Engaging Back to School Activities with Social Distancing

Hello darlings!  It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year; BACK TO SCHOOL!!!  But thanks to the darn Corona virus, our lives are flipped upside down.  So how are you still going to engage your students on the first few days of B2S?  How are you going to make sure there is teamwork and community building?


I will start off by saying my district is currently going back in person and we are still encouraged to do best practices with our students.  They still want us to do partner and group work, just while wearing masks and hand washing.  Our homeroom of 25 students students is considered our cohort, so they will be interacting. You will have to judge what you are allowed in your building.  For some of these activities, you may have a smaller cohort allowed.

Now I am taking my SUPER DETAILED B2S Plans and just explaining how I would change the group work.  PLEASE go checkout my blog post about back to school here.  I wrote it as if you were a brand new teacher and needed to know what procedures and expectations to set up as well as engaging activities to do.  Click here to Go there now!  Then come back here and see how I changed it up.  You can grab my FREE lesson plan template and first two days of plans here.

Pro Tip: For every activity that I talk about spacing students 3-6 feet apart, have a few trusted students with the job of using a yard stick, tape measure, or measuring tape help you quickly create spaces between students.  This is a perfect way to introduce measurement to the entire class and show students the distances they need to remain away from each other.  This will save you time.  You will still oversee the measuring but it won't take all day.  

To get really fancy, create marks on the floor with masking tape when you know you are going to do "group" activities.  Then you don't have to do it again. We just have to get creative, my friends.  Nothing is going to be perfect...

Getting to Know You Activities-Class Meeting Intro-Pandemic Style

This is our introduction to Class Meetings. Since we can't sit on the carpet in a circle like normal, create a large circle around your room with students standing. If they have to remain at their seats, you can do the same thing.

I tell them that our goal is to leave knowing everyone's names. I tell them that I am going to try really hard to memorize each of their names and I need their help. We go around the circle a few times with each kid saying their name and then something about them. We are all looking at the speaker, trying to memorize names.

Round 1: name and favorite food
Round 2: name and favorite color
Round 3: name and favorite subject

Now ask for students who think they can name all of their classmates. Give students turns to try. I am trying to memorize too. I take a turn. Then I close my eyes and have students move spots and see if I can still remember their names but, I wouldn't do that with the pandemic.

Find Someone Who-Pandemic Style

This game is meant to have students walk around and find friends who meet certain criteria. Yeah... a little difficult to change up for the pandemic. I have two different options for you.

Option 1: Give each student a paper and hard surface (clipboard/whiteboard) and a pencil. Take students outside if possible. If not, find two or three places in the room where you could create two parallel lines of students facing each other but space them out 3/6 feet apart. Students will wear their masks and talk to the person across from them, asking which description they fit in one of the boxes. Students then write their friend's name on their own paper. (we aren't switching papers)

Then choose one side of the line to be the moving/scooting line. Give a minute or two for students to talk and write then play music. The scooting line must move in front of a new student every time you turn on music. [Get Freebie here]

Option 2: Have students remain at their desks and you or another student chooses a box on the paper and reads it aloud.  Anyone who fits that description, stands up and students can then write one of those students names down.  For this, you may need to have students wear a name tag.  To change it up, you might want to call off a funny movement with the description. Example:  If you have a cat, hop on your right foot.

Taco ‘bout the Teach-Pandemic Style
You want to establish trust and community with your students. In order for them to trust you and (I'll just say it) like you, they need to get to know you. I created a Taco Scavenger Hunt called Taco 'bout the Teach. I created a sheet with questions about me. I then wrote the answers on cards and hid them around the room by taping them on the walls and such. First I give students 5-8 minutes to try to guess the answers. Then I give them 15-20 minutes to walk around the room finding the correct Taco card that has the answers. It is funny to hear their reactions to some of the questions! Now obviously this can't be as free and easily done as normal. Here are two options.

Option 1: Divide students into two groups. You need to make double of the scavenger hunt cards and dive your room in half. Tape a set around one side of your room and another full set on the other side of the room. Show students which side they will be working on. They can move around with their masks on, BUT they cannot be at a card that another student is at. They have to find a card that is open.

Option 2: Have students remain at their seats and simply project the cards up onto your board. Have students write their answers down on their paper. Have some music playing in the background and turn it off every so often. When the music turns off, students have to stand up and jump 10 times or run in place until you turn the music back on. Just figure out some kind of movement for them to do. DON'T make them stay at their desks all day!
No matter what option you chose, go over the answers with them and ask them what surprised them. We talk about things we have in common and things that they thought were "cool."

Addition Brainbreak

Your students will need to get up and move around,so have them do some sort of brainbrak at their seats. We do a math facts flashing whiteboard game. It flashes addition facts from the projector and students try to shout out the answer before the answer pops up. Scattered throughout are movements and exercises students have to do. [Memorization In Motion-Fitness Facts]

I'm Unique Poem

I'm still planning on doing my writing project like normal, the only difference is I will have them sit at their desks for the read aloud portion. Read all about this activity, here.

All About Me Booklet Pandemic Style

I am lucky enough to be a 1:1 classroom with chromebooks so I am going to have my students complete an All About Me Book on Google Slides. Students will NOT finish this book in one day. In fact, they will be working on bits and pieces throughout the week. It is a great filler activity or activity for students to work on for morning work or free time. I might assign certain pages on certain days, or I might let the kids pick. When we finish, we will share a few of the pages with each other.

Save Fred Pandemic Style

Throughout the week, we usually work on team building activities that I created called the Misadventures of Fred.  It contains different STEM activities with Fred the gummy worm as he travels across the United States.  Read how I usually do it here.    I am only going to explain how to change it up, below.
My students and I both LOVE this activity.  They still talk about it at the beginning of the year, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I am going to try to make a Pandemic Style activity!
Option 1:  Now remember, check your district guidelines.  My kids are able to work together with masks on.  I am going to have everyone wash their hands with soap and water and wear their masks.  Instead of working in groups, they will work with one partner.  Each partner will have their own paperclip.  (they can still only use one at a time) When we finish, we will go back and wash our hands with soap and water.
Option 2: Do the same as above but have students wear gloves.  You could also have students sit in groups of 4, 3 feet apart and have one student work on it at a time.  Give them 1 minute to try to do it alone while their friends give them suggestions and then give another student a turn.  Wear gloves and/or give each student their own paperclip.

Just Do What You Can

We have to just realize our limitations and do what we can.  Every district is different in their rules and expectations and some districts are all virtual.  Try to take these ideas and make them work for you!  Hang in their friend, this will not be forever!

If you get nothing else from this entire post, PLEASE get your students UP AND MOVING!  They need it more than ever!

Want to grab all of these resources and more for back to school?  

Grab all the activity resources mentioned here!

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