What Team-Building Games Can Be Used For Remote Teaching And Online Learning?
As schools continue to monitor and adjust approaches to teaching and learning, educators moving their classes online may have challenges cultivating and sustaining a tight-knit, engaged learning environment.
At TeachThought, we believe that learning is inherently social, and we see a virtual or online learning structure as an opportunity to stretch ourselves and try new strategies. We’ve curated 50 of the most fun, engaging, and easy-to-implement digital team-building games for students of all ages, arranged by category.
The great thing about most of these digital team-building games is that they can be modified for traditional, virtual, and hybrid settings. Digital team-building games serve as positive social-emotional learning (SEL) experiences and also provide a helpful brain break to split up lengthier online lessons. Try them out and let us know which ones worked wonders for improving the connectedness and engagement in your classroom!
Guessing/Search Digital Team-Building Games
Virtual brown bag
At the beginning of class, the teacher asks each student to list five items that are meaningful to them and that could fit in a brown paper grocery bag if required. Instead of bringing a literal brown bag into a traditional classroom environment, the student takes pictures of each item and pastes or uploads them onto a document, then sends it to the teacher. The teacher can then sort the students into small groups and distribute their ‘brown bag’ documents to each other. Each student takes a turn describing the items they see on the document, while the rest of the group tries to identify to whom the items belong. Once the correct person is identified, they can discuss why they chose the items on their brown bag document.
Face the facts
A teacher or group leader reads a prompt, and the rest of the group either (a) keeps their video display on if the fact is true about them, or (b) turns their video display off if the fact is not true about them. Examples of prompts include: I like public speaking, I have seen the Grand Canyon, I am an only child in my family.
The prompts can also be content-related. The teacher or group leader may use this strategy for preparing for an argument unit, and the format of ‘face the facts’ is more accessible for students who may not feel confident participating vocally/verbally.
Match the picture
Use this digital team-building game to get to know students at the beginning of the school year. Choose a random category, like ‘desk space,’ ‘refrigerator,’ or ‘pets.’ Each student will submit a photo of their desk space, fridge, or pet, and the teacher will compile all the pictures on one side of a document along with all the pictures of the students in the class on the other side or page of the document. Students compete against each other as individuals or small groups to make the most matches between student and item.
Guess the emoji
In small groups, each student submits the emoji they use the most to the teacher, who copies and pastes them all on a document. Individuals or small groups compete to identify which emoji belongs to which person and why.
Each student completes an interest inventory prior to this activity. The teacher reads a description of a ‘mystery student’ while the small groups compete against one another to accurately identify the mystery student. The mystery student, of course, must be quiet and not give themselves away!
Lip-reading on mute
Can you guess what a student is saying as you watch them mouth the words without hearing their voice? In this quick digital team-building game, each student takes a turn muting themselves and saying something (up to 10 words). The rest of the group collaborates to determine what they believe the student is saying.
In small groups or as a whole class, one student is designated as the detective and will need to get moved to a separate breakout room while the rest of the group chooses a leader. When the detective reenters the main room, the leader will have already started making a hand motion (like clapping, snapping, or waving jazz hands) while the rest of the participants in the video call mimic their gestures. The leader will need to transition quickly so that the detective does not realize that they are the one making the moves up. The detective only has three chances to correctly guess the leader!
Artists will love this digital team-building game, where players compete against another group to correctly identify a picture drawn by their teammates. On a video call, the student drawer can share their screen with the rest of the group, who may find it more challenging to identify images drawn online than images drawn on paper! Teachers can also use a document camera to show drawings from a classroom location.
Who’s that baby?
Students submit photos of themselves as infants and the teacher creates a slideshow where each slide has a ‘mystery baby,’ and the students must collaborate in small groups to determine which photo represents which student. The mystery baby in the class will have to be careful not to give themselves away!
