To put it mildly, 2020 has been a wild ride! As educators, we’ve experienced more changes within our profession in the past 8 months than we have in the past 50 years. Last spring, teachers closed their classroom doors, where so much learning and laughter took place and logged on to the unfamiliar and stressful realm of online learning. In an instant, all the wonderful moments that made schools “schools” seemed to evaporate.
Gone were early morning hugs and fist bumps as students greeted each other “Good morning!” Gone was seeing kids walking together in the hallways, laughing about something that happened last period. Gone was sitting next to your best friends at lunch and sharing a bag of chips. Gone was teachers greeting students with high-fives as students entered the classroom. Gone were field trips, school sporting events, and dances. It just seemed like everything was gone… everything except content that is.
Seemingly overnight, teachers rolled up their sleeves and got to work, trying to salvage the rest of the semester to ensure that learning still takes place and our student’s academic progress wasn’t impeded upon by the pandemic. I truly have never been more proud or in awe of educators!
While we must not let Covid stop our students from achieving and mastering the content you deliver. I feel, as educators, it is perhaps even more imperative to ensure that online learning does not strip away everything that made school “school.” Yes, school is about ABCs and 123s, but school is also about building bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. School is about helping our students and educators discover all the unique things that make us different, while simultaneously showing us how similar we are. Schools are sanctuaries for socializing, and we cannot allow online learning to deny our students opportunities to connect with peers and educators as they have in years prior.
Online learning brings many apprehensions and stressors to educators everywhere. It can make the simplest task seem complicated. Many educators we have encountered in our various professional development workshops have expressed great concern about being able to build a family-like community in a virtual setting. If you are an educator struggling with how to put “fun” back into the FUNdamentals of learning and keeping relationships in the center of all (virtual) learning, fear not!!! Below, are 10 fun, easy, free online activities to help ensure that your online classroom is as connected as ever!
- Deserted Island – A fun activity that allows students to work collaboratively in small groups and use their critical thinking skills to survive!
Give your students the scenario of being stuck on a deserted island. Gather 8 objects to help them stay alive. Show each object you gathered to your students, and give them a brief description of what the item does. The objects can be anything you can imagine. The more obscure the items are, the more the team has to think about how to use them. Examples of the objects could be: a book of matches, an ax, a belt, a deck of cards, etc. Here’s where things get interesting… students can only select 3 of the 8 objects you presented..
Split students into groups of 3-4 and have them collaborate on which of the items they would choose, how they would use it, and why it would be imperative to their survival.
Once all small group decisions and discussions have been had, bring all groups together to share and discuss
- Guess Who – A great get to know your online activity that will keep your students guessing!
There is a little preparation required before beginning a game of Guess Who. Educators will need to collect five personal facts from each of their students. Remind students to identify facts that are fun to learn, but will also challenge the student to guess correctly!
Next, when time permits, the teacher shares 5 facts about one, random student. After all 5 facts have been shared, the students are allowed to guess who the mystery student is. Once the mystery student has been identified, allow him or her to expand upon 1 of the personal facts that was disclosed or give a bonus fact!
Consider having students turn their cameras off after they have guessed for ease of tracking who has and who has not guessed.
- Picture Me – Picture Me is a vivid and fun way for students to get to see the worlds of their peers through the lens of their camera.
On Fridays remind your students to take one picture of something they see, do, enjoy, etc. over the weekend that is unrelated to schoolwork. For example, a student may take a picture of the dragon fly that landed on their leg while at a siblings soccer game or the motorcycle their uncle drives.
Next, on Mondays, intentionally create a time to allow students to share their photos with their classmates. It is said that, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but time may not allow for that much sharing! Allow each student to take 10 – 20 seconds to explain why they decided to take and share their specific photo.
- I Wanna… – Teaching ABCs and 123s is a large piece of what education is about, but just as important is the requirement to help our students envision an ambitious future and equip them with the ability to obtain their dreams. I Wanna… is an activity that allows for students to share their dreams, hopes, and ambitions with one another, and perhaps spark discussions about goal setting and plans for how to achieve and master their future.
