It’s that time of year again where we welcome our students to a new school year! Whether it’s elementary, high school, or higher education, it is important that we not only get to know our students but that they get to know each other in order to build relationships and a sense of community in the classroom. This is usually done through games, icebreakers, and interest inventories. How about using technology to get to know your students? Here are 10 tools you can use to build a positive classroom climate and relationships using technology:
- Flipgrid: have students record a response to any number of prompts (e.g., favourite book/summer memory/TV show/movie/band etc, “If a movie was to be made about your life, who would play you and why?”, “Which 3 famous people would you invite to dinner and why?”, “What is your dream job?”, “If you could guest star on any one TV show, which one would it be and why?”, “Who do you admire?”, etc). How about having students interview each other and they respond to questions posed by their classmates? I’d even recommend having administration and support staff (ESL teacher, Special Education teacher, office staff, custodian, lunchroom supervisors, etc) record a response for your students because it’s important for them to get to know the adults in the building, and not just their teachers. In order to feel like a school community, it is vital that students build relationships with the entire school staff. (https://flipgrid.com/)
- Canva: have students create an All About Me graphic in the form of a poster, flyer, brochure, or bookmark; the possibilities are endless! Or better yet, pair up students, have them interview each other and they create a graphic all about their partner! Depending on their age, you can get them to select that number and generate a list they can use to create their graphic – for example, if they are 13 years old, they have to come up with 13 things they would like to share about themselves. (https://www.canva.com/)
- Instagram: this is a great tool for high school and higher education students. After you get to know your students and they get to know each other, post a picture (or a collage) that represents each of the students and have them guess the classmate. It’s even great in terms of getting familiar with your surroundings. Take pictures around the school/campus and have students go searching! You can also design it in the form of a scavenger hunt where you create riddles for students to answer in order to find the spot in the photo! This is especially great for students who are new to the school. (https://www.instagram.com/?hl=en)
Goosechase: Speaking of scavenger hunts, Goosechase is a fun tool to use to create your own scavenger hunts! Place your class in teams of 3-4 and have them go hunting for places and people around the school or campus; students post a picture of themselves completing the challenge and gain points – of course, whichever team has the greatest number of points at the end, wins!
Kahoot! – students of all ages love this game-based platform! I have even used it with teachers when delivering PD during staff meetings and workshops and they love it too! You can use this tool in several ways: (a) students respond to questions about themselves and get to see the responses from other students in terms of commonalities and differences, (b) provide questions that can help you with planning the year (e.g., “What do you think we need to add to the classroom?”, “How do you like to learn?”, “What questions do you have about this upcoming school year?”, “Are there any extra-curricular activities/clubs you would like to see added this year?” and (c) create a class quiz; in other words once students get to know each other, come up with one question/answer for each student and see if the rest of the class can guess to whom you are referring. The student who scores the highest can even get a small prize! (https://kahoot.com/)
- Google Forms – generate a list of questions to use as an Interest Inventory for students to answer (e.g., “What kinds of books do you like to read?”, “If you were an Olympic athlete, what sport would you compete in?, “What country would you like to travel to?”, “Would you rather watch TV or listen to music?”, “I wish my teacher knew….”); depending on the questions, the features of this tool will allow students to see similarities and differences amongst each other. You can also use the their answers to target learning to their interests and curiosities.
- Twitter: Twitter is another great tool for communication, collaboration and learning. Students have to be 13 to create their own account so those in middle and high school as well as college/university can create their own academic account. You can post a series of icebreaker questions for students to answer so that a thread is created where they can see the responses from their classmates. Better yet, create a series of poll questions for students to answer. For younger students, you can ask questions such as, “If you could follow 10 people, who would you choose? Why?”, “What would your bio say?”, “What would you add as your header? Your profile photo? Why?”. There are also many ways you can use Twitter for learning; here is a link to my blog posts about Twitter in the classroom (https://techdiva29.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/social-media-in-the-classroom/ and https://techdiva29.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/twitter-in-the-classroom/)
- Mentimeter: this tool is similar to Padlet in that you can pose questions for students to answer and you get to select the format in which the responses appear (e.g., word cloud, graph, open ended, etc). I like to use the word cloud format because the more popular an answer is the bigger that word appears in the word cloud. You could ask a question such as, “What is the most important factor to ensure success in the classroom?” or “I wish my teacher knew…..”. If you use the word cloud option, the most consistent answer will appear the largest, thus telling you what students think is important for learning. (each question you generate will have its own individual code that students will use in order to respond). Of course, you can generate some fun questions as well to get to know students.
- Tiki-Toki: this is a cool tool for students to use to create a timeline of important dates in their life; students can post visuals and links to enhance their timeline! It’s also a great tool to use for history, science, and geography! (https://www.tiki-toki.com/)
- Infographics: infographics are great because they represent information in a visual manner. Students can use any number of tools to create an infographic about themselves (e.g., piktochart https://piktochart.com/, Venngage,https://venngage.com/, Snappa, https://snappa.com/, and canva, https://www.canva.com/). You can give a list of questions for students to use in their infographic or you can allow for some freedom and have them create their own based on what they think it important for their classmates to know about them. As mentioned before, you can have students interview each other so they are creating an infographic about a classmate instead of themselves.
- GIFs: I love GIFs! They are fun and engaging and I love to use them when I am interacting with my followers on Twitter or just texting with friends! Generate a list of questions for students (e.g., “What do you like to do for fun?”, “How do you feel about broccoli?”, “What is a hidden talent you have?”, “How would you spend a rainy day?”, etc). Have them find and/or post a GIF that represents their answers or feelings towards the question; this can get pretty funny and is a light hearted way to get to know students. (https://giphy.com/). For example, my answer to “How do you feel about broccoli?”, is….
Whichever tool(s) you decide to use, be sure to remind students about responding appropriately – these are supposed to be fun and engaging tools for students to get to know each other (and for you to get to know your students) so being respectful and considerate is essential to ensure a sense of belonging. Equally important is to ensure that you continue to get to know your students throughout the year through games, challenges, and icebreakers. Usually we spend the month of September building community and climate and then move onto the curriculum, but it should not stop there – continuing to get to know our students is vital to sustain community in the classroom, so be sure to integrate these types of activities throughout the year. After all, as we grow, we change and it is imperative that we are aware of these changes as the year progresses. Students will be willing to learn and take risks when they know their teacher cares about them and knows them as individuals. Have fun and have a fabulous year ahead!