Virtual scavenger hunt
In a virtual scavenger hunt, small groups of 4 students or fewer collaborate to find and store specific items across the internet. This digital team-building activity will help students delegate and problem-solve. Scavenger hunt items can be subject-related.
Also known as Mafia and Murder Mystery, Werewolf is a game fit for groups of 7-10 students, who each have different roles. The werewolf ‘eats’ a villager each round of the game, and the remaining villagers are left to collaborate and figure out who the werewolf is based on clues from students in other roles (like the ‘angel’ or ‘moderator’). Students should be moved into separate breakout rooms for this activity, which is great for encouraging deductive reasoning.
You can play this game 100% online and as part of a virtual conference call.
To play, name one person as the Describer and the other players as Artists. The Describer must explain to the Artists how to draw an item like a tree, mountain, bicycle, or house using only geometric terms. For example, you could say “draw a large square” and then “add a line at a 45-degree angle from the top”, but not “draw the letter E.”
You can play each round for as long as you like, and three minutes is usually sufficient. At the end of each round, the Describer gets one point for each Artist that guesses the object correctly, and each Artist that guesses correctly also gets one point. Tally up points and award cool prizes to the winner.
Question/Answer Team-Building Activities
In this virtual dice-rolling game, each dice number corresponds to a predetermined quest or category. Students in small groups take turns ‘rolling’ the online dice and answer the question or category that corresponds to their dice score. The questions can be SEL-related or content-related.
2 = What’s one quality you share with the protagonist [of the book you’re reading as a class]
6 = How would you have responded differently than the protagonist [in a specific scene]
10 = Which character do you feel is most responsible for the main conflict and why?
In the traditional version of this game, a teacher reads a prompt or question while individuals or small groups move to the corner of the room that best represents their answer choice (typically ‘Strongly Agree,’ ‘Agree,’ ‘Disagree,’ and ‘Strongly Disagree’). In the online version, the teacher can simply assign a number 1 through 4 to each ‘corner’ and students can type their number in the chatbox, when prompted.
This or that (or ‘Would you rather…?)
Two options, one choice! The teacher or group leader asks the students what they would do or what they would prefer:
Pizza or nachos? Play a video game or go on a hike? Start your own business or vacation all summer?
Questions can also be content-related, and students can identify their choices by chatting a response in the chatbox or using a digital response card, which can be as simple as maneuvering between red and green colored slides on a Google Slides presentation.
Doubling as a digital team-building game and formative assessment, trivia is a great way to get students excited about what they’re learning. Teams can compete in small groups to answer questions correctly and make strategic wagers. Trivia can be random or focused on a specific content area. Teachers can make the activity more fun by challenging teams to come up with their own team name.
Question of the day
Each student gets to choose a question to ask the rest of the class. Students write their responses out for an allotted time period, then discuss their responses in small groups of fewer than five members.
What would you do?
It’s that simple! In small groups, the teacher will pose a real-life or content-related scenario, and the group members discuss what they would do to solve the problem. Small groups choose one speaker to share their solution, and the class discusses the strengths and limitations of each idea.
In this game, one student can choose to be a character from a novel, a scientific inventor, an explorer, an artist, or any other content-related figure. The other three to four members of the group have 20 questions to correctly identify the person.
Sharing Team-Building Games
Winds of change
In the traditional version of this game, players stand in a circle with one person in the middle, who calls out, The winds of change are blowing for anyone who ____. The person in the middle might say something like has an older brother or likes the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or has gone scuba diving. The point? Whoever has participated in or agrees with the statement, must then run to another empty spot in the circle. The person without a new space becomes the next person in the middle. In a virtual environment, students can use the chat box to identify the last person to find a ‘space.’
Each student within a small group can take a turn sharing a story or piece of art that honors a role model in their life. This role model can be living or deceased, someone they know personally or someone they admire from afar (like a musician or media personality).
