There are many fun teaching activities that we can do as teachers while still keeping students socially distanced. With a bit of creativity there are a lot of adaptations we can make – preferably with very little preparation. I’ve listed eight activities below (and seven more here!) that were popular in my classroom when we went back to in-person teaching.
Socially Distanced OUTSIDE PHONICS
Unless it was pouring rain, we spent as much time outside as possible. A lot of learning happened out there! We made up a super simple spelling partner game called Outside Spelling. Here’s how we do it:
Each student had a partner (sitting 6 feet apart), a clip board, and a list of words that is different than their partners’ words. This could be word families, spelling words, sight words, theme vocabulary, etc.
Partner 1 calls the first word on his list. Partner 2 writes the word on her paper. Partner 1 reads out the correct letters, and Partner 2 “marks” the word correct, (or fixes it up so it’s correct).
Even non-readers can get the “right answers” and practice the correct spelling (they don’t have to reveal mistakes, just fix them!). When students come back inside the classroom, they all hold up their clipboard for me to see as they walk past. This gives me an idea of how they did, and also gives them some accountability – since they know the teacher will look at it afterwards!
Socially Distanced PAPER PLANE SPELLING
This is another outside game that could begin inside at student’s desks, or outside with clipboards and word lists.
PART 1: Students are given a piece of paper and a list of words. Students write each word 5 times on the paper, using different colors or styles. This part can be done inside, or outside on the field with a clip board. When students are done, they hold up their paper for me to see, and if time allows, I ask them to point to each word and read it to me.
PART 2: Students fold their paper into a paper airplane, and decorate the whole thing any way they wish. When done, students practice flying their plane outside on a field. Some students may wish to throw their planes at the same time as a partner to see which flies further (and modify the design), while other students are content to just toss their plane around by themselves, chasing it all around the field!
Socially Distanced STEM BUILDING
Students love to build! With my younger students, simple and open ended projects work the best. While normally we would share supplies from a large bin, in the socially distanced classroom I just pass out a pile of personal supplies to each desk.
I give a general task, such as “build a structure as tall as you can” and just let them explore, adjust, modify and improve their projects as they go along. Once students are good at this routine, we tackle more interesting challenges involving fairy tales.
Socially Distanced BUILD WRITE DRAW
Since we started doing socially distanced activities, we can no longer share large bins of things. So, I’ve had to modify a bit and make sure students have their own smaller bins of materials, such as blocks and lego. To integrate more writing and math into our building activities, I make writing templates where students can draw what they’ve built.
I encourage them to use these creations for math and writing also! For example, students can be asked to count how many of each color they used, and then find the total. For a challenge, I tell students how many of each color to use before they begin and they have to work within that parameter, which is much trickier!
Socially Distanced BUILDING TASK CARDS
When we went back to in-class teaching I discovered right away that if my students HAVE to stay put in desks all day, they better be really engaged with lots of hands-on tasks. One solution was to use building task cards. There were two kinds of cards: Copy the Picture Cards, and Write the Word Cards.
For Copy the Picture Cards, each student got a set of cards with pictures made of playdough, pattern blocks, or popsicle sticks. They used their materials to copy the patterns.
For the Write the Word Cards, they used any materials like beans, buttons, or pasta. Students used the materials to build the words on the cards. Although it was a bit of work to make material collections for each student, we used them almost every day and so it was really worth the time.
We have always loved partner plays, and just because we are socially distanced doesn’t mean we can’t have fun with them. In fact, the performances in front of the class were the highlight of each afternoon! We chose to use partner plays about social stories because it was a great way to practice literacy as well as SEL at the same time.
We choose one-page stories, so students were not overwhelmed, and could practice many times before performing for the class (optional). As usual, we did a lot of our practicing outside on the field, with partners sitting 6 feet apart. My more advanced students could create their own partner plays and perform for the class!
Just a side note: Some students did not feel comfortable reading in front of the class, and I am fine with that. Instead, I gave them the opportunity to perform a “puppet show” version at their desk. They used puppets (or stuffed animals) as the characters, but in doing to voices for each puppet, they actually read through the entire play themselves, with help from me when needed.
I invested in sidewalk chalk and whenever the weather allows, we go outside to use it! The only rule is that they have to be socially distanced six feet apart from each other.
There are a few different activities we do. First, I search and print ideas for hopscotch-type games. These can involve numbers, letters, words, etc. Other times, we just practice writing out words as a form of word work. Super simple, no prep, safe and engaging.
Another variation on this, which I thought of one day when I ran out of chalk!) is to use water and paint brushes to write. With water we could even write on the outside wall of the school, which my students thought was pretty cool!
If the weather didn’t allow us to go outside, we used regular coloured chalk on black paper to write our words. We also used that time to create “blueprint plans” for hopscotch games that we could make and use when the weather cleared up!
WRITE THE ROOM
Rather than students walking around the room to hunt for words, simply pull one word off the wall at a time and hold it under the document camera. Students study it, find the matching picture on their paper, and copy the word.
As with many adaptations, the downside is that students don’t get that movement and freedom. The upside is that we get a chance to actually talk about each word before moving on.
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