The Socially Distanced Classroom: Learning Activities that work with Social Distancing

August 10, 2020

 


When I first imagined a socially distant classroom, I had an overwhelming sense of sadness. I was flooded with images of classrooms under "normal" circumstances. I had flashbacks of kids rotating through fun learning stations, playing games together, reading in small groups, completing learning fact hunts, doing hands-on projects, and getting imaginative with their learning. For an instant, I felt like those days were over. 

Then, I remembered the most fundamental truth about educators: "Teachers are innovative." 

I knew it was time to think creatively about instruction. So, I took a deep dive into some of my favorite ways to get kids learning, and guess what? With small tweaks, we can still make learning engaging, motivating, and meaningful...and if it means that kids will have to do it 6 feet apart, no problem! The learning activities may be a little different, and we may need to get a little creative, but I'm hopeful that you'll be able to find some ideas below that just might work in your socially distanced classroom.

I love fact hunts! They're a great way to introduce or review material with students. Under "normal" circumstances, you would hide a ton of facts around the classroom or school. Then, students would rotate around and collect the information. Since students move around freely to collect facts, I thought that this might not work in a socially distanced classroom, but then I realized that with a few more parameters and a bit more planning it could work. Here's how:

  • --- Write facts about a topic on 1/2 sheets of paper.
  • --- Tape the facts around the classroom or along a hallway, spacing the facts at least 6 feet apart.
  • --- Explain to students that they will be collecting facts as they rotate around the classroom.
  • --- Designate where each student will begin.
  • --- Then, after collecting the first fact have students move on your cue to the next fact as they rotate through every fact.

Adding a little movement to learning is a powerful and easy way to make learning fun. I've created fact hunts for back to schoolliterary devicesancient civilizations, and holidays. They're always a blast. Check them out here.

Let's be honest, kids are always requesting to have class outside. Now is the perfect time to do just that. To prep, just set out flags, blankets, or cones to designate where kids can work while remaining socially distant. Then, have students bring their work outside. 

Since the kids are outside, they can also be a bit louder, so you can make it especially fun by...
  • --- Letting students shout their spelling words
  • --- Challenging students to read out loud in a way that everyone on their blankets can hear them
  • --- Creating cheers to help remember important content
  • --- Teaching new information and encouraging students to yell their responses


One of the troubling things about the socially distanced classroom is the fact that kids will have less opportunities to collaborate and work together. However, interacting with peers and working together is such a powerful part of the "normal" classroom. That's why this next idea is perfect! 

Jenny from Art with Jenny K and I created a series of collaborative anchor charts. Each student is responsible for creating an element of the chart independently. Then, the teacher assembles the collaborative anchor chart. The cool part is that not only is it creative and collaborative, it is also a powerful way for students to learn. When they see their own work as part of the chart, they're more connected to the learning.

We've created anchor chart parts on Finding the Main Idea, Sequencing, Summarizing and Growth Mindset.


I know what you're thinking, "Learning stations in a socially distant classroom?! Yeah, right!" I'm with you. At first, I thought learning stations would have to go away. But, then I realized that it's still possible to do the fun and engaging learning station activities with a small tweak. Specifically, instead of setting up different learning stations and having students rotate to each one, everyone in the class could stay in their seats and work on a single station's tasks at the same time. In other words, on the first day, everyone would complete station one. The teacher could serve as the "leader" of the station, reviewing the directions and ensuring that students have the right materials. 

While the rotations would be gone, many of the benefits of learning stations would remain because they still keep students engaged while chunking instructional material. Since stations also include a variety of activities, students will still be able to learn in various ways.

Some of my favorite stations teach critical study skills, reading comprehension, social studies, and even celebrate holidays. You can see them all here.


One of the concerns about socially distanced classrooms is that students will have to learn in a "sit and get" environment. As educators, we're always striving to move away from traditional lectures. That's where 3-D projects come in. When students can turn their learning or research into a 3-dimensional project engagement and buy-in soar. 

Here are some simple ways to make learning a little more 3-dimensional:
  • --- Have students turn their notes into paper airplanes.
  • --- Turn a single piece of paper into mini-books filled with notes.
  • --- Let students create cootie catchers to review important concepts.
  • --- Provide students with interactive notebook activities.

I love making learning more hands-on. Some of my favorite lessons are back to school mini-books, 3-D monuments for ancient civilizations, 3-D research projects and even 3-D writing lessons.


Doodling is a great way to engage students (even when they are socially distanced). Give students an opportunity to doodle during the school year and watch their engagement soar! Not only is doodling fun, it’s also been shown to help our brains process information. 

You can have students create doodles to showcase their learning at any time. Let students create doodles:
  • --- To help them learn vocabulary
  • --- As a way to review for a test
  • --- For a book report
  • --- As they learn about a new topic
  • --- When they answer a test or quiz question

You might want to introduce Doodle and Do resources into your classroom. First, students complete doodle-style notes. Then, they practice their learning as they "do" different activities. You can get students doodling as they learn new vocabulary, nonfiction text features, study skills, novel studies, fact hunts, and even reading skills. 

The fact is, doodles are so adaptable and fun! Get inspired RIGHT HERE. 

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I hope you've found a few instructional ideas to bring into your socially distanced classrooms. These sure are challenging times for educators, but there's one thing we all know for sure: Teachers are innovative! I know that your students are so lucky to have you! If there's anything I can do to help, feel free to reach out to me at brainwavesinstruction@gmail.com.

Thanks for stopping by!
Mary Beth


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