Getting to Know Each Other...Virtually

It's being said a lot, but this school year is certainly one like no other previously.  Our school is following a hybrid model, so four days a week, I have students in the room and on Zoom, and Wednesday is a virtual day.  The first week of school, however, was entirely virtual.  Most students come to school two days a week (during one of which I see them), but some students are entirely virtual.  With that, I have had to come up with some new, mostly virtual, ways for students to get to know each other, which incorporate both the students in the room with me and those at home.  Here are some of the methods I have used so far:

Zoom Polls

During the first week of school, Zoom polls helped me get a pulse on how everyone was feeling about the new school year.  It's great to have a little tool like this built within Zoom.  Here are some results:

Tu préfères

During the first week of school, I wanted to create an activity that would help students get to know each other, but also provide them with some comprehensible input.  I created a "Which do you prefer" activity, made up of cognates and words that can be easily illustrated with a photo.  I put all the text and images to one side, then saved each slide and used them as Zoom backgrounds (an alternative to sharing your screen which allows you to appear larger on the screen).  View the presentation below:

Open Floor

The first two days of class I actually met with all my students at once on a giant Zoom call.  During this time, I really just wanted them to get to know me and feel more comfortable with French class.  That's why I really just let them have the floor and say or ask anything they want, even if it wasn't related to class.  I made a Zoom background for the occasion:

Informal Comments

On Canvas, I have been allowing students to leave informal (and sometimes a little off topic) comments on announcements I make, or make similar comments in the Zoom chat.  Sometimes students ask each other how their day is going or how they are liking French class, and they respond with comments such as "Très bien !"  I appreciate that they are trying to use their French and I figure it replaces a lot of those informal conversations they would be having in person that build rapport and community, now that they are at home most of the time during class.  If it's slightly off task, I often let it go, and then rein it in only if it starts to get in the way of the lesson.  It's true, I told my students to keep chat to "academic only," but what can I say, I'm a softy!

Virtual Ball Toss

My awesome colleague Sarah first turned me on to this idea.  I have this goofy looking squishy ball that I love to toss around the room to elicit participation.  It's so weird looking and feeling that the hands instantly go up as soon as I pull it out because they all want to touch it.  Well, obviously that's out the window for the foreseeable future.  What I'm using in the meantime is a virtual, imaginary ball.  During the first week of school, I had each student toss a virtual ball to another student, greeting one another with "Bonjour."  It helped them learn each other's names, as well as an important word we use a lot in class!

Breakout Rooms

I've tested the waters with breakout rooms in Zoom.  So far, I've used them twice.  Once, during the first week of school, when we were all virtual, I sent students into breakout rooms to introduce themselves in French.  Yes, I know they probably spent some of the time just chatting, but with students not even being in the classroom at the same time as some of their classmates, I felt it was ok to give them a little bit of downtime to build some rapports.  In our school we use a teaming model, as is common with most middle schools, but students are mixed with students off-team in special area classes, so they generally don't know everyone when they come to class for the first time.  Another time, while students were brainstorming norms (which I will blog about separately), I paired them up with students in their opposite cohort (to the extent possible), meaning that students in the room were paired up with students who were at home.


Students completed a survey on Microsoft Teams, which included questions about their personal interests, learning preferences, and motivation for learning French.  When I read the surveys, I call up their school photo to try to match up a name to a face.  I then wrote an email to each student after I read their survey commenting on what they had written and letting them know I was looking forward to working with them this year.

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