Whether or not you have a “morning meeting” time, I hope you’re building in some time for community connections. I wrote a post last spring about 5 general structures for morning meetings online, but I thought I’d give you some more specific ideas and games for community builders that I’ve been using this school year.
Reverse Scavenger Hunts
I am pretty sure that almost everyone has done scavenger hunts. They’re still amazing and super fun. Some of my favorites have been “find something about 1 foot long” for our measurement unit and “tell us about symbols you found in your neighborhood”. I like to let kids take their time with these and either share on Flipgrid or post in a slideshow or discussion on Google Classroom later.
What I started doing within the limited time of morning meeting was a reverse scavenger hunt. I also saw this listed as “At the King’s/Queen’s Request.” The way this works is kids grab 5 items – any five items. Then, one leader (me, the teacher, or a student who’s “King” or “Queen”) lists out up to 5 descriptors. If you as a participant have something that matches that descriptor, you get 1 point. You can only get 1 point for each item you have. (I added that rule because I was having some really creative 30 point winners). This game is kind of ridiculous. I do not try to manage the points. I let them share in the chat how they got their point. I actually love that they try to make “something that starts with b” turn into my BLUE pen or this BIG puppy. It cracks me up. It still shocks me how much they love this game. I suddenly got sick during class one day, and my school’s tech teacher came in to cover for me. First, they were very clear to him that we were supposed to be moving on because it was 5 minutes past our transition (haha) and they also made him play this game. I heard the whole thing as I was laying down in pain.
Guess the Change
This has got to be the best game for being virtual. This actually takes advantage of the fact that we can be on camera and disappear off camera. A student will show themselves on camera for 30 seconds. Everyone can look closely at them. Then, they go off camera and change something about their appearance. They might remove their headphones, put on a headband, change their shirt, strike a different pose, swap out a prop, etc. Then, they come back on camera and call on a few kids to “guess the change.” This is so fun. I legitimately enjoy seeing what kids do. Sometimes they are so sneaky. One kid was pretending to hold a football as if he was about to toss it and then in the next shot he was holding a football. It was crazy because kids really thought he was holding the football in the first place, but he was just miming it. Sometimes they’re too sneaky like hiding objects under their hat, but I feel like this game also teaches good skills about inferencing, what is a good clue or a good hint, how to follow the rules, how to not be too obvious, etc. The first kid to play this game in my class came back on camera with a Ghostbusters backpack, goggles, a coat, and one of his giant matchbox cars. We could guess the change.
“I Spy” type games
I’ve come across a few games that seem to work really well virtually for the whole class. Spot It!, Where’s Waldo, I Spy book pages, and more are all great activities. There are a few slides I saw that had “What’s Missing?” The first slide had 6-10 pictures on it. Then, the next slide had them slightly rearranged but one was missing. I like turning the chat off and on again so that kids get a chance to think first before someone blurts it out. This can also easily be transmitted to something academic. Throw down some scrabble tiles and ask what word you can make with the letters. Put down an array of cards and ask someone to share a number sentence that adds up to 10 or 20 using 2-4 cards.
Google Slide Games
So many games can be done in Google Slides! Four Corners can be done whole class where students move a box with their name or a picture that represents themselves around on the screen. They can also do Would You Rather questions this way or move themselves along a continuum of opinions.
Partner Games are a lot of fun in Google Slides. I usually set them up where everyone is in the same slideshow. Breakout Room #1 goes to Slide #1, Breakout Room #2 goes to Slide #2 and so on. I’ve seen Tic Tac Toe, Chutes and Ladders, Connect Four, Checkers, and many more. So many people have been generous on Twitter and in other spaces with templates since many board games can be adapted for this. I assign partner games in math probably every other week. They roll dice to make 2 digit numbers then keep adding for a race to 100 or they pull from a stack of cards (little text boxes) and drag a counter to the answer on the board until they get 4 in a row. This sort of combines Connect 4 with a mathematical problem.
