The biggest achievement for any teacher is when they have every student in their class involved in collaborative group activities and perform as a team when given a challenge.
While new teachers struggle with these practices and ways to get every student in the class on the same page. Having such harmony has everlasting benefits as well, it teaches students the value of teamwork, they learn to respect the differences and understand their abilities as well as the strong points of their peers.
The problem presents a big question mark and leaves many teachers with a headache. And here’s why.
The resources allocated by schools for extracurricular activities that make a huge part of this practice, also play a vital role, and the permission by school administration to teachers on how much they can add or take from their instruction to make time for collaborative activities. But these should not stop teachers from fostering student collaboration and teamwork, thus making the future of their students better.
Now that we understand the issues we’re addressing today, let us take a moment to discuss the benefits in detail and why these practices should be considered important for a classroom setting.
As students learn more about each other through team builders, their trust and comfort level with their classmates will improve. This can help make each student more vested in group projects and tasks since they not only want to do well themselves, but they want to help their classmates succeed as well.
Another big benefit in my opinion and experience is the ability to communicate, and it is a skill that can make or break you in your adult life; the more you excel at communication, chances of success also elevate. At an early age, when students practice the skill of communication the environment of the class gets better, they get better at delivering ideas and develop the ability to understand other’s point of view.
Now that we have established the idea let us move towards the fun and engaging community-building exercises you can perform even in a virtual classroom. I’m going to discuss several things that you can do, it’s by no means an exhaustive list, but should get you on your way.
Let’s start with the classic techniques that work every time and move towards best practices you can use in your virtual classroom these days.
The human knot
The Human Knot is a classic team-building game, to practice this game, Have your students stand in a circle, holding hands. Now, students have to untangle themselves by walking in between students in front of them, going over or under locked hands. They can also go between other students’ legs. They have to make a knot keeping their hands locked to the other students. Now, two other students need to work together and give instructions to the human knot. They have to find a way to untangle it.
Such a challenge will make your students think before they act, they will have to share their ideas and have to listen to their peers to solve the puzzle. The best part is, they can not rush their way out of it, and a single student cannot free themselves while others maintain the position.
Escape the classroom
Create an “escape the classroom” game. Students will have to work together in groups to escape the classroom. They have to look for clues and codes on their computer and in the classroom. Scavenger hunts, breakout games, or escape the classroom games encourage students to work together: planning a strategy, divvying up tasks, and communicating progress.
Gather your students in a circle and give each student a picture of an animal, object, place; you could also give each student a certain emoji, such as a snail, a church, skis, a dancer, a baby, and so on.
Now, start a story by creating an introduction of your own. The next student goes further on the previous storyline and adds an extra narrative with the picture they’re holding. This process continues until you reach the last student. Together, you created a very complex and creative story. Every student took part in the story. This game is ideal for promoting communication, as well as creative collaboration.
This activity also promotes their creative thinking and imagination to create scenarios and think outside the box; it starts to reflect in their creative writing and speech assignments soon.
Get on the chair: (only after really knowing your kids)
For this classroom team-building game, students need to be flexible and balanced. Provide a chair for every student. All the chairs should be lined up on one single line. Every student stands on a chair. Now, the teacher asks them to go stand in a certain order. For example: “I want you to organize yourselves from old to young.” The students now have to change places without touching the ground.
With this team-building exercise, the students get to know each other better in an interactive way. The teacher can give other directions like: “from tall to small.” or “from A to Z.” Every time, the students have to change their positions without pushing someone off the chairs. Working together is crucial. If you want to make it more challenging, you can set a time limit.
It should be performed in complete supervision and should only be done once students are comfortable being close to each other and have the physical characteristics to perform the task.
The Ball Game
It is a simple yet effective community building game for students in a new class, all you need is a tennis ball, ask your students to stand in a circle and give the tennis ball to one student; their task is to throw it to another person in the circle and say their name as they throw it. The person they throw it to then needs to throw it to another person in the circle, also saying their name as they throw it. Once all students have learned everyone’s name and mastered this step, it is time to up the difficulty of this task.
Now, instead of saying the name of the person they are throwing the ball to, students need to say the name of the person that should get the ball next. For example, if Student A throws the ball to Student B, they would say the name of Student C, the person Student B needs to throw the ball to.
