Schools start their days in a variety of ways. Some head straight into first period, while others use homeroom to take attendance and make announcements. Still others have replaced homeroom with advisory time instead, which usually involves social-emotional learning , real-life skill development, and time for kids to talk about problems and concerns. Both virtual homeroom and advisory have presented new challenges to teachers navigating online classrooms for the first time.
That’s why we’ve rounded up these tips and tricks, suggested by real teachers on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE . In a digital environment, relaxed face-to-face time has become a pretty valuable thing. Make the most of virtual homeroom and advisory with these tried-and-tested ideas.
1. Get to know each other
Even when kids have known each other for years, there’s always something new to learn. Judith M. recommends playing Guess Who? List a few facts about a student on a slide, then see who can guess correctly. Two Truths and a Lie is an old favorite too. Don’t forget to include yourself! Try these icebreakers for middle and high school that actually work.
2. Bring back show-and-tell
Hold a pet parade. Have kids give a tour of their bedroom or backyard. Introduce a parent, grandparent, or sibling. Older kids still love to share the cool things in their lives, and it’s actually a lot easier when they don’t try to bring their pet iguana to school with them.
3. Tell a joke
Humor is unbelievably important to kids and adults alike. Tell a joke or ask a riddle, or better yet, invite your students to do it! Pam K. says, “I asked my seniors, ‘Who has a joke or riddle?’ They came up with them, typed them into the chat, and we all guessed at the answers. I had to cut it off or they could have kept going.”
4. Host a scavenger hunt
For some interactive fun, try a scavenger hunt. Provide a list and ask kids to find as many as they can in a set amount of time. Or try Laura T.’s method: “Use a free digital spinner and have them find something that starts with that letter. My 8th graders loved it. First to bring it back got prizes.”
5. Start a book club
Sure, kids do plenty of reading in school. But what if they got to choose the reading material, and then all they really had to do was chat about it with their peers? Don’t limit your virtual homeroom book club to traditional books; include picture books, online articles, comics, and more. If you don’t want to give students more work to do at home, try reading aloud during this time instead, then discussing what you’ve heard.
6. Explore mindfulness
7. Take a virtual field trip
Older kids don’t usually get many field trips in the first place, so bring them back in virtual form. You can visit zoos, aquariums, and even the Wonders of the World! Encourage discussion along the way, or invite different students to present their favorite locations.
8. Learn financial skills
Many advisory classes focus on the life skills kids need, and virtual homerooms can do it too. Kids are usually eager to learn practical skills like money management. Fast Lane is a good place to start, with free resources and support for teachers and students. Dave Ramsey is another a popular option. Also, check out these fun saving and budgeting activities.
9. Watch a TED talk
You’ve probably already seen your fair share of TED talks, so you know students can get a lot out of them too. TED brings together the world’s most innovative people to deliver short, powerful talks on issues that matter. They’re all less than 20 minutes, so you can fit one into an advisory period or break it up during shorter virtual homeroom sessions. Here are some of our favorites to get you started.
10. Invite a guest speaker
Find out what your students want to know more about, then bring in guest speakers to share their knowledge. Let them give a prepared talk, or just hold a Q&A session so kids can learn more about what really interests them.
11. Visit colleges virtually
High school kids will especially love this meaningful virtual homeroom or advisory activity, suggested by Marie S. Many campuses offer online tours now, so spend some time exploring. For a more personalized experience, contact a former student who went on to study at the college, and invite them to give a tour or speak to your current students. Tip: Be sure to include a wide variety of higher education options, including community colleges and career prep institutions.
12. Take a career survey
Some students already have their whole futures mapped out, but others struggle to see the best way forward. Career surveys can be a fun way to assess their skills and interests, and spark conversations about what they’ll do “when they grow up.” Learn more about career surveys here.
13. Ask “Would You Rather?”
Lots of teachers recommended this virtual homeroom idea! “Would you rather” questions are endlessly fun and intriguing, and they usually get even the quietest students to chime in. They can range from silly “Would you rather have four arms and no legs, or four legs and no arms?” to thought-provoking “Would you rather climb Mt. Everest or go to the bottom of the ocean?” and beyond. You’ll be surprised how heated the discussions can get!
14. Set up breakout room study groups
Jan R. says her school is using their online homeroom/advisory time for study. “This allows them to check in with a teacher and have time in their day to get work done. We are trying to ease the stress of parents at home.” Make this even more effective by setting up breakout rooms (learn how it works here) by subject. Kids can help each other with Spanish, calculus, or chem assignments. As a teacher, you can pop in and out of the rooms to keep them on task and offer general assistance.
15. Start a diversity club
Anne M. tried this with her advisory one year. “Our theme was Come Be a Culture Vulture With Us. We had parties, food, and presentations about various cultures.” While you may not be able to share food in a virtual setting, you can still explore music and literature, take online tours, and invite guest speakers.
16. Have trivia competitions
Free online apps like Kahoot! and Quizizz make trivia competitions easy, and kids absolutely love them, as Chris D. points out. Choose a wide variety of topics so every student has a chance to succeed, then hold a tournament with prizes (or just for bragging rights). Or consider pitting your virtual homeroom as a team against another class, from your own school or somewhere else!
17. Teach tech skills and digital citizenship
These are important concepts for everyone these days: how to use the internet effectively and responsibly. Discuss ways to stay safe online, and talk about things like identify theft, viruses, and online scams. (Use our free digital guides to get started.) But don’t limit yourself to such serious topics; let kids teach you and each other about the amazing things they can do and find online. They’re always discovering new sites and apps, so give them a chance to share their knowledge and skills!
18. Pursue a passion project
School is a place for learning, but students rarely get to choose what they’d like to learn about. Make your virtual homeroom or advisory a place where they can delve deep into topics that actually interest them, whether it’s astronomy, the history of hip-hop, or baking the best loaf of bread. The Genius Hour is dedicated to helping kids explore their passions; check out their resources for help implementing this idea with your students.
19. Work on organization and time management
This is a skill every person needs, and one that we rarely take the time to teach kids. Use your virtual homeroom to help them learn how to set goals, make and prioritize to-do lists, stay on track, and more. The Time Hack Hero has some excellent tips for teens.
20. Write their first resumés
Writing a good resumé is hard enough when you’re an adult, but it’s incredibly overwhelming for kids. Take time to help them learn what strong resumés look like in today’s world. (Hint: An awful lot has changed in the last 20 years, so be sure to update your own understanding and expectations.) Get 10 tips for high schoolers creating their first resumé here.
21. Tackle more life skills
In addition to resumés, financial literacy, and time management, there are plenty of other life skills to introduce. Consider topics like safe driving, basic household chores, finding a job, and more. See 15 life skills every teen should learn here.
22. Play a game
Sometimes, you just need a little fun. Make Fridays a game day to give kids something to look forward to. Here are 20 fun Zoom games for kids that teens will enjoy too.
23. Let them take the lead
Cathy J. suggests letting your students take turns being in charge of activities for your virtual homeroom or advisory meetings. This takes the pressure off of you and gives them more responsibility and involvement.
24. Take time to talk
These days, kids are missing the chance for casual chat. As Catherine S. says, “Maybe just talk to them. High school seniors want to talk about their fears after high school.” They may want to talk about current events or ask questions about a variety of topics. Give them the space to do just that.
Looking for more ways to teach social-emotional learning for teens? Find tons of useful SEL resources here.