There has been A LOT of talk recently about what school will look like with all the social distancing requirements that have been put into place. But with all these rules, how are teachers going to make students feel like they’re part of a classroom community?
The lack of ability to gather on the rug – let alone in the same room – is going to make it difficult. Some schools are going to continue distance learning with no face-to-face instruction. Others are going to use a combination of distance learning and in-person instruction. And some are going to have students in the classroom 100% of the time (if that’s you, read my post Socially Distanced Centers: 4 Brilliant Ideas!).
To make it even more confusing, teachers who will have students in the classroom are having to follow an incredible range of social distancing rules. Here are just a few of the rules that I’ve heard from teachers:
- Stay in the classroom as much as possible
- Keep 6 feet apart at all times
- No rugs
- No tables
- No shared materials
- No centers or rotations
- Teachers and students must wear a mask
- Books can be rotated but need to be “quarantined” for 3 or more days before the next student can use them
The logistics of all of this are baffling. I could go on and on about how kids are going to spread germs even if they don’t use shared center materials. And how that’s just going to make it harder to teach kids and engage them without preventing the spread of germs…but that’s not what this post is about. The goal of this post is to talk about building a strong classroom community with all these rules in place.
- Socially Distanced Centers: 4 Brilliant Ideas
- The First Week of Kindergarten: Lesson Plans
- Distance Learning for the Early Grades
How we can build a strong classroom community in spite of all these rules
This post came about because one of my readers emailed me saying that she loved one of the resources I wrote about in my last post but didn’t think it was possible with her school’s restrictions on being outside the classroom. Then she asked for ideas on how to build a sense of community with these rules in place.
That got my wheels turning! So many of our go-to community building activities involve being in close proximity to each other. So I came up with a handful of ideas. They can be used in a socially-distanced classroom or for virtual learning. It is possible to build a classroom community, even with all those obstacles in the way! Here’s what I came up with.
Socially Distanced Greetings
One of the most obvious ways to build a classroom community is by having students spend time each morning greeting each other. Unfortunately, many of those greetings have involved touching or being in close proximity to one another.
Luckily, I’ve been seeing lots of lists popping up for socially-distanced greetings. There are so many that I didn’t really feel the need to reinvent the wheel here…I just did a little research on what was available and picked my favorite from Teachers Pay Teachers.
This set from Learning with Kiki is great because the posters are adorable and contain lots of diversity, and the greeting ideas are so fun! It’s also available in a bigger bundle of social distancing resources. You can pick it up from her TpT store by clicking on the image:
Daily Class Pledge
A few years ago, I started using a class pledge rather than having “rules.” A class pledge is awesome because it gives students a reminder every day of what the expectations are. Not only that, but it gives them ownership of their behavior. This is a really great way to build a classroom community because it emphasizes how we treat each other.
I really talk up the class pledge by explaining that a pledge is a promise we make. So when we recite the class pledge in the morning, we’re making a promise to do those things. Then when a student makes a not-so-good choice, you can tie it back to that promise they made. From there, you can also talk about how it affects everyone in the class.
You could also do a class pledge for distance learning! You may want to modify it a little bit to fit the expectations of, say, virtual meetings…but the idea is still basically the same!
Here’s the pledge I’ve always used, and I teach them movements to go along with it. Feel free to click on the image to download it and/or add it to your Google Drive. Or, if you want a cutesy colored version for your bulletin board, you could check out the Classroom Kids set or the Forest Friends set in my TpT store.
Sit or Stand Getting to Know You
In past years, I’ve had kids walk around the room and do surveys at the beginning of the year to get to know each other and start building a sense of classroom community. We would also practice turn & talk with getting-to-know-you topics. But those types of activities may not be allowed right now, so a good option is Sit or Stand.
Basically you just call out something like, “Sit down if you prefer chocolate milk. Stand up if you prefer white milk.” Then take a minute to have the students look around, see who answered the same way, and talk a little bit about their choices.
For virtual meetings, you could have them do thumbs up/thumbs down, put a finger on their nose, or just raise their hands.
