Things are stressful right now.
That’s probably an understatement, but it’s a statement in the right direction.
It’s also really difficult to get some of our students to show up for online education and subsequently keep them engaged. One of the most requested discussion focuses on many of the education boards on social media these days is how to make online learning appealing, engaging, and fun.
We’ve done a roundup of ideas to help educators navigate these unchartered waters.
Virtual Scavenger Hunts
Scavenger hunts can be a fun way to explore a lot of types of information, especially if they’re used for information that can be found online.
We’re not talking about information gathering, though.
We’re talking about relationship and community building.
Teachers are using this as an intro or conclusion to their classes to get students to emotionally invest in spending time learning - and it’s working!
Some of the ideas teachers are talking about are scavenger hunts for very common items. You can have students take pictures with items, build sculptures with them, find a silly or practical alternative use, or use them in another lesson for students to describe and have the class try to guess what the item is.
Experts (ie: other teachers who have been playing this game with their students) say NOT to include sanitizer or toilet paper, as those are pretty difficult to come by in some places.
There are lots of fun ways to use scavenger hunts to make connections! Many teachers are also saying that just having time to tour each other’s homes (with family permission), meet each other’s pets, or say hello to family members can be just as fun. A few teachers have also done a daily show-and-tell or talent show, allowing one or two students to participate each day.
Virtual Escape Rooms
Escape rooms are so much fun - and a great way to sneak lots of content review in while also “playing”. You can create your own virtual escape rooms, but there are also a lot of resources on places like Teachers Pay Teachers and other online resources centers.
One of the most popular resources for virtual escape rooms is BreakoutEDU, which has quite a few teacher-made, ready-to-use resources to choose from. You can also make your own using the platform if you’d like.
There are free accounts available to educators.
As an added bonus, the site also has additional free games for kids at home during this time. You can find those here: https://www.breakoutedu.com/funathome.
A lot of teachers have been using BreakoutEDU during this time and say they love it and the kids love it, too. It’s been a highly recommended resource for some time, but the user tutorial videos and user-friendly access really seem to be beneficial for those teachers who are a bit less tech-friendly.
Speaking of those who are less tech-friendly, what teacher doesn’t love using a quick game of BINGO for review?
This suggestion is to use the tool more as a way to bond, of course.
You can create the BINGO cards yourself, have students help create them, or find them by using a search engine. If you have students help, all they’ll need is a piece of paper, a pencil, and optionally, a ruler.
If you’re having students program their own, decide beforehand how many spaces you want your grid to include. Instruct students on how to draw their grid, then give them a list of programmable options.
Pandemic options can include:
- video chats with relatives
- hang out with my siblings and/or parents
- went on 5 walks
- became a six-foot social distancing pro
- wore a mask in public
- ran out of tp
- cleaned doorknobs and light switches
- helped with making a meal
- said “I’m bored” 5 times in one hour
- wrote nice messages on the sidewalk for neighbors
Another positive for this kind of activity is that you can subtly check to be sure students are getting enough food to eat, are in a physically safe environment, and that their mental health is being cared for as much as possible.
There are so many different options for making learning game-like and using games for learning. Here’s a list of some we’ve seen teachers using during the lockdown.
Kahoot - If you don’t know about Kahoot, we suspect you may be living under a rock. It’s so much fun! You can use it for lots of purposes, from reviewing to pre-testing before introducing a subject and building community with fun games. Some teachers are saying that it’s a little tricky to use virtually, especially with younger students, so we found a few other alternatives.
Gimkit is similar to Kahoot and has a few of the same issues, but with each game, students earn virtual money to spend on upgrades and power-ups that can either enhance their chances or add penalties to their opponents. Kids LOVE Gimkit! The engagement level is high, and kids are motivated to work out any snafoos with login issues.
Quizziz is said to be very similar but much easier for virtual students to log into and use.
Nearpod is a great instructional platform, but they’ve recently put out a game you can create called “Time to Climb”. Kids enjoy it, and it’s a cute game! You can create lessons or games of your own, or choose from templates already made. It’s engaging, easy to use for differentiation, and keeps records in real-time of how each student is progressing.
Go Noodle has lots of interactive and programmable games that are similar to Time to Climb.
Freckle is an adorable gaming and learning platform that can be used for planning, teaching, and reviewing.
Sometimes, you just need to focus on your students and building that sense of community. You can use a lot of the same games and activities you would use in person - with a twist. Fun things like “whose baby picture is this” or “who is this fun fact about”?
You can play “what’s in your fridge” - kids bring three random ingredients from their pantry or fridge and the class tries to think of things to make using those ingredients.
Another fun thing is to make snacks together. Grab a few easy ingredients and toss them together. Or make a craft, like a glyph, which has specific details that can be changed to represent each student.
It’s the time of year when movie clips inevitably creep their way into our lesson plans even in the best of circumstances, so a natural progression in that direction is completely understandable at this point.
A lot of educators are using watch parties - assigning parts of television shows or movies to enhance learning. Many shows and movies are copywritten so that you can only show very limited clips, if any, but there are a few sites specifically made for sharing education-related videos. Here are a few we’ve used:
- TEDed - TED talks are great for discovering information on a large variety of topics. TEDed does a similar job, but the content is geared toward educational topics for students from elementary to university ages.
- Brainpop, Brianpop Jr., and BrainpopELL are perfect for this. They not only present relevant informational videos, but they have little games and quizzes to go along with each video lesson.
- Edpuzzle is more of a delivery method and learning platform than a video resource, but it’s definitely worth a mention. About half of the teachers in the U.S. are already using this, but for those who haven’t tried it before, it gives you a way to assign videos and evaluate participation and comprehension among your students. Many teachers really enjoy using Edpuzzle.
Kids love Minecraft. Educators have found ways to integrate some learning into Minecraft, but some genius (or group of geniuses) really hit a home run by coming up with Classcraft. It’s a perfect blend of gaming and learning. It’s also a great tool for building community (both in the game and in real life).
It builds collaboration, there are cool things kids love like gear for characters and nice backgrounds, and in an upgrade, students can even earn pets.
It’s very engaging, teachers and students seem to love it, and the basic version is free for teachers.
Novelty and Silliness
Finally, never underestimate the novelty of being absolutely ridiculous.
Wear a towel on your head, wrap a boa around your neck, or teach while speaking into a fan and claim that you’re teaching from a tornado. Use your hairbrush as a microphone. Make up and sing ridiculous songs.
Do Mad Libs as a class.
Wear scuba gear over your clothes.
Make your hair look the craziest you can possibly make it and swear to your students that you woke up that way.
Wear the worst colors of makeup, or none at all. Do what you need to do (within reason) to grab their attention and keep them interested in learning.
Have a laugh, and enjoy your time with your students.
We could all use a little novelty and silliness right now. Your students will be grateful if you at least give it a try.