Did you go to college and major in Virtual Education? I’m gonna guess that’s a great big “No!” You are a classroom teacher and you aren’t wimpy. You know how to make your lessons fun and effective. But, then everything changed. Without much notice, you became an online teacher. You’ve been learning new software, attending countless Zoom meetings, and teaching students where to find the mute button. It’s overwhelming, but you still want to make virtual learning fun for your students. You’re amazing! I am inspired by you, and I want to help…
I brainstormed some of my favorite (but simple) ways to make learning fun in a virtual classroom. Check it out…
I love centers because they are a hands-on and engaging way to practice almost any skill. Students love centers because they are a million times more fun than filling in a worksheet.
Typically, my students got out of their seats and used printed center materials that they were sorting, matching and manipulating. Using these printed materials is not possible in a virtual classroom. (Parents would lose their minds if we asked them to print and cut all of those materials!)
But, just because you are virtual, does not mean you have to give up centers all together! It will look different, but engaging center activities are still possible.
Use digital centers!
Look for centers that have movable pieces that will provide more engagement than a digitalized worksheet. Students can still sort, color code, match, roll dice and use spinners. And it can all be done from their computer or device.
We have created digital centers for reading and math. They are Google Slides activities that are a piece of cake to upload into Google Classroom. Not using Google Classroom? No worries! We have included directions to download the activities as a PowerPoint. You can use the PowerPoint on platforms such as Schoology, Teams and Canvas.
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Students feel like they are playing a game, but we know that they are completing valuable practice activities!
2. Book Clubs
Prior to the Covid Craziness of 2020, book clubs were an integral part of my reading routine in the classroom.
I actually used book clubs in all of my guided reading groups. Yup, even my struggling readers got to participate in book clubs!
Because reading books helps kids to develop a lifelong love for reading! You very rarely find someone who declares their love for reading passages. (My husband is one of those rare exceptions.)
The good news is that you CAN still do book clubs in a virtual classroom.
One way to run your books clubs is to split your class into 3-4 leveled groups where each group is reading a different book. If possible, I recommend scheduling Zoom or Google Meet calls to choral read the book together. This helps to increase comprehension, accountability and fun!
After you read a chapter or two together, you can assign a graphic organizer based on the skill that you are currently working on as a whole class.
We have added digital versions of all of our book club graphic organizers to the original resource! There are tons of graphic organizers for fiction and nonfiction books.
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This is a crazy year and so it is perfectly ok to modify book clubs. (Not that you needed my permission!) Maybe the whole class is reading the same book. Heck, you might even be reading the book to your class! Do what works best for your learners.
3. Virtual Field Trips
I want to tell you that I loved taking my students on field trips. I want to tell you that it was a magical time where lifelong memories were made. But I am just not a good liar… I actually hated field trips.
Why does someone barf on every single field trip, but almost never in the classroom? Why does someone always end up bleeding? And why in the world was the weather always so miserable every time we planned an outdoor field trip?
I guess those are just teacher mysteries that will never be solved.🤷🏻♀️
And even though field trip days were hard, I do know that my students loved them. For some of my students it was the only time they got to leave their hometown. It was their first time seeing a live play or the only time that they will ever pet a sting ray.
So maybe I do kinda sorta like those darn field trips.
We can still do virtual field trips with our students!
Virtual field trips are generally videos or interactive tours of a place that are completely online. A good virtual field trip makes you feel like you are right there visiting this new place.
Virtual field trips are amazing because they are free, the weather never gets in the way, almost no one throws up and you don’t have to stress about losing a kid! Plus, you can do field trips all over the world in less than an hour. No bus rides needed!
You can use virtual field trips to supplement your social studies and science curriculum. You can also use them as a reward for participation and behavior in your virtual classroom.
Click HERE to read about some of our very favorite virtual field trips around the country.
4. Lunch Clubs
For some reason kids love to eat with their teacher. I used to use this as a reward in my classroom and I was shocked that so many students were motivated to earn an opportunity to watch me stuff my face with a PB & J.
The reality is that students look up to their teacher and enjoy the opportunity to connect on a more personal level.
Lunch clubs give students the chance to build a relationship with you!
I would suggest breaking students into groups of 4-6 students. You can decide how often you want to eat lunch with your students (because sometimes you need to eat privately because you feel less judged for eating an entire package of Oreos).
So you might decide that Tuesdays and Thursdays are for lunch club. Invite a different group each time to join you via Zoom or Google Meet. Everyone brings their lunch and you can chat.
This is a great time to talk about things other than school. Ask about their pets, siblings, favorite TV shows and games that they like to play. Use the time to get to know each of your students.
Relationship building is even more essential in a virtual classroom!
5. Change the Location
Almost all of my lessons happened in the classroom. Sometimes they were in their desks. Sometimes they came to the carpet, but we rarely did our lesson outside of the classroom.
When I am recording videos or doing live video chats, I almost always do them from the same place. I have a comfortable chair and a small desk in a spare room. It’s comfortable and routine.
But sometimes we need to break the routine!
Every now and again, switch up the location where you record your lessons or lead your live video calls.
Can you take the laptop outside for a video? Can you move from the dining room to the living room couch? Or, can you use a fun digital background to make it look like you are on the beach?
Students love to see your home (even the stacks of laundry and dirty dishes) because it’s a glimpse into who you are. Plus, they love to be surprised!
It’s ok to have a routine, but don’t be scared to get creative every now and again.
I love music. Country music is my favorite, but I love to sing along to almost any genre (even though I can’t hit one single correct note).
I use music to change my mood. When I am tired, I put on some Michael Jackson and my body instantly wakes up and starts to dance. When I have to do something that I am not excited about, I turn on some Katy Perry. I’m invincible after a little Roar!
Music can also change the mood in our classroom!
Using music in a virtual classroom is as easy as playing a song at the start of every video call or prerecorded video. Students will be excited to log in and find out which song you are playing today.
To make this even more fun, ask students what their favorite songs are. You might send them a Google Form.
Then, rotate through their favorite songs.
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but I am the Queen of Stating the Obvious… listen to the song ahead of time and make sure it is appropriate. Sometimes you can play part of the song and stop before an F bomb gets dropped. But be careful! I also find that Kidz Bop does remakes of many popular pop songs. They are generally more appropriate.
7. Mix in Non-Academic Activities
Yes, you need to be teaching reading, writing and math. You are probably throwing in a little science and social studies. And that is so overwhelming…
But adding in a simple and quick game or conversation starter can make your lessons afterwards a million times more effective. It breaks up the video watching.
Adding in a surprise challenge or movement activity will get your students excited about logging in to your Zoom Call or Google Meet. Heck, it might even improve your participation rate!
Click HERE to read more about these simple activities and how they can be done virtually.
I know that you miss your classroom and your students. But I also know that you CAN make virtual learning fun! Your students are so darn lucky to have you.
Have a Not So Wimpy day,