Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

10 Elementary Back-to-School Activities For Virtual Classrooms

August 5, 2020

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By Lara Santos

What’s the best way for elementary teachers and their young students to get to know each other when the school year starts online thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic? Try these 10 activities for the first week of school to bring your virtual classroom together.

1. Brainstorm the class rules.

Every classroom needs rules, even a virtual one. Whether the rules are general (be kind) or specific (don’t interrupt when someone onscreen is speaking), rules provide structure, set boundaries, and encourage empathy.

Instead of handing down the rules, turn it into a group brainstorming session to give students agency and a voice. Divide them into groups and ask them to come up with guidelines for the class and examples of how their rules would work in practice. When the class agrees on a final version, hang the rules up in a prominent place in your virtual classroom.

2. Decorate your online workspace.

Even in an online classroom, students can display their artwork and assignments. Task students with creating digital art for your Bitmoji classroom or personalized backgrounds for Zoom classes. Their art projects can be elaborate or as simple as a decorated name tag. Free online graphic design tools like Canva provide templates specifically for educators to use in the classroom.

3. Roll the dice.

Here’s an easy ice breaker any class can do with a set of dice. Give students six questions designed to help them learn more about each other. Examples: Who’s one of your role models? What was the best day of your life? What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from your family? Divide students into small groups. Each pupil rolls, then answers the question that corresponds with the number they rolled.

Bonus craft project: Have students make and decorate their own dice (click here for a template).

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4. Turn introductions into a slideshow.

Create a Google Slide for students to fill out that includes simple personal questions: name, favorite musician, favorite subject, summer highlights, etc. Combine all their slides into a slideshow for a virtual class roster everyone can read and learn from.

2018 Milken Educator Silvia Miranda, who teaches fourth grade at Mesa Elementary in Clovis, New Mexico, will use Google Slides to have students introduce themselves to their classmates. “They can decorate a virtual locker, create a video, share pictures, or [make] an ‘all about me’ virtual poster,” she says. “I will compile these and share at one of our class meetings [during] the first week.”

5. Create a virtual escape room.

Have your students collaborate and work together as a team to solve problems by creating a virtual escape room (click here for instructions). You can choose a theme, adjust the difficulty, and build community while giving students a good challenge.

6. Run a scavenger hunt.

To get both minds and bodies moving, try a scavenger hunt where students run offscreen to find items around their homes. Scavenger hunts are versatile. For example, you can reinforce a concept like cause and effect with prompts like “I just went for a run and now I’m thirsty, what do I need?” or “I feel very creative and want to make art, what do I need?” Or practice spelling and mathematics by prompting students to retrieve five items that start with the first five letters of the alphabet.

7. Bring Instagram to life.

Have students create a paper-based version of an Instagram profile, using prompts to fill in the photo boxes. Here’s an example:

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Students can draw, color or cut and paste their responses in each square. Once they are done, ask each student to present their lively profile to the class.

8. Publish a newspaper.

Have students “report” on their summer activities and compile their contributions into a class newspaper. Pupils choose their “beats,” e.g. sports, current events, food, travel, etc., and work in teams to write stories about things that happened over the summer. When the newspaper is done, read it together as a class.

9. Play the “Adjective Name Game.”

2017 New Mexico Milken Educator Melanie Alfaro is a fan of the “Adjective Name Game,” where students introduce themselves to the class using an adjective that starts with the first letter of their name and describes their personality. “I just used this activity in our new teacher orientation, and it was a huge success,” says Melanie, the math content specialist for Deming Public Schools. “We had everyone introduce themselves in breakout rooms, and when they came back to the whole group, they had to change their Zoom screen name to reflect their adjective. I was Mighty Melanie!”

Melanie Alfaro Name Game 1000w

10. Show and tell.

Before the first day of class, ask students to find three items that describe them: a family photo, a ball from their favorite sport, merchandise from a television show or book they really love, or anything else that showcases their personality. Go around the “room” (or the Zoom”) and have everyone present their items to the class. Teachers get a turn too, of course!

For details about these activities:

Good Housekeeping: 25 Brilliant Back-to-School Activities That Will Make Kids Excited About Learning
Young Teacher Love: Virtual First Day Back to School
Glitter in Third: Distance Learning Back-to-School Activities You’ll LOVE
Lehigh Valley Live: Flat Teachers and Scavenger Hunts
Dave Burgess: 50 Back to School Activities for the Remote Learning Classroom

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