In these times that are like none we’ve experienced before, virtual classrooms have become the norm. While we can be grateful for the technology needed to continue teaching and learning during this time, unfortunately it can be very difficult to create a sense of community in a virtual classroom. It is so easy in this kind of environment for students to feel disconnected and isolated. However, as we are all learning together, we are discovering ways that we can create community even in our virtual classrooms.
Why are Games a Good Tool for Community Building?
There are many benefits to using games in your virtual classroom. Games improve and increase student engagement, boost critical-thinking, strengthen memory, and provide opportunity for cooperation and collaboration.
Also, games are a great way to build community in any classroom. However, this can be especially beneficial in a virtual classroom. First of all, when kids hear the word “game” they immediately think “fun”! This puts them in the right mindset right off the bat. Also, games are often played in teams, which create camaraderie among students.
Most importantly, when you play games that allow students to get to know each other better, a sense of community is built. This is more important than ever before because students attending school virtually do not have the same social interaction that they would have if attending school in person. When students are having fun and laughing together, they begin to bond and enjoy their time together so much more.
Design Around Movement and Fun
Here are some great ideas for movement and fun in your virtual classroom:
- Daily routines – Even “boring” tasks like attendance can be made fun. You can ask fun questions and their answer shows they’re “present”. You can ask questions like “What’s your favorite movie?”, “What is your favorite song?”, “What is your pet’s name?”, “If you were a Disney character who would you be?”, etc. You can also think of ways, especially with younger students, to incorporate movement. For example, as you are taking attendance, have students demonstrate a new dance move, a favorite exercise, or pantomime a favorite sport or activity. Choose a different question or activity every day for attendance to make each day starts off on a fun and exciting note.
- Social time – In most online classroom platforms, there is an option for some type of chat or discussion board. Allow students time each day to access this area to talk with each other, share ideas, and ask questions. Another idea is to allow students to have some time before class starts to join the meeting (or to stay on after class is over) and talk amongst themselves without direct teacher involvement.
- Create a playlist – Let each student contribute an uplifting song to the class playlist. You can play these songs at the beginning, end, or at other times throughout the class.
- Dance party – This is an easy one! When you play the music from the class playlist, give them a dance break. It’s fun and they can get some exercise in.
- Exercise breaks – Much like you would in the classroom, give students exercise breaks. They could do 15 jumping jacks, burpees, sit-ups or run in place. Any movement is good!
- Birthday celebrations – A fun way to create community is to always acknowledge and celebrate student birthdays. You can sing a song or send a group birthday card.
- Dress-up days – There are many ways to incorporate dress-up days for both younger and older students. For younger students, you can do favorite book character day, Wacky Wednesday, crazy hat day, Dr. Seuss day, etc. For older students you can have spirit days, decade dress-up (50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.) or favorite team days.
- Virtual show and tell – Give each student a different day to share something that they treasure – maybe a toy, a talent, or a pet.
- Virtual field trip – There are some great options online for virtual field trips. Take a “trip” together as a class as an extension to learning or just for fun.
Utilize Games in Assessments
For any informal and/or formative assessments, games can be used to help the teacher get an idea of who needs more help and how students are progressing in general. With younger students, you can do a simple ‘thumbs up, thumbs down’ game as a quick way to see who is getting the skill and who isn’t. Another fun assessment game is to have students write their answers on a board or paper and reveal their answers at the same time. There are also several sites that can be used to create online quiz games. These can be a quick and simple way to gage how students are doing.
At-Home Activities and Asynchronous Learning
We all know that kids staring at a screen for several hours a day and staying engaged with their teacher and class is not really possible and certainly not ideal. While the synchronous learning time is very beneficial, it is necessary to have some activities that students will complete outside of this time. Asynchronous learning allows for individualized pacing, saves time, and allows for customized lessons. Ideas for at-home activities include:
- Watching videos – Assign educational videos for students to watch on their own
- Creating videos – Have students demonstrate learning by creating their own video or slide show
- Hands-on activities – Science experiments with household items, math measurement activities with household items, exploratory outdoor activities with observations recorded in a science journal
- Group projects – Students can work with other students on projects by creating collaborative documents
- Traditional homework – completed either online or printed out and completed
Another thing you can do outside of regular “class” time is to schedule meetings with students individually. For example, you might have a lesson with the whole class and then meet later with students individually or in small groups to help those that are struggling or to provide enrichment as needed.
While we would all prefer to return to our normal and be with our students face-to-face, it may not be possible during this difficult time. However, with these ideas and activities, you can create an atmosphere of community and cooperation that can make your virtual classroom successful.