One of my greatest frustrations this year has been the difficulty associated with cooperative learning in a social distanced classroom. I love when my students get to interact with each other during class, decipher new texts, work on projects together, and challenge one another. Of course, with all the restrictions in a “COVID” classroom, that interaction has been substantially more difficult to foster. Still, it’s clear that students crave this interaction more than ever. Therefore, I decided to brainstorm 10 different lesson ideas that allow for cooperative learning, even in a socially distanced classroom.
Here are 10 of my favorites:
Depending on the age you teach, you may find that some of these lesson ideas will work better in a middle school environment and some will be more effective at the high school level. No matter what you teach, I encourage you to think about how you can tailor these lessons to best fit your students’ needs and abilities.
1. Classroom Debates
It’s important for your students to have a solid foundation of all things debate before beginning. Most students at the middle school age have no idea that listening skills are way more important than public speaking skills when it comes to a debate. With my middle school debates, I create a structure that facilitates speaking AND listening. Check out my previous blog on how to set up a socratic seminar in your classroom, what your role as the teacher is, as well as how to assess students’ understanding of the topic. As long as you can bring your students “into” the classroom in some way – through Google Meets or Zoom – you can still have them participate in a class debate together.
I also recommend having your students practice playing some of these evidence-based argumentation games to practice their socratic skills. One of my favorites is Jenga. You can always use this digital spinner instead of touching Jenga blocks, or just hand out points to keep score.
2. The Urban Game
Your students will have so much fun with this game in the classroom, as well as students who are virtual, as long as they have a paper and a pencil! This is an awesome game to practice what it means to have critical listening skills. If you’re unfamiliar with the Urban Game, your students draw on paper everything that is taking place as you read a specific story aloud. You can find a variety of versions of the Urban Game aligned with different subjects on the internet, or you can snag my version that focuses specifically on the infamous Five Points Neighborhood in NYC!
3. Mystery Doc
You can totally make this game competitive by putting students into small groups (Google Breakout rooms or Zoom breakouts) or having the class work together and earn “points” as a whole. Present a mystery document to students through a digital whiteboard. The students will work together to figure out who wrote the documents. You could set up the game so that each group earns points for getting their document correct, or the whole class can earn a reward as a whole. Using a virtual whiteboard will allow you to display multiple documents to your students at one time, and gives them the ability to annotate or highlight text.
I have a great post that gives you a few suggestions on virtual whiteboards to use, as well as the features of each. You can also stick with Google Slides and put a document on each slide, then display in slide sorter view on your screen to watch the students take notes on their document as they go.
4. Role Plays
I always have certain students who are very reserved and would rather sit in the back of the classroom than share their opinion vocally on a topic. Then once they know they’re in “character,” they immediately get a sense of confidence that makes them soar. While students have to keep their distance, you can always keep them in their seats and conduct a table read. They’re sure to still be laughing and interacting.
If you’re searching for some ideas for role plays, you can snag my Marbury v. Madison skit, the Women’s Rights Movement, and the Scopes Monkey Trial. I’ve created them specifically with middle schoolers in mind!
5. Silent Conversation/Gallery Walks
During a time of hybrid and virtual learning, it’s a perfect opportunity for students to practice all forms of communication. Students can engage in silent conversations by walking around the classroom and responding to different questions and ideas on paper. To incorporate all students, including virtual, you can post questions and pictures on Google Slides or Google Jamboard. Have the students go through each slide and respond to each others’ comments. Encourage the students to create genuine conversation instead of the typical, “I agree” and “Well said!” You can check out my blog post here to learn more about silent conversations, how I prep for them, as well as ways they can be varied to work best for your students. I recently had my AP students participate in a Jamboard conversation, and the results were amazing. Students were silent in the class, but they were intensely communicating online.
6. Jamboard Pictionary
I previously mentioned the idea of using digital whiteboards to display mystery documents. I especially recommend using Jamboard and playing Jamboard Pictionary with your students. Jamboard has multiple frames you can assign to small groups of students so they each can have their own area to draw the social studies term they are assigned. To include hybrid students, the in-class students can challenge the virtual students and vice versa. Since Jamboard is a Google product, you can easily use it in Google Classroom. If you’d like to learn more about Jamboard, check out my post discussing digital whiteboards.
7. Gimkit Games
Gimkit allows students to play digital multiple choice games while competing to earn fake money. It’s is much like a game-show set up in which your students answer questions from a device and earn money by answering correctly. My favorite part about this website is that they’re always coming out with new versions of the game for students to mix up the experience. Students can join with a code from any location – virtual or in class. If you want to go all in with Gimkit, I highly recommend getting a paid subscription in order to get the most out of your experience.
I think the most effective way to use Gimkit is to review content. Your students will have so much fun and it’s much more engaging than an individual study session. When you’re creating questions, I recommend having your definitions be the questions and then your answers will be terms – basically like a game of Jeopardy! Gimkit makes it very easy for students to get involved no matter where they are because the platform can be embedded into Google Slides. Depending on your subscription, it even has some grading capabilities. Who doesn’t need help grading? You can get signed up here!
8. Pear Deck’s Flashcard Factory
Pear Deck is awesome for many reasons, but especially because it’s completely free! (There is a paid version, but many of the feature are available without a paid version.) It’s another great way to make review fun and engaging. Teachers can create a list of your terms or concepts they want students to practice. Those words will then go to the “Flashcard Factory” and students will create pictures and descriptions for each term. Once created, your students are able to print and keep the flashcards.
To accommodate hybrid students, you can upload the flashcards to Gimkit and play your review game with the actual cards your students created. When your kids are creating the illustrations and descriptions themselves instead of memorizing, the information definitely tends to stick!
9. Aerobic Review Questions
We’ve all been there when we have 10 minutes left in class, but are at a point where it would be ineffective to start something new. I love doing aerobic review questions at a time like this! Display a multiple choice question with answers on the board and assign each answer with a specific body movement. An example could be:
- Touch Your Head
- Hand on Hip
- Touch Your Nose
- Point to the Sky
It’s a good idea to use this lesson idea at the tail end of class because the kids sure get a kick out of it. Also, it gets them up and moving and is an effective use of extra time. You can always search for pre-made questions from Quizlet if you don’t have any in mind on the spot.
10. Google Slides
Don’t underestimate the power of simple Google Slides! Make them interesting and engaging by creating statements or questions that students can fill in the blank or comment on with an open-ended response. I also require my students to respond to another classmate’s comment. As I mentioned previously, model what genuine conversation should look like through a comment – complete sentences.
I hope these lesson ideas have spurred some idea for you as you take on the challenge of in-class and hybrid learning. All lessons are perfected through trial and error, so give yourself some grace if things don’t go quite how you planned them to on the first try. After all, no one has ever been a teacher under these kinds of circumstances. Have fun and try new things!
How are you creating possibilities for cooperative learning in your classroom right now?