Our math program, Origo, has some online games that can actually only be played side by side on one computer, but I’ve taken some of them and turned them into google slides games by screenshotting the image to make it my slide background and overlaying my own counters and cards. Then, I duplicate the slide to make one for each pair. I won’t lie that it takes some time, but I can use the same game a few times in class and it usually takes up 30 minutes of class time with something enjoyable for kids and me. For me, the input of time was worth it.
I love writing prompts! There are so many creative prompts out there. John Spencer’s youtube channel has a bunch of fun video ones that stir imaginations. Opinion questions are great. Writeabout.com has tons of ideas. I keep an ongoing slideshow of writing prompts because they make great, easy sub plans, can jumpstart a unit, or provide an opportunity for guided writing. Not everyone will share their response whole class, but a 5-10 minute writing response can lead to a few great sentences. This can also be a fun turn and talk to read aloud your crazy, creative writing (easy to do in breakout rooms or socially distanced).
I made a set of Bingo cards that I don’t actually use to play like Bingo. I know that sounds silly. I set up the slides to be in Pear Deck using the drawing feature and had kids mark which things on a bingo board they liked or which they had done that week or wanted to do that season. You can also do this with the drawing tool in google slides (or change colors of the box/font). I like doing boards like this in person where they are trying to fill up their Bingo board with the responses from others like a “Find Someone Who” activity. These bingo activities worked pretty well, though, to have kids fill them out all by themselves then call out “Bingo” out loud or in the chat when they were finished. I also felt like these cards gave kids a chance to see what others were up to and interested in. When I use Pear Deck, I can overlap the responses, so it’s fun to see which ones are done by the most kids and which squares no one marked at all.
I also made some for math where I put a bunch of numbers on different cards. I had kids pick which of 5 slides/”cards” to work on. Then, I called out math equations and kids could mark off the total. The set linked above/here has a set 0-35 and a set 35-70. There are a couple blank templates if you wanted to make a copy and edit it to practice multiplication or division facts or fractions or what have you. This provided some mental math review from “10 more than 13” or “17+12” and also was a fun activity.
Some kind of uplifting activity is what everyone needs, right? I enjoyed kids writing letters to classmates when we first started reading partners. They took a picture of their letter and uploaded it to google slides. I liked reading their sweet comments to one another. Before winter break, I had students share Kindness and Joy goals – things they could do with their family over the two week break that would show kindness to the people they loved and bring joy to others. We wrote words of the year to kick off 2021. I’d love to have a Google Slide presentation or Jamboard where each slide has a kid’s name and then other students write encouraging, uplifting comments on their slide. I’m hoping to do something like that for Valentine’s Day. That way, each student could get something written to them and have a slide filled with happy thoughts.
This is a specific spin off of an encouraging project. At the end of each year, my gift to students is a bookmark with a word cloud made up of all the positive words students say about that student. I set this up in a google form. I have students provide 3 words that describe the student (adjectives such as smart, happy, kind, energetic) and then 3 words/phrases that describe what they like or memories they have of them (soccer, swings at recess, business partner). I gather all of these responses and choose font type and color that I think suits the person. It is so much fun for me. This past year (since I couldn’t hand them out in person) I ended up doing something I loved. I put their word clouds on google slides and had kids guess in the chat who the person was that was described by the word cloud. This was so fun! I’m totally doing this every year. One student in my class in the spring got every kid correct, and I loved it.
Classroom Cookbook or Collective Projects
I think some kind of collective project is a fun idea. I heard of high school teachers having students learn a new skill and share or teach how to make a recipe at home. I did a classroom cookbook this fall with my 2nd graders as part of our personal narrative unit. It was so fun to see what kids made with their families, and I love the time capsule of their short sentences such as “My favorite meal is pizza. Something I make by myself is cereal.” I know 4th graders at my school in the spring shared a new skill they learned, such as juggling, in a Flipgrid. They put all these new talents in one space which was fun to view.
