Building a virtual classroom community is hard when you are meeting online. How do you build that close relationship when you don't see the students in person? I'm six weeks into teaching online and sharing the tips I've found that have helped with my own second grade class.
Start with an ONline Meeting
Holding a daily online meeting is a great way to build a classroom community. For my morning meeting I ask students to add their name into the chat for attendance. Then, I give a personal good morning greeting to each student by name. This only takes a few minutes but I feel it makes students feel welcome. I've even started to notice students saying hi and good morning to each other in the chat.
After attendance and greetings we move into Good Things. I try to call on 3 students each day to share something good that happened to them. The goal is to have the whole class share by the end of each week. Gradually the responsibility of hosting Good Things goes to students rather than the teacher.
I learned about this activity from a Capturing Kids Hearts training and I love that it starts our day on a positive note and it lets me get a glimpse into a student's life. For instance, last week I learned that one student had a family birthday celebration for his brother, another had her parent return home from being sick at the hospital, and another shared their excitement about a new pair of shoes.
Teaching virtually doesn't mean we have to miss out on hearing these stories - we just have to intentionally give the opportunity for students to share them.
Provide Opportunities To Share
Along with sharing something good, providing other opportunities to share throughout the week is also important for building community.
I am allotted only 30 minutes for teaching each subject of math, reading, and writing so I have been forced to find creative ways to build in these opportunities. One way I am doing that is to create activities using Class Dojo portfolios.
For primary grades I cannot express enough how important it is to share and celebrate their writing. But how in the world do you have a writing lesson, writing time, and a share time in 30 minutes? The answer lies in asking students outside of the lesson to write their stories and post using Class Dojo portfolios.
Below is a picture of how I set up a writing activity to share by video and asked students as an optional assignment to record themselves reading their finished personal narrative and post it for our class to see. I also told students they did not need to show themselves on camera reading but could just point the camera at the floor so it captured their voice.
Students that have shared this way get a shout out during our live meetings to encourage other students to go and listen as well as post a video themselves.
Create Shared Experiences
When we are in the classroom together, I feel that our best bonding moments are when we are doing group activities. So how can we make this translate virtually?
Take a Virtual Field Trip
During field trips students are given time to talk and bond in a more informal setting. Use a virtual field trip to add to their learning but also to provide a shared experience.
Taking a ride on a rollercoaster is a great way to have that experience together and turn it into a shared writing lesson. Teaching personal narrative?
Talk about the time you rode a rollercoaster! The excitement, the energy, the twists and turns can all be used to show your students how to add details AND it's a relatable story since everyone had the experience!
Ride a Rollercoaster Together
incorporate Shared read alouds
How about choosing some great books to read aloud?
There are so many books that help teach rules, build community, and offer opportunities for students to build connections with the story and characters. Reading the books but then also having students share their connections and experiences can help create a close classroom community.
Due to inappropriate camera bombings by family members, my school asks for us to teach with the cameras off. However, I will ask students to turn their camera on and hold their work up so we can see and appreciate it.
A teacher secret is that having students share encourages them to actually complete the assignment. No students likes to admit to their teacher they haven't done the work.
play class games
I don't have time for games!
I hear you. I feel like I don't either. However, learning virtually is hard. It's lonely. Students are sitting in front of the computer all day (us too!) and we could all use a break. Go Noodle brain breaks are fun but what about quick class games that help us get to know one another?
In this previous post I shared 25 ways to add some fun to morning meetings so I encourage you to check out that list. The best ones that will build that sense of community are activities where students share about themselves.
My favorites are Would You Rather (don't forget to vote with students so they get to know you as well) and Two Truths and a Lie (I built a super simple Google slide where students typed their responses and I share a few slides a day with students voting in the chat for their guess).
These two activities can be done year round and require only a few minutes. Ask students to complete additional Two Truths and a Lie to play multiple times. You could even make it themed such as tell me two truths and one lie about how you feel about _ (fill in a holiday or topic you are teaching).
Have Lunch Together
Offering the chance to just step away from academics and do something like eat lunch together over a virtual meeting is another way to have a shared experience. Even if it is just once a month it can provide a chance to talk to one another.
With students talking at once over a virtual meeting it can get very chaotic. What about having students join different breakout rooms so there are smaller groups? Randomly assign groups of no more than 6 to enter a new meeting room or ask students which room they want to join until that meeting is full. Be careful though if you notice certain students being excluded from being picked.
Make Each Student Feel Valued
Setting the expectations that everyone in the class matters and has value and a voice can go a long way in creating a virtual classroom community.
Random Student Selections
Just like in class, make sure you are not calling on the same few students every time. Use sticks or a student selection tool (Class Dojo has a great random one or Wheel of Names is a fun choice) to show students you are not playing favorites. Plus never knowing who you will pick keeps kids on their toes!
Saying hello and goodbye is incredibly simple to do and can make your students feel loved. At the end of each day we do a crazy whole class goodbye with everyone taking their microphones off at once and saying goodbye. Once I see a microphone on I say goodbye with their name and they love saying goodbye as well to myself and their classmates. Yes, it gets crazy and sometimes loud but it's only a minute or two. If I see siblings come on at this time I make sure to call them by name too (or ask for their name so I can say goodbye).
If this sounds too chaotic for you, call on one student at a time and dismiss them individually at the end of the day. I also allow students to "hang out" on the meet and they will often share something they are excited about, show me around their room, or even hold up a pet for me to ooh and aah over. They also love to get a glimpse of my first grade daughter at this time who loves camera bombing me and saying goodbye as well.
Celebrate their attendance
This point was really hard for me in the beginning of my career. I am embarrassed to admit I used to make students feel bad when they walked into my classroom late. Over time I realized I do not have any control over when a child arrives. They do not have control over when they arrive. Their arrival is dependent on others for the most part so how can we blame them?
Do I hate it when they come late? Of course. Do they miss important instruction? Of course. But I put that aside and I give them their personal greeting and say something like "Good morning (or afternoon!), Susan I'm so happy to see you today. I missed you."
They know they were late and chances are they are embarassed to show up and have all eyes watch them and notice they came late. Why make it worse? Giving them a greeting and showing them I care will help start their school day (hopefully) on the right foot and move past whatever happened before coming in late.
Building a virtual classroom community can be hard but not impossible. Think about what you would do if you were in person. How can you translate that into online teaching? Can you still do some of the same activities to build those experiences and feelings among the class? It may just take a little imagination.