Whether you’re teaching in the classroom or virtually, you might love this free printable! Just click on the image, then add it to your Google Drive or download it to your computer.
Virtual Scavenger Hunt
I love doing a scavenger hunt around the school on the first day. It’s really helpful for getting students get acquainted with where things are. It also provides a perfect opportunity to practice some of the rules and routines that will be so important for your classroom community of learners.
However, as I mentioned earlier, some schools are keeping students in their classrooms as much as possible. That’s going to make a school-wide scavenger hunt really difficult.
Unless…you make a virtual scavenger hunt! You can use the same one you’ve always used (or snatch up this adorable pigeon-themed one). But instead of taking your whole class through the school, just take pictures of the signs. Then stick them into a Google Slides presentation and share them with your students that way!
I thought it would even be fun to introduce other staff members that way. Instead of taking pictures of different places around the school, you could take pictures of staff members standing near the place they’re most likely to be found!
All About Me! (Digital)
Another way for students to get to know each other and start developing a classroom community is through the classic All About Me activity. You know…the ones where kids fill out a poster at home then bring it back to school to show the class?
Well, you can put a digital spin on it by creating one in PowerPoint or Google Slides! All students would need to do is insert photos and/or type their information. However, I would highly recommend the Seesaw learning app for this because they can add their own drawings and voice recordings too! It is so user-friendly for little learners!
Plus, I’ve already created an All About Me activity for Seesaw, so you don’t have to make your own. It’s part of my Seesaw: Building a Classroom Community resource. You can grab it on Teachers Pay Teachers, or get it along with over 100 other activities by joining my Seesaw Lover’s All-Access Club!
Here’s what it includes:
Virtual Show & Tell
Show & Tell is a great way to build classroom community because it:
- Gives students a chance to learn more about each other
- Provides them with opportunities to speak in front of the group
- Allows them to ask & answer questions
And when it’s done right, it doesn’t just have to be kiddos showing off their shiny new toys. There are tons of ways to make sharing time more meaningful, and doing it virtually opens up a whole bunch of new options.
Instead of bringing in an actual object, students can just take a picture or draw a picture of the thing they want to talk about. They can share about things that they wouldn’t be able to in the classroom. Here are just a few ideas:
- Family and pets
- Places they’ve visited
- Something from their house that fits a certain criteria (color, shape, beginning letter, etc.)
- Things they’ve learned
- Things they can do (they can even make videos!)
- Things they’ve found in their homes/neighborhood that go with the theme or learning topic (trees, flowers, animals, etc.)
Again, you can create one yourself…or save yourself some time and energy and grab my Seesaw: Building a Classroom Community resource on TpT. It even comes with 6 pages of Virtual Show & Tell topic ideas!
Or, better yet, join my Seesaw Lover’s All-Access Club to get all of the activities in this post, plus over 100 more…and every new activity I create for Seesaw in the future too!
Here’s what’s included for Virtual Show & Tell:
Digital Birthday Book
My all-time favorite way to build a classroom community is by having students create a book when it’s someone’s birthday. Typically, I’ve printed off one page for each student from my birthday book resource and had them complete it as morning work. Then I’d staple it together and send it home with the birthday kid.
However, I’m hearing teachers say they can’t pass out/share papers this way. I guess a printed birthday book touched by every student in the class would be an easy way to spread germs…
So, you guessed it…I created a birthday book activity for Seesaw! It just a simple 2-page template, but students will love getting these special pictures and messages from their friends. Here’s what it looks like:
I even found a way to compile each student’s individual assignment into one book using Google Slides. From there, you can send it to the birthday boy or girl digitally, or you can even print it off! Watch this video tutorial to see how easy it is:
This video is just one of many tutorials available for teachers, students, and parents in the Seesaw Lover’s All-Access Club. Not only do you get tons of tutorials, you get all 170+ activities I’ve already created PLUS weekly new releases!
What are your ideas for building a classroom community while distance learning?
I feel like this is definitely a topic that could use some more attention and I’d love to add more to this post. If you have ideas or examples of what you’re doing in your classroom that you wouldn’t mind me adding to this list, leave a comment below!