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How to Get to Know Your Students in a Virtual Setting

The first days and weeks of school are usually spent building classroom community and getting to know our students, but what happens when you’re teaching remotely? How can you get to know your students in a virtual setting? Here’s your chance to grab some engaging community-building activities to use during distance teaching!

Photo of computer and office supplies with text, "Get to Know Your Students in a Virtual Setting"

If you’re not back in the classroom this fall, you are going to be faced with challenges. The most effective teachers know that building relationships with their students needs to happen before great teaching can occur, but if you aren’t together in a shared space, that creates a problem.

Focus on Community and Safety First

Teachers everywhere are going to feel the pressure to cover the curriculum content right away. With schools closed for weeks last year, there’s certainly been a decline in students’ skills, and we’re all going to want to bridge that gap as quickly as possible.
I caution you about jumping into that too quickly.
If you’re teaching remotely, you’re going to actually need to spend MORE time on community-building activities than you would in a face-to-face context. That doesn’t mean that you won’t start teaching, but be sure to spend some extra time talking with your students.
You will also want to start small when sharing your expectations around the virtual setting you’re using. Let your students do what they need to feel comfortable and build up to full participation. Turning off the camera during a video conference, for example, may allow some students to feel less anxious about participating.

Communicate Often

Getting to know your students will be easier if you’re communicating with them often. Sending personal messages or emails and talking about who they are and what they enjoy will help you find things you can connect over.
  • Do you like the same sports team?
  • Do you share a favorite food?
  • Have you visited the same restaurant or vacation destination in the past?
  • Do you have the same kind of pets?
I send home a Getting To Know Your Child form to my students’ families every year. I’ve updated it to include a digital version for use with a remote start to the school year. You can grab a FREE copy of this right here:
Free "Getting to Know Your Child" Parent Form

Community-Building Activities:

Play Games

Spend some time just having fun in your virtual classroom setting. Some simple suggestions include:
  • Have a scavenger hunt.
  • Tell silly jokes.
  • Host a Virtual Spirit Week (Hat Day, Pajama Day, Sports Team Day, color days, Superhero Day, Stuffed Animal Day, Inside Out Day…).
  • Play 20-Questions about something in the room.
Think about the icebreaker games that you already play in your classroom. Is there an easy way to adapt these to the screen?

Getting-To-Know-You Activities

Activities that have students share their opinions or tell something about themselves is an excellent way for them to connect with other children they have something in common with.
Playing “Would You Rather” games is a fun way to do this. I’ve created this free template that you can use in a collaborative approach to spend time getting to know each other:
I have also updated my first day of school icebreaker activity with a digital collaborative component that is SO MUCH FUN!! Grab that here:

See how the collaborative features work in this quick video:

Another option would be to host Show-and-Tell sessions where students bring a favorite something and talk about it. Any opportunity to share is going to strengthen the classroom community.While you may not want to allow private chats between students during your online conference, you should consider giving students a way to respond to one another.

Listening Exercises

As important as it is for the children in your class to share, it is equally important for them to listen.
An awesome idea for a follow-up to some of the sharing exercises mentioned above would be to have a collaborative Google slides setting where students can share a reflection or reaction to something a classmate shared.

Showing that they’re really listening to their classmates goes a long way toward building trust and friendship.

Just keep in mind that you’ll need to introduce this idea in advance of the sharing activities so that your students understand what you’re asking them to do and are prepared to share their thoughts.

Teacher Connections

While connecting as a class is vital to a thriving community, connecting with you as a teacher, and feeling comfortable communicating with you privately will also be critical for building relationships.
I’ve converted both my mental health check-in and my “I wish my teacher knew…” freebies to include a digital format. Grab them both FREE here:

Building your classroom community in a virtual setting will be a challenge, but being the fabulous, caring teacher that you are, you WILL make it work!

You’ve got this!!

Be sure to drop a comment below to let me know what other classroom community-building ideas you have!

I have many more digital resources available for distance learning in my Teachers Pay Teachers store!

You might also be interested in the ideas I’ve shared in this blog post:

You will find other great resources on this Pinterest board:

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