How many of us would’ve considered ourselves proficient in online teaching a year ago? Not that many I don’t imagine. I remember in September 2019 I downloaded Zoom so I could be part of a teaching podcast with a former colleague of mine. It was the first time I’d even heard of the platform. I’d taught people through Skype and even WebEx but these were normally 1-to-1 lessons. The time spent in confinement and the rise of Zoom allowing for full online classes is a whole new world. That said, life is an unpredictable and let’s be honest it’s been a very steep learning curve for all of us.
A couple of weeks back, I wrote a blog a about The Masked Classroom and the importance of harking back to some of the activities us teachers did in yesteryear, when we could move around the classroom and students could properly interact. Today’s blog is quite the opposite because I’m going to run through 17 of my favourite and most successful games to keep our Zoom Rooms as engaging as possible. Not simply an endless stream of PowerPoints and Kahoots.
Unlike our face to face classes, in an online class students have the freedom of movement, they don’t have direct interaction with their peers but they can at least take a walk without a mask on.
Games for Younger Learners
1. Show and Tell
First up is an activity which isn’t really exclusively for kids as everyone has something they’re proud of. It is, however, something that will get your younger students really excited.
Show and tell is something I did as a child but haven’t seen in school in recent years perhaps because it’s not a great idea to bring the family rabbit in for a seven-hour exam fest or maybe because the risk of taking your favourite toy into school is now deemed too big. Anyway, show and tell is a wonderful way to bring students´ home lives into the online classroom and it also promotes public speaking from a very young age. It’s also a wonderful chance for the other students in the class to get involved. I always make sure each students prepares at least one questions for their classmates. E.g. What colour is your dog? How old is your dog? What’s your dog’s favourite toy? Does your dog sleep inside or outside?
Remember the younger the children the more modeling you’ll need to do. For older students with a slightly higher level you could give the students the power and make them the teacher. That way they can have to pay close attention to their peers and assess the presentations.
2. Hide and Seek
The wonders of modern technology and the use of Wi-Fi can make for some extremely fun games. As a teacher you can hide yourself or an object somewhere in your room/house and get students to guide you around to find it. This is another way of making students feel involved and closer to the teacher. Just make sure you tidy up first. This is great for prepositions and a lexical set revolving around the house. Students can also share a little piece of themselves with their classmates.
3. Treasure Hunt
This is by far my favourite activity to do with students. It gets them up and moving and it can give you a little breather. You can go item by item or simply send out a list. In my last class I sent the list to the chat box and students had to go around their house and find four separate items. The list was:
- That has 5 letters (shoes)
- Red (A book)
- Bigger than your hand but smaller than your head (A mug)
- You can eat (An apple)
When students return, they can all show you their items and depending on time describe them. This is a great time for students (even kids) to go into breakout rooms and show their classmates what they have.
Remember to set a time limit on this activity, or students will go missing.
4. Teacher forfeit
Here is another simple way of humanizing yourself. Simply challenge your students to complete a task. If they finish it in time you have to do a forfeit. In my last class the students all completed a task within the time limit and I had to teach the rest of the class with my daughter’s sunglasses on.
5. Spot the differences
Here is something I learnt during confinement from Joe Wicks, the YouTube fitness sensation. Keep students on their toes by changing your background every class or even within the class. When you put a video on change your shirt. Just make sure you don’t forget to turn off your camera.
- Date changed sides
- Globe Lit
- Family picture
You can make all the changes within one video or make them throughout the class. I found this an exceptional way of keeping students interested and reducing PowerPoint time.
Interactive whiteboard games and chatbox
6. Draw it
This is a simple Pictionary activity you can do on the whiteboard. Use the private chat to send a couple of students a word. They then have to draw it on the whiteboard. The team that guesses fastest wins.
7. City Race
I always like to warm up with this one because it gets students thinking about something outside the classroom and beyond English. I like to ask students the capital city of a country. E.g.:
Me: “What city is this?”
Student: “I don’t know, maybe Mexico City”
Me: “What is the capital city of Rwanda?”
Me: “Wow, I didn’t expect anyone to know that one. Good Job”
*disclaimer this was not a real conversation
Next, I get my students to write a word starting with each of the first letters of said city, in this case Kigali.
You can score this however you like but I tend to give 1 point for up to 2/4 letters. 2 points for 5/6 letter and 3 points for 7+ letters because it encourages students to use comparative structures and plurals to try and squeeze in a few more points.
An example would be: Keyhole Iguana Getting Angrier Lavander In
This would be a total of 15 points. I’d then ask students to use each a classmate’s words to create a sentence.
I saw an IGUANA GETTING ANGRIER trying to put LAVANDER IN the KEYHOLE.
