Do you want to laugh your head off while teaching? Do you want engaged students who aren’t going on their phones? Let’s all have fun with this!
For my fellow teachers, here are 20 ideas to help you and your students laugh and learn together on Zoom or Google Classroom. As a novelist, I now teach creative writing, but I’ve taught EFL and ELA, and I think some of these ideas can be adapted to other subjects as well.
I’ve found Zoom/Google Classroom can be a very effective way to teach, but it helps to use the student’s environment. Also, just like in person, it’s important to form a heart connection and show them you care, to teach in a multi-sensory way and always try to make it fun. Don’t be afraid to be goofy, to wear costumes or use props and find ways to surprise your students. They’ll love it, especially in this medium. If you’re a teacher, I’m sure you’ve already done some of the following ideas, but I hope I can offer a couple new ones to your list.
- Spy Stories: Kids love racing around their homes, gathering observations. For my younger students, I get them to make a book: cut papers into 4, staple them and call it a Spy book like in Harriet the Spy. They have five minutes to run around their house and record overheard conversations/report strange things about their homes (this closet has a ghost, that light switch buzzes) or observations (my brother left his underwear in the bathroom, my sister said _____) For older teens, I call it an observation book.
- Photo Stories: Students grab a photo or a piece of art, show it to the class a write about it. Also, you can show them a photo of you as a kid and get them to imagine what’s happening and then you tell them the true story. Or you can walk around your house and use art on your walls…anything personal will hold their interest. Important note — don’t screen share because they’ll tune out. Much better to hold the photo.
3. Movie Clip Dialog: Screen sharing works well for movie/TV scenes, but don’t make the clips too long, or students will tune out. Get them to take down notes. If you’re working on dialog, for instance, get them to write down lines they like. Or stop the clip at an unexpected moment and now they finish the dialog.
4. Board Games: Play Bingo, Scattergories, and Pictionary, or imaginative games online that use words/storytelling like the online version of Dungeons & Dragons.
5. Dialogs: Do this in pairs or with bigger groups, separate them into breakout rooms. They can work on dialogs, but add in a challenge. Examples of challenges: they must include the color orange or an elephant lamp, they each have a secret goal which you give them and their job is to get the other character to agree to that goal, or an omission dialog – they discuss a situation at the swimming pool but they can’t use the words water, swim or pool.
6. TikTok Writing: Play a game with words/expressions/jokes in which they race to find a TikTok …or get them to make a TikTok with a partner … or get them to write a story about characters in a TikTok.
7. Quiplash: Super fun possibly gross game – everyone plays it on their devices and writes down creative ideas/sentences that other players can vote on, and you can see each other react on the Zoom. This is good for 4 or more.
8. Object Dialog — Write a dialog with a partner, each of them holding a strange object in their house, which they discuss, or they can use their imagination to transform it (maybe it becomes magic or a strange invention).
9. Invention Writing: Hold up three objects which they need to combine into an invention (a coat hanger, a skateboard and a perfume dispenser for instance) and then they use that invention in a story. The character can also be tasked with selling their invention if kids need a little more of a prompt. It can be really great for bringing out a funny voice in a character. Also, students love to hear what each other invented with the same objects.
10. My Favorite Place: Students do a presentation in a favorite part of their house or outdoor park or in front of a favorite restaurant and talk about why they like it, why it’s special to them. For writing, this can be a creative nonfiction piece or a poem which they read aloud.
11. Words with Friends: Students download it on their phones and have a constant ongoing scrabble game.
12. Zoom Chat Story: Write in the chat of the Zoom, one line each student. If it’s a big class, do breakout rooms. Be aware that it can get gross or inappropriate, so set up rules in advance.
13. Food Time: They grab one leftover/weird food/old can of food and use it in a story. They could even write from the point of view of this food. After, they read aloud their work to a partner. Lively discussion!
14. Weird Objects: Students race to get three weird objects. Then they come back and write about the things they found, maybe the story of one of them or work them into their fiction story. They can also give the object to their Zoom neighbor to create a story. Fun to read these aloud and show the objects.
15. Zoom Soap Opera: Put students in groups of three or four. Very dramatic. Costumes. They perform it after writing down the script. Make them short. So much fun. (Look on Jimmy Fallon, there’s a good example of this.)
16. Quarantine Rap: My students loved this. Get them to rap a song about being stuck at home – play rap music, teach them about rhyming, encourage them to be goofy.
17. Music Speed Writing: You play different kinds of instrumental music for three minutes and get them to write about a topic as fast as they can, (African drumming and what makes them happy) now three minutes of a different topic and change the music, (Star Wars music and something annoying their family member does) and keep switching (Bach and the contents of their fridge). The goal is to write more words each time and try to write the voice or mood of the music.
18. Writing about Strangers: Okay, this may be a creepy idea, but it’s soooo fun and great for quarantine times. Take a video of people on the street, in their car, in their homes. You can even do it in the moment on the Zoom if your connection allows. Get your students to write a story/dialog/poem about them or their homes. You can also get students to run to their own windows/doors and take a photo of someone on their street. A poet who has great observation poems is Ted Kooser — check out “Tattoo” or “Skater” for examples.
19. Animal Story: Write a true or fictional story about their pets or neighborhood animal. Get them to show their animal to the class.
20. Treasure Hunt Writing: On little pieces of paper, they write key words. Don’t tell them they’re writing a story until the end. They fold up the papers and then they write a story by unfolding each one and writing until that word/expression makes it in the story. Examples of treasure hunt words: a word from another student in the chat, a disgusting smell, an expression, a strange object, a description of the last photo on their phone, a food in their fridge, a creepy thing in their house, a weird animal, a noise they can hear right now, a detailed color (like tiger orange). This activity is particular useful for those kids who say they don’t know what to write. You can also make this a race experiment. One minute, write as fast as you can, using each word. My students love races. It keeps them from second guessing themselves, and the writing flows.
I hope these ideas help or serve as springboards for your own takes. Have fun Zooming everyone! Happy writing!