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  • Writer's pictureKatie Powell

Back to School(ish) Check-In and Socially-Distanced Busters

Like many of you, I am struggling with how I will teach this fall. The restrictions necessary to keep my students (and me) safe(ish) will force me to forgo my preferred teaching style.

That's heavy.

Anyone else feeling that?

You can watch this video to find out more about what my back to school will (maybe?) look like and what I'm thinking at this point.

Like I said in the video, I am NOT an expert on COVID or how to best teach within all these restrictions. But if there's some way I can support you, anything I can provide you with, please let me know. I'll be reaching out to subscribers directly, but you can also email me at

Here's the rundown of ALL Busters that are socially-distanced and responsible to use within a physical classroom if students are not allowed to physically interact, share paper, touch each other's supplies, etc. These are appropriate for restricted in-person instruction or hybrid settings.


Lecture Busters

-Alphabet Soup: Use the "printable" for students to complete digitally, or show or post a letter for students to respond to. Hold class discussion or use online discussion tools.

-Junk Drawer: Ditto. This one adapts pretty easily and will definitely engage students' creative thinking. Here's the printable that can be completed digitally, or students can type their thinking aloud or by using your favorite digital tool. Here are the images to print to use in person or post digitally.

-Meme Me: Students use an online meme generator to create a meme relevant to the lesson however you direct. Here's an existing tech tool to do so safely, from Meredith Akers. Alternatively, students can use digital drawing tools, such as those on Class Kick or Pear Deck or their own devices, to draw their own memes.

-Movie Night: Using whatever discussion tool you prefer, students name a movie title that relates to the day's lesson. Or they could post a movie poster image. Here's the original printable, if that's of use for you.

-6 Degrees: Using your preferred discussion route, students give an explanation of how two terms you selected are related.

-Recipe Card: A deep way to summarize any topic. Post the digital version for students to complete.

Worksheet Busters

-Strike a Pose: The original poses will make a great brain break to let students stand up and stretch. Be sure to have students stay within their own space. Even with our strict guidelines at my school, brain breaks are still OK (and even expected--we just have to keep students within their own space).

And this new version of the poses works in virtual classroom formats like Zoom and Meet.

-Paper Airplanes: IF YOU'RE ALLOWED TO HAVE STUDENTS EXCHANGE PAPERS, this will be a great way to let kids move a bit! You'll have to be careful to have students retrieve an airplane one at a time so there's no mobbing. Disclaimer: My district currently does not want students exchanging papers and discourages the use of paper at all if it can be avoided.

Students can't exchange paper? If YOU'RE allowed to handle their papers, you could have students answer a question, make a paper airplane, and throw it at YOU. Then you could select one, share the answer (anonymously), and have students respond if they agree or not, why, etc (digitally, on paper, as discussion, etc). This would be a great one to follow up with Pass It, Math It or Gallery Walk (see COVID adaptations below)! Students could extend that selected answer using that activity.

-Musical Desks: OK, bear with me on this one. We obviously can't have students move desk-to-desk in this COVID world. BUT! Play an appropriate song via YouTube on your projector. Have students stand in their own space and move--in their own space--till you pause the song. Someone doesn't want to move? Even standing up for a bit is good! When you pause the song, the last digit(s) of the time counter is the problem students would do (on their own worksheet--if you can use paper--or on a worksheet shared digitally). Remember you can use this with discussion questions too! Just number a list of prompts.

-Giant Grid: You can re-create the grid digitally. I think Peardeck is perfect for this! Use the mode where students drag a dot to represent their answer. Give each student a problem or answer to match (just like you would in the pre-COVID version), and then at your signal, all students will drag their dot to the spot on the grid they believe their problem or answer matches. When more than one student claims the same spot, have the class discuss to figure out which match is correct.

ALTERNATELY, if you have smaller class sizes and can spare the floor space, you could use your giant grid like normal and just have students place their matches one at a time to maintain distancing. Don't have room? Make a grid on the board and give students magnets or sticky notes!

-Sorting Activities: If you're still allowed to distribute paper, you can cut apart items like the original directions say (follow link for more info). Many digital tools allow you to create manipulatives if you need to go paperless. If you're good with Google Slides, you can. Even easier is a tool like Class Kick. The simplest, though, would be to have students type out their groups and explanations.

-Grocery List: You would create a list of what you're looking for, and students would list which problem numbers on the worksheet you posted would satisfy each list item. Easy to submit in any digital format that allows students to type or as discussion.

-Giant Bull's-Eye: If you post a bull's-eye image and make manipulatives of A B C D answer choices, students can slide the answers on the bull's-eye much like we would with the cards in person when we were allowed to move around. Class Kick is one service you can use to pretty easily create manipulatives. If you use Pear Deck, you can even use my pre-made slides! The approach with the fewest tech bells and whistles, though, would be to have students type out or discuss an explanation of which ring they would put an answer choice in and why. You could even pick one answer choice you want them to analyze, perhaps a common distractor, and have them explain that one choice's placement.

If you have small class sizes and floor space, you could continue to use the Giant Bull's-Eye mat and have students come one-at-a-time to place their answers. No floor space? Use the board and sticky notes.

Homework Busters

-Post the Answers with Error Analysis: The day after giving a fairly traditional assignment or problem set, post a copy of the answer key and have students complete an error analysis. You can save your own copy of the error analysis page to assign to students.

-Homework Gallery Walk: Select a few problems from the assignment to have students discuss (digitally or in-person). Post the problem on your board or use a discussion tool like the question tool on Google Classroom. Students post or state their answer to the problem, then respond to classmates. Defend, support, argue. You can even offer specific metacognitive thought prompts for them to respond to.

What is your answer?

How do you know your answer is correct?

How do you know your answer is incorrect?

Show your work/page number/proof.

What was your error?

What is a strategy you used?

What is a resource you used?

What could you type into Google to find help for this problem?

What do you wish you had asked/understood yesterday to be able to do this problem?

What is an example that would have helped you with this problem?

What vocabulary terms/skills are important to this problem?

What did you find easy about the problem?

What did you find difficult about the problem?

How did your thinking about the problem change?

What other homework item is this problem similar to?

How are they similar?

If you gave this problem a title, what would it be?

How does this problem relate to something else you’ve learned?

What questions about this content do you still have?

What skills might someone need to already know to be able to do this problem?

What was a common error with this problem?

What tip would you give someone who was just learning this content?

How could you change this problem to make it easier/harder/deeper?

Why might you need this skill/knowledge outside of school?

-Homework Quizzes: The day after an assignment, post a 3-5 question quiz using a digital format like Formative, Google Forms, etc. Get automatic scores you can easily enter in your gradebook instead of grading the entire original assignment.

-Pass It, Math It: This Buster can be used almost exactly how originally described. But instead of having students pass questions between each other, you can post or identify a question for them to "math" or have students "math" their own answers. Students can share their ideas digitally, through discussion, or on paper (if you're allowed to use paper).

-Bull's-Eye Answers, Homework Edition: Instead of giving every student someone else's answer and having them sort those answers on the bull's-eye mat, post/share a sample answer and have students use the digital bull's eye and draggables (see Worksheet Buster version above) to identify where they believe that answer would fall. Discuss in person or digitally.

Take care, my friends. I have 3 weeks to figure myself out! If I come across great resources or brilliant ideas, I'll update the blog with a new post. If you find something awesome, please share! Let's do our best to start this year well--together.

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