I Wanna… is a fun activity with little prep work. Simply have students create a list of 3 things they wanna do at some point in their lives. Become president, walk on Saturn, or win an Emmy; there are no perimeters around what those 3 things can be, as long as it stays school appropriate!
Throughout the week, when time allows, have 1 or 2 students share the 3 things on their list. Each student can take time to answer any questions their peers may have about the 3 things.
- I’ve Got a Story – As a teacher, you have probably heard some grand fish-tales from your students. Perhaps the dog ate their homework, or a sibling accidentally threw their research paper away. Students are so creative! I’ve Got a Story is a great activity that works on listening skills and our ability to recall facts and detail. The object of this activity is to get your students creative juices flowing and to construct a story from beginning to end.
First, number you and your students off from 1 to whatever. The person who is #1 starts the story. They will begin the story by stating 1-2 sentences. Example: Tony was flying his kite at the park, when all of a sudden he saw a big purple turtle.
Next, #2 repeats the previous lines and then will add their 1-2 sentences. Continue this process until you and your students have all added to the story. Try to develop a comprehensive story by the time everyone has had a chance to go. For extra fun and engagement, have students draw or animate the story to bring it to life!
- Show & Tell – Here is an old favorite with a modern twist. Show & Tell is a fun activity to get to know one another better, one tangible item at a time.
Each day, identify a student to share a tangible object that is important to them online with their classmates. The student gets 1-3 minutes to talk about the object. After the student finishes sharing, allow time for the student to answer any questions their peers may have.
Simple, fun, and effective!
- A Dream Vacay – Everyone, at some point, needs to get away. A Dream Vacay is another great get-to-know-you activity that helps your students build upon their listening skills and exercise their memory.
To pull off A Dream Vacay simply pair students up and send them into breakout rooms. Give them 5 minutes to share with each other what their dream vacation would be if money and time were not a concern. Encourage them to go big!
After students have had time to share with their partner, bring students back together in a whole-group setting. Then have them recall or explain their peer’s dream vacation to the entire class. You are now clear for takeoff!
- 2 Truths & a Lie – As an educator, more than likely you can sniff a lie out a mile away. 2 Truths & a Lie is not a new activity, but the fun never gets old and can be used with you and your students no matter what online learning platform you are using.
Instruct each of your students to create three statements about themselves: two of the statements being truths and the other being a lie. Encourage your students to think about truths that are hard to believe to ensure their lie isn’t so easy to detect.
Have your students take turns trying to guess what is true and what is the lie. After all, students have had a chance to guess, the student reveals which statement is actually the lie.
- What is School? – This is a great activity that will help you obtain a more thorough understanding of how your students view school and feel towards it. Explain to your students that a new student has arrived in your class from a country that doesn’t speak English and doesn’t have schools.
Divide your students into groups of 3-4 and instruct them to collaborate and locate 5 items, pictures, symbols, etc. that they feel best describe what school is to the new student.
Have them come back together in a whole group setting and share their 5, as well as their thought process on why those items were selected. Pay close attention to the items your students collect. Their selections may give you greater insight to their thoughts, feelings, likes, and dislikes about school.
- School Talk Show – Talk shows are amongst the most popular types of television shows Americans watch each day and/or night. Bring the popularity of spontaneous conversation into your virtual classroom.
Each week, select a different student to be the guest on the school talk show. Prior to them being the “guest” have students submit questions to you they are interested in learning about their peers.
The day before conducting the talk show, give the guest student a list of the questions (or some of them) you received. This will allow the student time to read over the questions and have answers prepared. Avoid surprising the student with the questions during the activity, as that could cause anxiety and reduce the odds of the student having answers ready.
The next day, set 5 minutes aside so the guest student can answer the questions their peers submitted.
Written by: Alan of NEDRP