Students still might not know each other as well as we wish they would. I know my class definitely doesn’t know each other in the same way we would have had we been in person. In some ways, the video calls are more intimate glances into one another’s lives, but there are also many conversations that don’t happen between peers due to the lack of communal lunches and recess.
I love prompting kids to ask interesting questions of one another such as “Where do you want to travel someday?” or “What was your best birthday?” or “What does your favorite color remind you of?” or “If you could have an exotic animal as a pet, what would it be?” These sorts of questions open up kids to one another in a way that’s fairly safe (maybe don’t ask them to share their deep secrets with a random kid in class) and opens up the possibility for connection with someone who’s not their best friend. Here’s a slideshow you can use for interview questions.
Silly/Random Questions in Jamboard or Padlet
There are some fun platforms for being able to share all together quickly such as Jamboard. I like this platform for random questions like “What’s the oldest thing in your fridge?” or “What’s the last gross thing you ate?” or “What would be the worst color to paint your room?” These are silly and random and can be answered quickly. Students can all respond in a chat, but offering up a platform like Jamboard or Padlet can allow everyone to see one another’s responses and give an extra space for it.
In the classroom, I had my students keep a separate reflection journal. These had paper that was suitable for watercolors, so we could paint with watercolors once a week in our journals. I loved taking the time to settle into calming music in the background and let kids draw about an experience or an idea. Some of my favorite reflection journal prompts are thinking routines which I write about here. “I used to think…Now I think…” is great for metacognition. Color Symbol Image is so versatile; students can use it to encapsulate their own week, a book they read, a movie they like, etc. I like special place maps where you sketch a place and add details about happened in that space – tiny little moments all over the page. Here is a page I had kids glue into their notebook with some options. It also includes thinking routines I had them keep in their reading notebook for go-to responses to reading which made prepping for a book partnership or book club really easy. The first time we did each prompt I guided it and we all did it together. After that, I often had them pick whichever best suited them that day/week.
Kid of the Day
I know Kid of the Day is a pretty typical concept in primary classrooms, but I’d never done it before. There were some kids in morning meeting who shared every day, and there were some kids I was lucky to hear from once a week. I wanted to hear more about them – things I might have caught in a conversation at recess or in a lunch bunch. I decided to make a google slides template for them to share a few things about themselves. I did it near the winter holidays, so I also added a page to share about their favorite holiday since many kids were excited about Christmas or Hanukkah. This was a way bigger hit than I imagined, especially the page with a map that asks students to share where they want to go. Who knew 2nd graders had such big dreams to go around the world?! I loved hearing about their aspirations. Here is a google slides template that you could provide to students for sharing.
After I cycled through kids of the day, I decided to offer up another opportunity for kids to share talents. Woah! This was an immediate hit. So far I have heard multiple piano pieces and seen some nice artwork shared. I am looking forward to tricks on a hoverboard next week and awaiting the decision between 3 piano pieces that one student wants to share. They are so supportive and sweet, too. I let them turn on their mics to applaud afterwards, and everyone is eager to approve. I have a feeling this would not be as high of participation in upper grades as in primary, but I still think kids would be happy to share. I also made a flipgrid available if they wanted to rehearse and record ahead of time vs. doing it on the spot which I personally would appreciate to lower my anxiety if it were me.
Jokes and/or Memes
I have had a few morning meetings where all we did was tell jokes. It was great. They pulled jokes from books, made their own, rewrote classics…Then, they let a few classmates guess the punchlines. So fun! So silly! I also let my 6th graders in the spring share memes with me that were school appropriate. I had my bathroom door (both sides) and bookcase backs and one corner covered with memes in the classroom, so they were well versed in what I deemed appropriate. It was really fun to see what they pulled together.
Laughter is the best medicine!
I hope one or more of these gets you excited about connecting with students online. This is not my preferred method of teaching, but we are making the best of it. Some of these ideas I do think I’ll carry over into the “normal” classroom as well. Connecting with students and seeing them smile is the best part of my job, so I’m always looking for ways to make them feel safe and happy in our “classroom” – online or otherwise.