25 Community-Building Activities for Virtual Classrooms
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
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.
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?).
Have students record and share videos of their hobbies, talents, and passions.
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).
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.
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!