Time For Kids
This site posts current news as well as archives of past issues.  They also have an interactive feature where kids can give their opinions.

Sports Illustrated For Kids - games, fantasy leagues, sports news and more
Online articles on current sports topics.

Read Fiction Written for Children

There are numerous sites that post short texts of folk tales, fables, legends and myths at various levels of reading difficulty.  Some have illustrations and some are mostly text.  Students can compare lessons, themes, or story elements with class reading materials.  In addition, there are numerous sites of poetry for children.

Folk Tales, Fables, Myths and Legends

Poetry for Kids - by Kenn Nesbitt

Take a Virtual Field Trip with Your Class

Use a projector or TV to enlarge the computer screen.  Visit a museum site or other location related to your curriculum topic.  Have students take turns controlling the mouse as the whole class participates in a discussion of what you find.  If the site has an email feature, have the students come up with some questions to ask the experts at that site.  Children can also write about their experiences.  The web site might be left up during the writing time so that children can refresh their memories and check information as needed.

Prior to the virtual trip, the students could read about the place from books or articles.  They could then formulate questions that they have.  During the virtual field trip they could find answers to their questions.  In addition, after taking the virtual field trip, they could compare the information from the text that they read to the information found on the web site.

You Be the Historian
Figure out what life was like 200 years ago for a family in Delaware.  Use items found in the house as clues to discover information about the family.

Guide Students in Researching Information from the Internet

Would you like to provide students with an opportunity to use the  Internet for research? Do you have students working on a research project who need more resources? Do some advanced work to locate some web sites related to the topics that students are researching.  Compile a list of sites for students to explore and then launch Netscape for them with the addresses in the form of bookmarks or a start page.  See Student Start Pages:

Provide students with a graphic organizer or worksheet with questions so their online time remains focused on the intended purpose and note taking is facilitated.

For general information in short text form, keep a “start page” or bookmark file of resource sites such as online encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, dictionaries, and biographical dictionaries for students to use in finding information about people, places, topics, and vocabulary from their readings.  See Reference Sites for Elementary Students:

On rare occasions, you may want to guide small groups, or individuals, in the use of Child Safe Search Engines for a particular topic. See Child Safe Search Engines:

As you work with students, model and point out the sources for each web page and why you feel that the information on them is credible or not.

Join an Existing Online Project

Would you like to begin exploring the Internet within the structure of a project that has already been designed? Teachers who have a particular interest and would like to correspond to another class are looking for partner classes. There are a variety of web sites set up for educators to post projects. Browse through the most current projects and see if anything fits with your instructional objectives. You may select and join an existing online project with one or more classes. You may use of email (using the teacher's address) to interact and compare ideas or findings with other classes. You can also add your own extension activities geared for your students' learning needs.  Note:  You can get a free email address for yourself to use for class projects at so you can keep your own email address separate from the one you use for class projects.  Some projects post archives of past experiences that can be explored according to your own time table.  For example: The Monster Exchange and the GeoGame.  See below.

Houghton Mifflin Project Center: Houghton Mifflin Company keeps a listing of On-line Projects for teachers.

Global Schoolnet Hilites archives

Geogame: Sample project

Mindseye Monster Exchange Project: Sample project

Create Your Own Online Project

Do you have an idea for an exchange with a class in another part of the country or the world?  Would you like to compare results of a science experiment, share ideas about a book the class is reading, or maybe gather data to compile into a graph or chart? Use the web sites above and below to post your project or locate another interested class.

Classroom Connect - Find other teachers with similar interests.
Click on Teacher Search.

Intercultural E-Mail Classroom Connections

International Registry of Schools on the Web

Steps for Creating Online Projects

Guidelines for Telecommunications Projects

Additional Resources:

Organizing and Facilitating Telecollaborative Projects, by Judi Harris, February 1995 "Mining the Internet" column, The Computing Teacher, Volume 22 Number 5, pp. 66-69 [Electronically reprinted with permission from The Computing Teacher journal, published by the International Society for Technology in Education.]

Judy Harris - Activity Structures. This is a great resource of links to examples of a wide variety of Internet projects. There are many good ideas, but projects are not always currently available to join.

Using the Internet in Elementary Schools

Instructional Uses: Internet /Elementary
Guidelines for Planning Student Internet Experiences / Tip Sheets
Utilizing Web Information
One Computer Classroom
Interactive Projects
Student Start Pages
Teacher Resources


Linda J. Burkhart
Updated:  March, 2000