New Teacher Toolbox: Using Interactive Classroom Warm Ups to Connect with Your Students both Remotely and In-Person

2020 feels like it’s been a long decade. It’s hard for me to believe that I’m bearing down on my year anniversary of being a remote teacher. This fall, my district created a hybrid schedule for middle schoolers, meaning that while I was a remote teacher, a quarter of my students were sitting in the classroom as I was streamed into their devices. I am thankful for the opportunity to be remote during a time where so many teachers had to make difficult choices this school year. 

Just before Thanksgiving break, in acknowledgement of the increase in community spread of Covid-19, our district changed all middle school students to 100% remote status. Suddenly, all students, both hybrid and 100% remote, were on a level playing field in terms of their ability to feel included in classroom discussions and class Zooms. While this was easier for me in some aspects of remote teaching, I did have to adjust my approach to including all students in conversations.

Some students, now that they were Zooming from home, were shy about turning on their cameras for class. Whereas they were required to have their cameras on during the hybrid schedule, they now could hide out, turning off video and microphones for the entirety of my 90-minute classes. To add to this complex new reality, our community lacks equitable access to the internet. We live near a large metropolitan area and yet, due mainly to geography and the internet companies’ lack of interest in improving infrastructure in our area, we have incredibly poor internet service. So in many cases, students have to turn off their cameras to make sure that their siblings and parents, working and learning from home, have adequate bandwidth. 

One of my main concerns during this time was that I wouldn’t make sure to call in those students whose faces I couldn’t see. I was finding that during my 20-30 minute warm ups, I would never hear from certain students. Worse, I found it easy for me to ignore them because they left their video and audio off. 

Pick a strategy below to consistently give students opportunities to engage remotely.

Inspired by my love of introverts and my interest in teaching inclusively, I started to dig for ideas to make sure to give all kids the opportunity to share their voices in my class. 

  • Create (or buy a set on TPT) a set of school appropriate “Would you rather…” questions. Share the question with the whole class, then send them to breakout rooms of 3-4 students. Give them two minutes to discuss and then bring them back. Share another “Would you rather…” then recreate the breakout room so that students have a chance to interact with different students. 
  • Use your Learning Management System (LMS) to post a more in-depth discussion question. Give students a chance to reply to the discussion question independently, then send students to breakout rooms. Questions can be based on student interests, on a book or experience you had as a class, or a current event.
  • Mad Libs! I’m obsessed with Mad Libs. If you have equity sticks-colorful craft sticks with your students’ names on them, you can randomly call on students to give you a noun, verb, or adverb and make a ridiculous story. I generally make a rule that kids can’t use each others’ names, so as to avoid any subtle micro-aggressions, but teachers are fair game! This also serves as a good review of parts of speech. 
  • Trivia challenge. A student actually initiated this activity in one of my classes. The student had a deck of mixed trivia cards for elementary-aged students. In my middle school classroom, these facts are below grade level and are therefore a little less intimidating for students to take the risk to answer. You can read the trivia question, and then put students into groups of 3-4 into a breakout room to agree on an answer.

What does this warm up schedule look like in my classroom?

  1. Let students into the Zoom. Give about a five-minute buffer to give your kiddos time to make it to class, then take attendance.
  2. Share the question, prompt, or activity. 
  3. Send kiddos to the breakout room for 2 minutes. Then, close the breakout room and let 2-3 students share their answers. 
  4. Give students a new prompt and repeat steps 2-3. 
  5. Give a new curriculum-related prompt to transition to the main part of your lesson. This can include a short reading, a video, or a curriculum-related discussion question. 
  6. Send students to breakout rooms to discuss or to complete the activity. This can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. 
  7. Bring them back to the main room, reflect on the curriculum warm-up, then move forward with the lesson. 

There are so many great ideas out there for breakout room activities! Try Edutopia, check out some Teachers Pay Teachers stores, or just try Google Search for more ideas.

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