We have talked to so many teachers who are going back to school with very little detail about their classes, whether in-person or virtual, who their students are, what grade, or what subjects they'll be teaching. This is an incredibly difficult time for all involved. And while many went into survival-mode to teach virtually in March, most are pouring their hearts and time into creating an authentic virtual classroom for the first time. Where do you start? How can you even prepare?
One commonality across all new classrooms, virtual or otherwise, is in the gathering of individuals who hope to find a space of belonging. The staff at Lab-Aids, most of whom are former science teachers themselves, worked up a list of ideas to get started building a virtual community. This is definitely just a starting place and we feel confident that with a little inspiration, you'll be off and running with several more ideas of your own.
As with any suggested instruction, know the individual and collective needs of your students and rules set by your school or district. Not every idea will work well in every classroom.
IDEAS AND INSPIRATION FOR THOSE FIRST WEEKS OF SCHOOL (AND BEYOND!)
Getting to know each other
- Teach students how to change their display name. If this is not already done through rostering or some auto process, students may be using a shared computer, may only display last name, might be misspelled, etc. Our name is a part of our identity and, especially in a virtual setting, it's important that students have a space to display theirs proudly and correctly. This may also be an opportunity for students to phonetically write their name, share preferred pronouns, add an adjective that starts with the same letter, etc.
- Grid view: students need to be able to see each other, not just the instructor. Depending on your platform, like Google Classroom, this may need to be provided as an "add-on" by your district administrator.
- Name games: providing intentional space for students to learn each other’s names is essential for initial community building. There are a zillion out there that could work in a virtual setting.
- Two Truths and Lie: Have them generate 2 truths about themselves and one lie, getting others to try and guess which is the lie. Recommended after students are feeling more comfortable with each other
- Share a picture/Show and Tell: Choose 2-3 students a day and tell them ahead of time so they can be prepared. Choosing a theme may help focus the stories, but remember to be mindful of accidentally highlight inequities. "Share your favorite toy," for example, may create more shame or jealousy than connection.
- Quiz/bingo on facts about themselves/other kids: encourage students to submit information about themselves ahead of time (this can be as guided or not, depending on the age and skill levels) and then
- Hypothetical questions: for example, "If you had to get a tail, what tail would you want and what would you use it for?" Students could chat share their answers, share in breakout sessions (if available), or go through a few questions and have a few different students answer each time.
- This or That: this could be modified for students to vote with emojis, note cards, or simply raising or not raising hands. Remind students to be in gallery view so they can all see each other's responses.
- Are you more like: A cat or a dog? A burrito or a salad?
- Birthday line up: instead of getting in a line, have students show what number in the line they’d be. Just like in the physical world, students will quickly discover it's ineffective to talk over each other and will eventually devise a more productive method of communication to complete the task. This is also an excellent activity for teachers to observe which students naturally take over, and which are resistant or more reserved.
- Guess Who: This is best played after they know each other better
- Surveys/polls: Offer quick polls as students are joining the class. Topics are endless - Would you rather? If you could have a superpower? Food, music, sports preferences...
Play and interact with each other
- Traditional Games: Hangman (but call it something else!!), Pictionary/Charades, Bingo, Name that Tune
- Camp Games: Animal Signs, Simon Says, Scavenger Hunt for common items
- Mystery puzzles (like 20 questions), problem solving, Ummbrella
- Team quizzes
- Sign in starters: have an activity for students to do while waiting for others to sign in. Have a strange image that's zoomed way in. Let students just chat about what it might be. Once everyone is in class, slowly zoom out until someone gets it.
- Giving/following directions: One person has a simple shape or image (shared privately by the instructor), and tries to explain to someone else how to draw the same thing. If breakouts are available, more students will be able to share or switch, but this can also be done in a larger group. Great primer for procedures!
- Build on the next person games like: I’m Going on a Camping Trip and I’m going to bring (everyone says something that starts with each letter of the alphabet and is in theme), Alphabet (starts with one who says “Train”, next person says a word that starts with “n.” Storytelling Chain (Instructor gives starting sentence, kids add to it.)
- Freeze dance
- Rhythm/beat challenges
- Building challenges, ex: a structure out of paper that can hold x/is x high
- Circle Sign: everyone thinks of a movement, shares it once. The starting person does their sign (instead of a circle this can be done in order of the tiles on the grid), 2nd person does first and theirs, 3rd does 1, 2, and theirs, etc
- Fire on the Mountain
- Vocabulary Scavenger Hunt: Find creative ways for students to move around the house, outside, or even use their computers to search and share items that are related to key vocabulary. Example: find something related to "photosynthesis."
- Mary Raygoza, Raina León and Aaminah Norris. "Humanizing Online Teaching" (2020).
- A Place of (Remote) Belonging, Harvard Graduate School of Education
- Berry, S. (2019). Teaching to connect: Community-building strategies for the virtual classroom. Online Learning, 23(1), 164-183.
- Conversation Starters World (note that some questions on this site would not be appropriate for students)
- How to Forge a Strong Community in an Online Classroom, Edutopia
- Five Virtual Ways to Build a Classroom Community, PBS
- Playmeo - ideas that could be modified for a virtual setting
Image from a Red Kite Camp meeting via Zoom. (Courtesy Chicago Children’s Theatre)