3 things we all have in common
A breakout group challenge! Randomly sort students into small groups of 4 to 6 students. Give them a limited amount of time, like 60 seconds, to come up with three things (or as many things as possible!) that they all have in common. Remind them that their ‘things’ need to be specific; meaning, we all wear shoes is not a legitimate thing to have in common. We are all wearing Vans and we are all the youngest one of the siblings in our home and we all forgot to do our homework last night — these are legitimate things to have in common. Well, maybe the last one isn’t so legitimate…
Pin the map
Use Google Slides or a similar platform to create a class map. Students can use red pins to mark where they are from, blue pins to mark where they have been, and green pins to indicate where they dream about going. Update the map at least once per quarter. It may be beneficial to prompt some students to share details about their travels.
Rose and thorn
In small groups, students can share the ‘rose,’ or positive point of their day, and an optional ‘thorn,’ or part that was difficult. Students can be prompted to encourage each other and help problem-solve each other’s thorns.
Show and tell
In small groups, students participate in the classic exchange of sharing something meaningful (like a talent, recipe, memory, object, or person) and receiving the gifts shared by their fellow classmates. Students can display their objects on the video call and talk about their item while others mute themselves and add follow-up questions or encouragement in the chat section.
2 truths and a lie
In small groups of fewer than 5 students, each student will take a turn sharing two ‘truths’ about themselves, and one ‘lie,’ something that is made up or slightly off base, detail-wise.
Art, Media, & Movement Team-Building Games
Stand up, sit down
A great digital team-building game for the middle of class, when students are likely to need a kinesthetic brain break. In five minutes or less, the teacher can read off several prompts, to which the students respond by standing up if they have engaged in the prompt, or sitting down if they have not engaged in the prompt.
Examples of prompts include: visited another state, swam in the ocean, read a book over 300 pages, met a famous person. If a student has done something particularly impressive or unique, they can expound upon their experience to the class. This is a great game to help students establish common ground and mutual respect for one another.
Name that song (emoji style)
Within small groups of six or fewer, each student picks a song (or movie or book) and uses a chain of emojis to represent the title. Each student takes turns copying and pasting the emoji chain into the chat box, while the other students have to guess what title the emoji character sequence represents.
Video displays on for this one! In small groups of 6 or fewer, one student will try their best to make the other students in the group crack a smile or laugh. Poker face is great to play before public speaking activities — it helps lighten the atmosphere and get students not to take themselves too seriously.
Host an open mic session at the end of every Friday lesson, where students have a consistent, reliable space and time to share their talents, like singing, reciting spoken word poetry, playing a musical instrument, performing athletic feats, or creating art. Model how to support students who take the initiative to share, such as applauding, asking follow-up questions, and showing support.
In this digital team-building game, students in a small group are challenged by the teacher to draw something — perhaps a chemical reaction or cellular process in a science class, or a storyboard for a scene in a narrative text the student is drafting. This is a great warm-up activity to do in an art class, where students can get familiar with creative materials and the creative process.
Virtual poetry/book club
Depending on your content area and focus of unit study, it may be beneficial to orchestrate a virtual poetry or book club, where students can create and discuss questions they have about a shared book, its characters, and the conflicts and themes upon which the book touches. It might be more practical to create an optional book/poetry club, for students who share a strong interest in learning more about a specific content area or style of writing.
The classic party game is modified for the digital classroom, where students in a breakout room can take turns acting out different people, places, events, things, or phrases. Charades is another great digital team-building game that can be used as a formative assessment. For example, a student reviewing for a Spanish exam might be instructed to act out the word for ‘lazy’ in Spanish (lazy = perezoso/perezosa). The student would do their best to act lazy on the video call, while the others type their response in the chat box or shout it out loud.
Speed, Memory, & Problem-Solving Games For Team-Building
Name game (alphabetical + topic)
The name game is a great way to get to know each other’s names at the start of a quarter or semester. The teacher starts by giving a prompt, such as You are stranded on a deserted island and can only have one possession — what is it?
