The strange start to the 2020-2021 school year is here.
How are you doing?!
I am trying to just take one day at a time (sometimes one hour at a time) and give myself — and others — lots of grace.
But I’m also trying to rely on what I know to be the best things to do with my kids, right from the beginning.
So here’s what I’m planning first: activities I will do to get to know my students. Even though these kinds of activities take an investment of time upfront, they support every single thing I will do and teach throughout the year.
*I always greet my students at the door in the morning as they enter the classroom. I can’t do that physically, but as students log in to Google Meet, I will call them by name and greet them with “good morning,” “I’m glad to see you,” etc. I want my students to feel “seen” by me every morning and this is the best I can do right now.
*I will continue to have a brief morning meeting every day. This is always a time when we gather together (over Google Meet), review our schedule for the day, share news about what is going on with each other, and sometimes do some other game or activity.
*Check-in with students frequently. I love using tools like Padlet, Google forms, or posting a question in Google Classroom. Padlet and questions in Google Classroom allow students to see each others’ responses while Google forms allow my students to give me information in a more private way. If I haven’t heard from or seen a student one day, I will reach out to them with an email or a phone call.
*Use frequent “temperature checks” during lessons. This can come in the form of thumbs up/thumbs down, putting emojis in the chat, making comments in the chat, using Pear Deck interactive slides, or (my new thing to learn) using tools like Poll Everywhere in Google slides. (I’ll let you know how I’m using it, once I figure it out!)
*I use read-aloud time as another way to connect with students and help them to connect with each other. While doing read alouds over a screen are not the same as reading aloud in person, I am determined to keep that important part of our classroom routine in the virtual setting.
Those are some basic things I will do every single day. Now here’s what I’ll do in the first days.
*One of the first assignments I will give is to send a Padlet wall to my students with directions for how to add their info. In addition to their name, I’ll have them include a selfie (or a gif or meme if they prefer that) along with five facts about themselves (since they’re now in fifth grade). I’ll include a Padlet entry about myself as a model. I love Padlet and use it a lot because it gives kids a chance to interact with each other and see each other’s entries.
*One of my favorite bloggers is Mary from Teaching With a Mountain View. She has some great icebreaker activities on this post. I’ve used her first suggestion for the “Hello, My Name Is . . .” as a first day name game and it’s a lot of fun.
*I will share my almost-famous 58 Random Facts About Mrs. Smith Google slides presentation. (58 = my age. You could use any number you like!) These random facts include facts about my family (my husband is in one fact, my kids in another, my dog in a third), what I like (Doritos on one slide, blue hydrangeas on another, reading on another, etc.), what I am afraid of (heights, snakes, sharks). You get the idea. These don’t have to be big things, but they do let your students see you as a “regular” person, just like them, and allow them to start finding things that they have in common with you. (By the way — I don’t share all those facts on one day. I break it up throughout the week so no one gets too sick of hearing about me!)
*I will ask students to share information about themselves. I usually do an activity where I send home a brown paper lunch bag and ask kids to add things that can fit inside the bag. These items should represent them and their interests in some way. Then they bring the bag to school and we share a few of these every day. I’m going to do the same thing this year, but not limit it to what fits in a bag. I’ll ask them to share whatever they can show through their screen. I’ve found this is another great activity for helping kids to find common interests with each other.
*After kids have shared their brown bags in class, I have table groups create a list of things that they noticed that many kids have in common in our class. We make a giant list on the board, with each table sharing one idea until all ideas have been shared. We then vote and choose six or seven (usually based on the number of tables in my class) common interests. Then each table chooses one of those interests to illustrate on a 12″ x 18″ piece of paper with the words “We Like ______” in the center of the paper. They can decorate the poster however they want (a great cooperative group activity). Then, each student grabs a marker and rotates from table to table, signing each poster that represents one of their interests. (Rarely do I have students sign every single poster.) I sign the posters as well. We then display these posters in our classroom, if there is room to do so.
We can’t do that this year. So – here is my work-around. I’m going to randomly assign kids to small groups and let them know what time to meet with me on Google Meet. I will let them create a list. After all the small groups have created lists, we’ll meet together and narrow the list down. Then I will create a Google slides template with each of the interests, share with the students, and ask them to write their name (with some kind of colorful font) on each slide that represents them. We can’t use these as decorations, but the opportunity to meet together, discuss, narrow down, and then sign slides will still be a valuable part of the process.
*Another great activity for getting to know my students is to have them write a bio-poem about themselves. I write one first, to give them a model. Then I ask them to write and share a bio-poem about themselves.
Here is the template I use:
3 adjectives that describe you
Daughter/son of . . . and sibling of . . .
Who loves . . .
Who feels . . .
Who needs. . .
Who fears. . .
Who would like to see . . . (something you wish to see happen in the world)
*One of my favorite beginning of the year activities is to read a favorite book that involves a character’s name. Some of my favorites are: Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi, or My Name is Sangoel by Karen Williams. I then ask my students to ask their families for the story of how their name was chosen and to find the meaning of their name if they are able to do that. We share these stories and they are always wonderful.
*Another activity to do with students’ names is to have students create an acrostic with the letters of their first name. (Again, you might want to make one of your own as an example first.) They write each letter vertically, then write a word or phrase that starts with each letter. I ask them to think of a word or phrase that describes them.
*Stephanie from Teaching in Room 6 has this great suggestion for getting in some math while also learning about your students AND sharing the book A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman.
