Our students who are not in school, and even those who are not, are struggling in this pandemic. Providing a few minutes of connection before class starts can help your students be more engaged with the lesson plan after. By the way, if you are a parent, you can play these games at home, too.
As Kim O’Brien PhD and I were writing the book, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk, we interviewed teachers and school counselors and this sparked a number of ideas you can use in a virtual classroom to promote engagement. Connection and a sense of belonging help improve mood and it’s also a good foundation for the prevention of suicide. And right now, that’s the greatest gift you can offer your students. They are craving it and you have the crowd.
Name two trusted adults
Given how stressful the pandemic has been on the mental wellness of our young people, an important exercise is to ask students to identify two trusted adults they would talk to or confide in when things get tough—one trusted adult in the school and one trusted adult outside the school. Who would they turn to in a crisis? Who would they talk to or call? How would they cope? They don’t have to share this with the class. The next step in this short exercise could be to have them think of how the conversation might go and to picture themselves speaking to this person about a sensitive matter.
When someone thinks about how they’d manage a crisis when in rational thought, it’s likely that person will rely on that strategy when there really is one. By having students picture it in their heads, it bakes in a behavior modification that can kick in when they need it the most.
Then ask your students what they might identify as a crisis, or if they’ve ever faced one. This offers you a window into what they consider stressful and can help teachers identify which students might be more vulnerable. If you have concerns, make sure you connect with your school counselor to share those.
At the start of this exercise, it’s a good idea to make students aware of crisis lines like the crisis text line, 741-741 and who to talk to in school if they need to talk. Additional crisis lines at the end of this article.
Who am I?
A favorite student game is one in which you ask students to present two unknown facts about themselves—one that is false and the other true and have the class try and figure out which one is the real fact.
If you have a large class, you go down the roll and pick the 5-10 students on Monday and then each day until all of them have had a turn. This allows each student to have a moment to share something interesting which builds connection and shows that there is always more below the surface that they see. At the same time, it helps students become more accustomed to speaking in “public.”
What I’m good at
A simple class icebreaker is to have students share one skill they are good at with the whole class with each child getting a turn. Offer examples and say this skill could be anything from being good at making sandwiches to having great handwriting, having strong fine motor skills with video games, or coordinating events for a church. “Hi my name is Latisha and I am good at doodling.” This activity encourages kids to start thinking of their good qualities.
By listening to others, they also have moments where they think, “I’m good at that, too.” They can start to form a picture of the future and understand that they do have skills. If you are in a physical classroom, you can pin these to a bulletin board or taping to a whiteboard and leaving it in the class. This allows students to learn more about their classmates and discover common interests.
Wheel of Interests
Use this online wheel to put items like “favorite song,” “favorite movie,” “bingworthy series,” “Pet?” and any number of two word activators. Then you spin the wheel for each student in class and they give you the answer to what the wheel lands on.
This one might take more time and you can just take it or allow a certain number of students to go one day and then another group the next day.
The following are a list of questions from which you can choose to kick off your class.
Ask each student to:
Say one thing positive about themselves.
Name one coping strategy that has helped them through the pandemic.
Name the biggest hurdle or problem they have ever overcome.
Tell the class, “Things that make me laugh include…..“
Tell the class, “If I won the lottery I would…..“
Rate their mood on a scale of 1-5, 1 being crummy to 5 feeling fantastic. What number would describe your mood today?
Name their favorite movie.
Tell students kind of music is their favorite
Tell one stupid or corny song they are embarrassed that they like
Do you have any ideas? Share them in the comments if you do.
USA Crisis Text 741-741
US Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth 1-866-488-7386
US Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline 1-833-456-4566
United Kingdom Samaritans 116 123
Australia Crisis Line 13 11 14
Canada Crisis Line 1-833-456-4566
Canada TransLifeline 877-330-6366
International suicide hotlines