It promotes teamwork since there is no individual winning; if the ball drops on the ground or a student says the wrong name, the team loses, so they will have to work as a team to win as a team.
Crossing the Line
To start this activity, you will need colored tape to mark a line in the center of the classroom. This team builder is designed to help students learn more about their classmates and feel more comfortable sharing personal information about themselves. To start the activity, create a line using a tape down the center of the room. You can have students pick some topics/categories they are curious to learn about each other, or you may select the topics yourself.
For each topic, ask a related question to students that they can answer by crossing the line or staying on one side of it. For example, if the topic is video games, you can ask students if they play more than 4 hours of video games each week. If students answered yes to that question, they would cross the line. You or the other students in the class can ask questions to the students who crossed the line, such as “What is your favorite game?” or “What gaming system do you have?”
As students begin to get more comfortable with the activity, the questions asked should begin to get deeper and more personal. One question you might ask could be, “Do you ever doubt yourself?” When asking deeper questions, you want to be sure to give students more time to process the question and decide if they want to cross the line.
With the deeper questions, encourage other students to ask a question that works towards helping all the students in the class feel more comfortable with one another and developing solutions for potential problems. For example, with the question above, another student may ask someone who crossed the line what they could do to help them improve their self-confidence.
Virtual Classroom Jobs
In distant learning as we have today and I speculate it will continue to be around for a time even after we get back to normal.
We can also develop a virtual classroom community by creating online student jobs, ways for students who are helpers to contribute. They can be voluntary roles, and not all students would have to take a job, but we could at least make sure the jobs are offered to all students at some point.
Online classroom jobs are best when they enhance what we are already doing but when they are not completely essential to the way the class runs. Because! Kids can forget. A few other things to consider would be, How will you assign the jobs? How long will students have them? Where will you display the jobs?
Here is an example, maybe a classroom librarian helps to organize the digital classroom bookshelf. A motivation leader could post weekly inspiration for the class on your daily agenda or learning management system. A discussion director could help to keep conversations building productively. A book talker could share first lines or snippets from high-interest books during classroom meetings. A vocabulary master could be in charge of making sure at least one of the week’s vocabulary words is used in conversation.
Think about things you would ideally like to do, but if they don’t get done, the world won’t end. Things that would enhance learning and extend students’ leadership or academic skills.
When we take time to do something kind for someone else, it helps us to deal with any pain we are currently experiencing. Loneliness, depression, anxiety – during COVID-19, people are experiencing a wide range of emotions. When we don’t regularly interact with other people in person, it can leave a void.
In order to build a virtual classroom community and lift some spirits, we can pose kindness challenges. Students can complete these via email, during meetings, or on a learning management system. Schoology, Seesaw, Google Classroom, and many other technology platforms have features that allow students to post and view content.
Students can complement a classmate by writing a thank you letter or email, share an inspirational quote or uplifting paragraph from a book.
Smile and laugh during meetings – it’s contagious!
They can contribute an idea that will help solve a problem or make e-Learning more efficient, make Play-Doh presents, have students mold a gift they would give to their peers if they could see them in person.
Include Parents in your virtual learning community
A virtual classroom community is healthier when parents are involved. We want parents to be our partners, our cheerleaders, and our reinforcers. Including parents in the learning process doesn’t have to be hard!
Consider Using a program like Remind, Class Dojo, or Seesaw in which parents can create an account and see all of the assignments, due dates, and notifications from you.
Sending home a weekly newsletter or posting updates on your website so that parents are aware of the big learning goals and executive functioning tasks for the week.
Inviting parents to listen to recorded lessons so they can help their children at home
Asking parents to be guest speakers to talk about how they use reading and/or writing in the workplace. Send home a Google Form with questions that will help to give parents a voice in their child’s learning process.
Of course, some students don’t have parents at home who have time to be a large part of their child’s educational experience. So, whatever we do to include parents, we need to be mindful of those students who don’t have unlimited support at home as well as those parents who are already stretched thin and can’t add another thing on their plates.
Remember, building community in a classroom is not an affair that stays in the class after your students head home; it’s a practice that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.