*I love reading Peter Reynolds’ book Ish. After talking about the power of words, we talk about growth mindset. One of my favorite Teachers Pay Teachers resources is Angela Watson’s Growth Mindset unit and interactive journal. Another resource I like to use for this is Create-Abilities’ Famous Failures packet. After reading Ish and learning about growth mindset, I have my students create their own growth mindset poster with their favorite empowering phrase. In the past, we kept these posters in the front of their binders, but this year I will ask them to keep the posters in their home workspace.
*Peter Reynolds’ book Say Something is another great book for getting discussions started. I usually use this activity once students are more comfortable with me and with each other. We use the book to talk about changes we would like to see in the world. We then share our ideas on a Padlet wall with the prompt: If you could help change the world, what would you say?
*Yet another option is to have students create a self-portrait with paper only! This is a fun art project that can be done with any kind of paper that is available. It’s fun to see kids get creative when they’re not allowed to use anything except paper to represent their hair, their eye color, etc. With distance learning, I may not use this activity if paper at home is an issue for any of my students. Use your best judgment on this one.
*After a few days together, I ask my students to write a letter to me and tell me more about themselves. By this time, they will have heard all or most of my random facts. We would have spent a fair amount of time together reading picture books, doing some content instruction, maybe even playing games. Once they know me a little better and are beginning to trust me, I ask them to write me a letter (or type in Google docs) and tell me more about themselves, what they want to work on this year, what they are good at and not so good at, etc.
*Asking parents for information about their child is also helpful. I use a Google form for this so that parents can respond quickly and easily. Here are the questions I use:
What does your child like most about school and learning?
Is there anything about your child’s learning style that you would like us to know or that would help us encourage their best learning?
What are your child’s strengths? What are they good at or enjoy doing? (It does not have to be anything in relation to school)
Is there anything your child is really scared of?
As a parent/guardian, what are you most concerned about this year? (Reading, math, friends, new school . . . anything you think we should know)
Any additional comments?
A new question for this year:
What went well with distance learning in the spring? What didn’t go well?
*Playing some games together (at least one time a week), is a great way to get to know your students and to help them interact with each other in a virtual format. Here is a link to my post with some great ideas for games.
Here are some other ideas from friends in Facebook teacher groups! (If you created the game, please let me know so I can include your name here and credit you as the source!)
~Would You Rather?
~Riddle Scavenger Hunt
I haven’t used it yet, but this Get to Know You Bingo looks fun! And this digital Would You Rather? game from Techy Mrs. O on Teachers Pay Teachers looks fun too.
*We will spend the first three weeks doing as much practice as possible with digital tools. We want our kids to get really efficient with navigating Google Classroom and with using other tools, such as Padlet, Google docs, Flipgrid, and Google slide presentations.
*Bitmoji classroom backgrounds are quite popular right now. Instead of making my own, I’m going to ask my students to help me design what they would like to see in the virtual classroom. That will help make it “ours” from the start. I’ll do this by asking them to share what they would like to see in the background and maybe showing them some examples of other virtual backgrounds. The Facebook groups “Teaching with NEONS” and “Bitmoji Craze for Educators” are great resources.
*Tools like Padlet and Flipgrid are great for getting student voices (and images) into the virtual classroom. While Google Meet and Zoom meetings are great for gathering everyone together, they do not allow for everyone to share in the same ways as they would do in the classroom. Padlet gives everyone a chance to share their own thoughts while seeing others’ ideas as well. And Flipgrid is a fun way to share brief videos instead of writing their thinking.
*Using prompts on Padlet or as part of your morning meetings can get kids talking and sharing.
Here’s a list of prompts:
~share one brag (good thing) and one drag (not-so-good thing) from your weekend
~share one thing or person you appreciate in our class
~tell one thing you heard someone else say that was helpful to you
~share one of the 3 A’s at the end of the class day (an appreciation, an apology to someone, or an a-ha moment when you learned or discovered something new)
~tell me something good (anything positive)
~share an emoji that shows how you’re feeling right now
~share a gif (on Padlet) that represents you
*Use music! Ask your students for their favorite clean lyric song titles or use songs from playlists created by Miss Bensko on Spotify. Playing a song when they log into Zoom or Google Meet or at a transition time is fun way to incorporate music they like and make the online classroom environment more inviting.
*Plan your read-alouds for the first week. Here is a link to some great picture book read-alouds and a link to some great chapter book read-alouds. You can read aloud when you are meeting with your students live and then have discussions about the book. You can also videotape yourself reading aloud and leave the links in your online learning platform so kids can listen whenever they want.
*Here are some links to some of my previous posts about back to school activities:
~10 of the Best Beginning to School Activities
~10 More Beginning of Year Activities
~Engaging Activities for the First Two Weeks of School
*It’s still important to discuss routines and procedures with your students.
My course “Calm the Overwhelm of Back to School Planning” gives detailed directions for thinking through routines and procedures, for both virtual and in-person learning. Here’s the link.
My next course will be called “Get Started Teaching – First Things First” and it gives lots more details for starting the year off right, managing your time, getting organized, building relationships with your students, and making sure you keep self-care #1. I’ll let you know when it launches!
I hope some of these ideas will be helpful for you. I’d love to hear how your year is going! Comment below or send me an email. We can do this, friends!
The post Remote Learning Resources for the First Weeks of School appeared first on Still Teaching, Still Learning.