It’s a lovely way to start the class and raise awareness about countries outside their own.
8. Guess Who Said It
This is a very simple chatbox idea. As the teacher you ask a question to the class. “Who is your favourite singer?” Students then write their answers in the chatbox directly to you. The teacher then reads out each answer and students have to guess which of their classmates said it.
Breakout Room Ideas
I’m amazingly lucky to have such a fantastic wife for many reasons. One of which being she is a wonderful teacher and I can use her ideas whenever possible This one is very much her creation. She would put students into groups and get each one to investigate a celebrity of some variety. It is then up to the students to find out as much as they can about said celebrities and report it back to the class. This is a great way to get mixed abilities working together. The ideas below are from the music section of Pearson’s secondary course book Real World 1.
Never before have we had such a relevant tool to help with real life learning. Asking students to do presentations in the past was often an incredibly tough task. Today’s students are now acutely aware of the need to be able to communicate ideas over great distances without the face-to-face side of things being necessary.
Breakout rooms offer a huge opportunity for you to work with pairs and groups on their presentations and then set them to task sharing their ideas with the class. My last group did a presentation on their own efforts to combate on climate change. Each of the 3 groups chose something different (Saving Water, Transport, Agriculture) After using their breakout room to talk over ideas and do a number of run throughs they were each ready to present to the class. That fear of standing in front of your peers had disappeared and I saw some of the best presentations.I’ve seen in nigh on 15 years teaching. You can take these presentations to new levels.
Don’t simply set tasks. Ask them to present their favourite YouTube video (within reason). Take this chance to get students used to presenting in English in a virtual environment because it’s a unique one that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
11. Prepare Role plays
This works in the same way as the presentations do. It simply gives students proper time to prepare on a more intimate basis. In my next video project, I’m going to get my students to have a go at making a mini film with each group preparing a different scene.
These are just a couple of the ideas I’ve used and seen used in classes. I do have a separate post on the joy that is the breakout room and seven great ideas (including these) to keep it fresh and relevant.
12. Outside the Box Activities
Cooking Class/How to Make a Cup of Tea
This is an activity I used to do towards the end of the year and usually with adults. It was something to exaggerate my “Britishness” I would go through a simple step/by/step guide of how to make a cup of tea and then, we could all enjoy a nice cuppa together and have a quick chat. This is something I’ve since used in an online environment and you can even squeeze in a cooking class. After you’ve done it with the students it can then become a video project them to share their own cooking creations. Students love this because they can really show you what they’re made of and not just academically.
13. Mannequin Challenge
Whether you’re online, offline or even in a hybrid classroom the Mannequin Challenge is always a popular activity. It can be used for a wide range of grammar and vocabulary topics. First you get the students to strike a pose (Personality adjectives for example) take a screenshot (I use the snippet tool. windows key+ shift+ s) then share the screen shot with the class. Students can then guess what their classmates are trying to express. This can generate a great deal of language and can thus be used to then create the basis of a story project.
This old school favourite may not technically be outside the box but it is a great way to keep students active. Don’t limit yourself to simply doing Flashcards, TV shows, books, Songs and Films. Why not get students to imitate their favourite meme? This can then be used to create their own memes or do some form of impression of their favourite youtuber. While it may not appeal to you as a teacher, it certainly will to them as students and isn’t the aim to get them engaged?
15. Got Talent
For me the online classroom has shown me things I never could’ve seen in a face-to-face environment. When it comes to teens I have been particularly impressed with the transition. The biggest thing I’ve taken from the switch is the transformation in some of my previously shyer students. In one class it came to my attention that a particularly shy students, we’ll call him Javi, is a really good singer. He would never have sung in front of the students but because the other students turned off their cameras and he felt far more at home. From that moment he was a new student.
Using the online classroom as a platform for students to display their talents is something not to be scoffed at. Students can present anything they like here. Dance, Art, Karate and even juggling. The other students can then act as judges.
16. Lip Sync battle
Here is something for higher level classes. Rather than actually singing, because a lot of students aren’t great fans of singing in public, what I like to do is pit two students against each other and let them lip sync to a song. The one who does it best is the winner. The great thing about this is students can pick the song and they are forced to really learn the lyrics. It’s a great laugh and a hilarious way to bring a class to an exciting climax.
17. Finger to the Nose
I’ll leave you with an idea developed from my university days. When you’re struggling to find a volunteer or in the class, simply put your finger on your nose soon other students will follow suit and the last to do the same is your volunteer. It’s a great way of keeping your students on their toes and paying attention to their classmates.
That’s about all for today. I hope you can take an idea or two from here and use it to spice up your online classroom a little bit. Thanks for reading and stay safe.
All materials taken from: