Students in our class need to feel that their unique voices, opinions, and experiences matter. In this article, you’ll get inspiration and ideas for distance learning community building activities for middle school and high school students.
We can do this by giving them opportunities to share their personal lives, interests, passions, fears, hurts, mistakes, happy places, funny moments, and more. Check out this “Meet Your Classmates” Google Slideshow. Just make copies of the second slide and label the slides with individual student names so each student can edit their own slide.
If we want students to feel that they are worthy, that they are a vital part of our classroom community we also need to make time to have fun together, to write, and share our writing with each other.
Below you will find both synchronous and asynchronous distance learning activities that will liven up your online classroom, get students connecting, and building a positive classroom community.
(Students can post to Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology etc.)
1. Pictures/Videos from Summer
Tell students to post a memorable (or not so memorable, since we have all been sheltering in place this whole summer) picture/video from their summer “vacation”. If your learning management system does not allow the posting of pictures, have students post in an editable Google Slideshow or have students do a Flipgrid
sharing their picture/video or explaining a summary of the picture/video. Urge students to comment or “like” each other’s pictures too!
The outdoors has really become my happy place this summer. Here’s a barn owl my family and I got up close and personal with while on a hike.
2. Making Memes
Have students use this Meme Generator to create memes and then post their best (most creative) meme! Tell students to comment with their reactions to the memes posted by others too.
3. Two Truths & One Lie
This is a classic icebreaker game and it can be done virtually too! Tell students to post two truths and one lie about themselves on your learning management system or in the chat of a virtual meeting. Then have other students comment back with which of the three statements is the lie!
4. Remember the Time…
Students have lots to say about the world and life pre-COVID-19. Tell students to post a comment about something they miss from life before COVID-19. Urge students to interact with each other by replying to comments too.
My husband and I just happened to take a trip to Spain in November of 2019, right before COVID-19 hit in China. This is a memorable picture my husband took on our trip. I can’t wait to travel again when this is all over!
5. School Work/Pictures from Elementary
We all have embarrassing school work and pictures from the past and it’s fun to laugh about those moments now. Tell students to post their own strange or embarrassing school work or pictures from when they were younger. The picture you see below is of me. Apparently, I wanted to be an artist when I grew up and my favorite activity was watching T.V. LOL!
6. One Paragraph Story
Have students try to tell a story from their life in just one paragraph! Explain that students need to respond to stories they can relate with by commenting, “I can relate!”. Here’s a story from my childhood in one paragraph.
My dad loved taking my little sister and me golfing with him. We loved driving the cart (at the ripe old age of 7!). One early morning my dad drove the cart at full speed up a pristine green hill. The breeze blew my hair behind me and I felt I was flying. I turned to look in the back seat of the cart to see if my little five-year-old sister was enjoying this moment too, but to my horror, she was not there! She was rolling at a fast pace down the grassy hill. I screamed, “Dad!!! Stop, Shelly fell out of the cart”. My dad immediately stopped, got out of the cart, and ran toward Shelly. I followed. She jumped up quickly and yelled, “That was fun!”. Shelly the thrill-seeker, that’s my little sister. She had jumped on purpose!”
7. Six Word Memoir
Share this site with students, then have students write their own 6-word memoir and post as a comment in your learning management system. Here’s mine: Work hard but don’t forget…rest.
Use the whiteboard feature in Zoom for this! You could also use Jamboard to do this as well. See the awesome video tutorial below for how. Pick one student to use this random word generator. Then have that students share their screen and use the whiteboard feature to draw clues. Have students use the comment feature to type their guesses. Whoever guesses correctly gets to go next!
9. Scavenger Hunt
Tell students to find the following objects: an animal (alive or not alive), their favorite book/game (this can be very telling about which kids love reading!), something the color green, a favorite childhood toy, favorite snack and a piece of school work from long ago! Whoever collects all objects together at the end wins the game:)
10. Improv Presentations
Show students this Kate MicKinnon presentation (only the first 4 minutes, there is some cussing starting at about the 4 minute mark). Then have students create their own random slideshows. Tell students to put pictures, graphs/numbers/charts, sayings, headlines etc. on individual slides. Then, share your screen and have one student unmute themselves to present what they see on each slide. This will definitely get a lot of laughs. Your students will LOVE it:)
11. Virtual Background Contest
Students love using the virtual background feature of Zoom. Some students’ devices may not allow the green screen feature without an actual green background. This is why you should give students a heads up that they need a green background for the upcoming meeting and if they want to participate in the game. When students enter the meeting, unmute students who have a virtual background. That student should pretend they are actually in that place! After all students have had a chance to be unmuted and share their little “skit”, have students vote in the comments whose background/performance was the best and announce the winner! The screenshot below is from a meeting I had in the spring. I had a nice ocean virtual background up and my daughter came into the scene with a green apple. It was quite funny to watch her eating that apple/ocean too.
12. Truth or Dare (kid-friendly version)
The only way to make this rated G is by coming up with all the truths and all the dares yourself and writing them on notecards! I also let students pass if they don’t want to do the truth or dare that is on the card:) You can get a few responsible students to help you come up with ideas too. Here are some of my own…
- What is the scariest or craziest dream you ever had?
- What is your worst fear?
- Do you talk in your sleep? If so what are some things you’ve said?
- What is one bad habit you have? Tell us about it…
- What is an embarrassing nickname you have?
- Do you secretly love some really childish tv show, song or toy? Tell us about it…
- Do a cartwheel
- Do a dance for 30 seconds with no music
- Speak in an accent for the next three rounds
- Sell a piece of trash to someone in the meeting with your best sales tactics
- Pretend to be your favorite animal for the next three rounds
- Call the 3rd contact on your phone and sing them a nursery rhyme
This game is so simple and super entertaining. Have two student volunteers come to the front of the class. One starts with a question, the other replies with another question! Whoever gets stumped or answers a question is out! You should definitely have a rule that questions can’t be repeated. You could make it even harder by adding the rule that you can’t start your question with the same who, what, when, where, what, how word the last person started with.
14. What Are YOU Doing?
This game can be tricky but leads to loads of laughs:) Pick two student volunteers. One student starts by acting out an everyday activity such as jumping rope, brushing teeth, walking, shooting hoops, dancing, sleeping, playing video games, anything is game.
The other student then asks, “What are you doing?”. The student who is acting must say something completely unrelated to what they are actually doing. So if the student is pretending to play video games they might say they are doing their homework. Or if the student is jumping rope they might say they are sleeping.
Then, the student who asked the question has to act the new activity out. So now they are acting out doing their homework or sleeping and the roles are reversed!
The game continues until one student gets confused and actually says what they are actually doing. It is so much fun and I can’t wait to see how students react to playing this via a video meeting!
15. Who Am I?
Have students fill out a Google form like this one. Then, at the beginning of each video call, read about the answers out loud to the group. Students have to guess who the person is using clues from their answers in the chat!
I love your ideas, Amanda! I have been an preschool and elementary teacher for over 15 years now. I am moving up to teach ELA in Middle and High School. I am currently taking a grad class on PBL in the classroom. Thank you for inspiring me!
Thanks for taking the time to let me know you are finding support and value here Christy! I appreciate you! Middle schoolers are so much fun, they are just preschoolers in bigger bodies really:)