25 Community-Building Activities for Virtual Classrooms

A boy attends virtual schooling where a teacher leads them through community-building activities. This back-to-school season feels different for educators preparing to meet a brand new cohort of students online. As soon as I heard that teachers and students in my district would start the fall semester in a 100% distance learning setting, I began to brainstorm how I might create a safe virtual classroom where students feel accepted and connected by integrating community-building activities into my instruction. I felt optimistic about the ability to create community online, as I had personally seen it happen throughout my participation in UCLA’s Writing Project Summer Invitational, in which I developed powerful bonds with teachers via Zoom. 

Below are ideas I’ve put together to help you forge bonds and create a safe space for students to learn online.

25 Community-Building Activities
1. Short Check-Ins

Use these at the start of each class: Pose a question to students, and they can respond verbally or via chat, Google Jamboard, Padlet, or a Nearpod collaborative board.

2. Virtual Show and Tell

Ask students to share household objects that teach the class about their interests, talents, and cultures.

3. Talent Show

Allow students an opportunity to shine in front of each other by encouraging them to play instruments, sing, tell jokes, share art, dance, and act for the class.

4. Discussion Boards

Learning management systems such as Canvas and Schoology offer a built-in discussion board feature where students can share thoughts, creative writing, art, and memes with one another.

5. Polls

Use Nearpod and Mentimeter to take polls during class time — a great way to learn more about your students (i.e., Do you prefer dogs or cats?).

6. Flipgrid

Have students record and share videos of their hobbies, talents, and passions.

7. Virtual ClassroomVirtual Rooms

As a way of visually introducing themselves, have students create a Google slide with symbols representing their identities and interests. Provide students with a Google slide with a blank room as the background (Google image search “empty room” for plenty of options), and students can then decorate it.

8. Autobiographical Writing

Write a short autobiography and share it with students. Then give them an opportunity to write their own to introduce themselves to you. The process of mutual sharing is a powerful way of building trust during those first days of school.

9. Class Playlists

Allow students to create a collaborative playlist of uplifting music that the teacher can play at the beginning and end of online class sessions. Music can be an instant icebreaker, making people relax and smile as they wait for class to begin.

10. Class Karaoke

Bond while belting out crowd-pleasing tunes. YouTube offers many karaoke videos for your class to sing along to!

11. Dance Party

Uplifting movement breaks are sure to make people laugh and enjoy themselves. Whether you’re learning dance moves from the ’80s or ’90s, or trying out current moves, dance is a fun way to bond with one another.

12. Energy Boosters

Allow your class to move and laugh with movement breaks, virtual high-fives, or a class “wave” (like at a sporting event).

13. Games

Kahoot and drawing games are fun ways to build community. As an added bonus, games like Simon Says, Charades, and Rock, Paper, Scissors encourage students to turn their cameras on and see one another.

14. Birthday Acknowledgements

At the beginning of the year, ask all students to list their birthdays on one class calendar (this can be a Google document or slide). Celebrate each student’s birthday via warm wishes, a birthday song, or a group card.

15. Spirit or Dress-Up Days

Add a bit of fun to the class by asking students to dress up for themed days, such as jersey day or hat day.

16. Weekly Routines

Build routines into your daily schedule that promote social-emotional learning, such as activities for Motivation Monday, Grati-Tuesday, Wellness Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday, and Fun Friday. Share a quote and discuss it, provide wellness tips, or make plans to do something kind together.

17. Online Class Picture

With the consent of students and parents, take a screenshot of your class to document the first day of school.

18. Class Photo CollageClass Photo Collage

Students can each add a photo of themselves to one Google slide, bringing everyone together virtually. They can remove the background from their photos at remove.bg.

19. Class Yearbook or Anthology

Each student can design a Google slide or document with images, reflections, and writing about their distance learning experience. Combine them into one presentation, discuss, and share with parents and administration.

20. Inspirational Poetry and Quotes

Share uplifting words to start and end your weeks. Invite students to share quotes and poetry as well.

21. Affirmations and Appreciations

Close out your weeks by creating space for students to express appreciation for one another.

22. Class Roles

Give students responsibility for contributing to the class community by assigning roles such as Class DJ, Class Motivator, and Class Energizer.

23. Virtual Field Trips

Use the internet and your imaginations to travel the world through interactive virtual field trips.

24. Breakout Groups

Allow students time to get to know one another and work collaboratively in breakout groups. Assign roles and structured tasks for accountability.

25. Awards and Celebrations

Take a moment to acknowledge the great work you and your students have done each month! Create awards for one another, eat snacks, and create a short video or presentation honoring your students.

Remember, community is built over time through mutual sharing and trust-building in a supportive environment. Stay true to yourself and your personality, listen to students’ suggestions, and have a great year!

Author

Isabel Morales

Isabel Morales

Isabel Morales is an eighth grade U.S. history teacher at Hollenbeck Middle School in Los Angeles, California. She is a Los Angeles Unified District and County Teacher of the Year and a recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching. She earned her doctorate in education at the University of Southern California. You can follow her on Twitter @isabeljmorales and visit her website, drisabelmorales.com.