Keeping an in-person classroom full of students engaged can be quite a challenge already, even for the best teachers. The added difficulties associated with remote learning mean competing with household distractions, social media, siblings, pets, and more. Add trying to teach 25 young children through a screen, and it begins to become clear why holding your students’ attention is a far greater challenge in the virtual classroom than perhaps any other setting.
As everyone works to adapt to the remote learning landscape, it’s important to remember the things students and teachers miss out on when in-person learning isn’t an option. However, group activities, hands-on projects, and even virtual field trips are all possible in a remote setting. Let’s go over some virtual classroom activity ideas you can use to increase engagement and build social connections among your students.
Educational activities with household objects
Remote learning doesn’t mean everything your students do has to happen on or through a screen. Virtual learning can be hands-on, too. You can integrate common household objects into learning activities to give students a new, more visual way to learn and problem-solve. From counting with macaroni to paper towel roll science projects, there are hundreds of activities perfect for the virtual classroom. Use your imagination to come up with fun, interactive class activities, or head to Glitter Meets Glue on Pinterest for ideas from other educators on activities children can enjoy from the convenience of their home.
Home scavenger hunts
Scavenger hunts are the perfect tool to get students to use their creativity and critical thinking skills in a virtual setting. They also allow students to get up and move around, adding some variety and exercise to their virtual school day.
Having younger students hunt for items of a certain color, shape, or utility can help foster pattern recognition and critical thinking skills. Older children and teens can still enjoy scavenger hunts by sharing items that have importance to them. Instructing middle and high school students to find and share an object that represents a formative childhood experience can help them flex their creative muscles, too.
Virtual mathematics exercises
For younger students, math is the perfect subject to practice at home with common household items. Dice, decks of cards, dry pasta, and egg cartons all provide opportunities for students to refine their counting, addition, and subtraction skills in a way that allows them to visualize the math working in real-time. For more mathematics activity ideas, check out these four Chromebook math tools.
Virtual social activities
Academics aren't the only thing schools provide for students. The social aspect of public school is vital to a child’s development. But even in the remote setting, there are activities that allow students to connect with each other and build friendships through the screen. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Virtual spirit week
Spirit week has long been a tradition at schools across the generations. Aside from the standard school colors day, you can fill up spirit weeks with expressive themes about sports teams, literary characters, pets, and parents. School administrators can also create fun and wacky spirit week themes, including pajama day, crazy hair day, and “dress like a rockstar” day, to name a few. If your school doesn’t have virtual spirit week plans, you can easily create your own just for your classroom.
Create a classroom playlist
Music is directly linked with our sense of identity, especially as teenagers. Encourage your students to each add a song of their choice to a classroom playlist, and have each student explain why they chose their specific song and what it means to them.
To add an extra dimension to the project, have students anonymously submit their songs to the playlist. Distribute the playlist to the entire classroom, and have students guess which of their classmates picked each song. Then reveal the students’ picks and give the winner of the contest a small prize.
“Get to know you” activities
Pick an open-ended question or series of questions, and let each student give their own answer, one at a time. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What is your most memorable childhood experience? What have you learned about yourself in the past year? What’s your favorite thing to do offline? The possibilities are endless, and students love to both share and hear their classmates’ answers.
A popular “get to know you” activity that’s easy to do virtually is Human Bingo. Create a five-by-five-inch card with uncommon facts listed in each of 25 squares. These facts can be things like “I have met a celebrity,” “I have lived in a foreign country,” and so on. Next, let your students have fun asking each other questions to get to the bottom of which facts match which students. The first student to get five in a row (vertically, horizontally, or diagonally) gets to shout out, “BINGO!” and wins the game.
These kinds of activities can have surprisingly positive results for your virtual classroom. Typically quiet and reserved students might have some exciting things going on in their lives. Students from different social groups can bond over shared interests and experiences. In any case, they are all sure to learn new things about one another. For added fun, include a fun fact about yourself. Students love to learn about their teachers.
Virtual field trips
With the stunning advances in virtual and augmented reality technology, virtual field trips have become more exciting, engaging, and educational than ever. Your students can explore the stars and planets, take walking tours through legendary cities around the world, and get close to animals at zoos and aquariums.
You don’t need expensive virtual reality headsets to give your classroom a memorable experience. Dozens of museums, zoos, and science centers offer virtual experiences online, making them easily accessible and inexpensive or even free. Here are a few great places to kickstart your virtual field trip ideas:
This virtual reality planetarium uses your location to provide an accurate depiction of the night sky where you live, including stars, constellations, planets, and even satellites in orbit. Stellarium features highly detailed images of the night sky, allowing users to zoom in to view impressive levels of detail.
Penguins, sea otters, great white sharks, and coral reefs are all on full, high-definition display at this world-famous California aquarium. With 10 live cameras, there’s plenty of content and visual engagement for a science class field trip. For a more structured experience, the aquarium offers free courses and Zoom presentations.
The first stop in America for nearly 12 million immigrants, Ellis Island will always be one of America’s most storied historical symbols. In this virtual field trip from Scholastic, students explore the history and life in Ellis Island through stories, photographs, audio, and video recordings.
Give your students something different
Remote learning can be a trying and isolating experience for many students. By going beyond standard lesson plans and offering young learners a way to interact with each other and the world through virtual experiences, you can help them strengthen their social, creative, and learning skills. The possibilities are as limitless as the stars in the night sky. Visit GoGuardian’s Distance Learning Resource Center to get more remote learning activity ideas and resources on keeping students engaged.