The first few weeks of the school year are so important for building relationships with your students and teaching them all of your classroom rules and routines. It’s a lot harder to do those things over a computer. Starting the school year with distance learning definitely isn’t ideal, but it’s becoming a reality for many schools across the country. The distance learning back to school activities in this post will help you get to know your students and create a sense of community even though you’re not in the classroom.
Distance Learning Back to School Activities
Activity #1 – Set up one-on-one meetings with your students.
Even before the school year starts, you can schedule virtual meetings with your students to introduce yourself and to get to know a little bit about them. As soon as you get your class list, send out an email invitation to parents asking them to set up a time for a Google Meet or Zoom session with you. If you use ClassTag, you can just add them to your class and schedule your meetings through the app.
Here are some ideas for what to do during this first meeting:
- Tell the student three interesting things about you
- Ask your student to tell you three interesting things about himself/herself
- Tell the student about some of the exciting things they’re going to be learning this year
- Meet the student’s parents
- Allow them to ask a few questions about the upcoming school year
Keep this first meeting light and fun. Use this time to learn about your students and to ease any anxiety they are feeling about distance learning.
You also want to keep these meetings fairly short, since you have a whole class of students to greet. Fifteen minutes should be plenty of time for each meeting. Allow yourself 5 minutes between them just in case you have a chatty student or two. If they don’t have a chance to ask you all of their questions during the meeting, they can send you an email with the rest of them. Most parents and students will just be so grateful you’re taking the time to get to know them before the school year even starts!
If you aren’t able to schedule online meetings with your students, another option is to send them a postcard introducing yourself. This way, they will still feel like they have a connection with you before the school year begins.
Activity #2 – Help your students get to know each other.
Even though you’re doing distance learning, it’s still important to build a sense of community with your class. One way to do that is by helping your students get to know each other. Usually, you’d be doing a lot of teambuilding and small group activities in your classroom to build relationships. This year, we’re going to have to do these activities online.
During your first online meeting with your whole class, you’re going to have to spend some time going over your expectations for this type of meeting. Then, you can take some time for your students to get to know each other.
Here are some activities that will help your students learn about their classmates:
- All About Me Bag – I usually meet my students before the start of the school year and give them a bag with some treats in it. They take it home, put 3 things inside that tell about themselves, and bring it back on the first day of school. You can see what the bags look like in this post. This year, your students can get a bag at home and put 3 things inside to tell about themselves. Then, they can bring the bag to your virtual meeting and share the items inside.
- Three Truths and a Lie – Another fun way to get to know everyone in your class is the game Three Truths and a Lie. Ahead of time, have each student write 4 sentences. Three of them should be something true and one of them should be a lie. During the meeting, have the students share their sentences, and their classmates can guess which one is a lie.
- Class Slideshow – Before the meeting, create a Google slideshow with a slide for each student. Allow the students to decorate their slide with pictures of things that tell about themselves. Then, during the meeting, share your screen and allow the students to introduce themselves using their slide.
You might have to break these activities up over a few meetings. Remember, your students probably aren’t used to sitting still for long periods of time. Even when I do the bag activity in the classroom, we only share 5 bags a day so the students don’t get bored. You could have a daily meeting the first week of school where you have a few students share each day.
Activity #3 – Build community with picture books.
One of my favorite things to do the first week of school is to share picture books with my class. We use them to learn about our classroom rules and expectations. You can still do this during a virtual meeting.
This post has all of my favorite back to school picture books.
Activity #4 – Back to School Unlock the Box Mystery
My students absolutely love doing Unlock the Box Mysteries, and this back to school one is always their favorite activity from the first week of school. We do it on the first day to get to know our classroom.
Normally, the students work in groups to solve the clues. However, you can adapt it to have the students do it independently or you can do it as a class during one of your meetings.
Since your students aren’t in the classroom with you, you’ll have to take them on a virual tour of your classroom for Clue #4. I know many schools are having the teachers do distance learning from the classroom, so you may already be there. Just put the numbers around the room and walk around with your laptop showing them the different areas of the classroom. They will love seeing what it looks like, and hopefully they will really be there at some point during the school year.
Click the link to find out more about the Back to School Unlock the Box Mystery. There is a digital version that you can send to your students through Google Classroom. You can also edit the questions to fit the needs of your classroom.
Starting the Year with Distance Learning
Distance learning might not be how you envisioned starting the school year. However, using these activities to build relationships with your students and to create a sense of community will show your students that you care. Using these fun activities to kick off the first week of school will help them feel more comfortable with learning from home.
Check out these online resources that will make distance learning much easier.
What activities are you planning to do for the first week of distance learning?
Let me know in the comments below.
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