The first student starts by saying their name and what they would bring: I’m Marissa and if I was stranded on a deserted island with only one possession, I would bring my microwave. The object they bring has to start with the first letter of their first name. After Marissa, the next student would say, If we were stranded on a deserted island with only one possession, Marissa would bring a microwave. I’m Brian and I would bring a beanbag chair. The students continue repeating each others’ preferences and sharing their own until the final person can correctly recall everyone else’s items.
The teacher or a small group leader starts with an idea to solve a problem or answer a question. They have 60 seconds to talk about their idea. When time is up, the next student in the small group has 60 seconds to add on to their idea, ask questions for clarification, or make constructive critiques of the idea.
The process continues until the small group has fully fleshed out an idea. This is a great activity to do before delegating roles in a group project or even beginning the project work. It helps students get used to the behaviors that members of a group show — collaboration, active listening, proposing ideas, critiquing ideas, agreeing or disagreeing thoughtfully, providing evidence, etc. It can also give a group an idea of who might be best suited for certain roles in the group (like timekeeper, recorder, presenter, etc.) instead of randomly assigning roles to each other.
Think, pair, repair
This game is similar to idea building blocks, except the format is more similar to Scattergories. The small group (5 or fewer) receives a problem. They are then given a certain amount of time to independently come up with a solution. After that time is over, each student shares their idea, then the group discusses what they like most or what parts of each idea they want to merge, before settling on a final solution or hypothesis to test.
In the popular game for 6 or fewer, the leader chooses a category and a letter, such as foods that start with C. The teacher starts a two-minute timer, and everyone in the group writes down as many foods that start with C as they can imagine. After the time is up, the students take turns sharing their answers. Each correct answer gets 1 point, and double word alliterative answers (like cookie crumbs, carrot cake, or cheese curds) gets 2 points.
50 states challenge or world map challenge
Time small groups of students to see how quickly (and accurately) they can identify the 50 US states on a map. In a class like world geography or AP human geography, it would be even more challenging to see how many countries teams can correctly identify!
Students can compete with each other in the classic game of BINGO, which can be adapted to any content area or time of year. Many teachers will play BINGO in the first week of school, and label each space with an activity their students may have participated in over the summer. The great thing about BINGO is that it serves as a digital team-building game as well as a formative assessment.
A math teacher might call out math equations and the students might mark the labeled space that has the correct answer to the equation. After the teacher calls out labels randomly, the students respond by marking the appropriate space and calling out BINGO if they have five labeled spaces marked in a row. There are countless sites with free online BINGO templates. Small groups of students can also collaborate to create their own BINGO boards to distribute to other teams in a classroom.
Students are divided into small teams of 3-4 and moved into breakout rooms, where they have a certain amount of time to come up with an idea for a problem that the teacher has posed to the entire class. The small teams present their ideas to the class and vote for who has the best idea.
For example, in an ELA class, students might be challenged to come up with a solution for the boys in Lord of the Flies to return home. In a social studies class, they might be charged to develop a treaty or compromise for a historical or current conflict. You get the idea. Make it even more fun by bringing in ‘special virtual guests’ to be the sharks!
A quick and easy digital team-building game to play with Google Maps, students can compete in teams to guess the country or region to which a random photo of a landscape belongs. Google Earth randomizes street images of global locations and can reveal the exact latitude and longitude once teams have made their predictions.
Storytelling Team-Building Games
Humans of New York
Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton took hundreds of candid photos of New York City residents and shared a caption or story for each unique image. The teacher (or student leader) can prompt the students to create a story, in small groups, based on a provided image. The image and activity can also serve as an anticipatory set for new content for that day.
Apples to Apples
Teachers can modify this popular party game for a school-appropriate setting, and there is already an online version that exists — no need to design and distribute cards! In this game, one student starts by posing a question/statement, such as Why did the chicken cross the road? The other students in the small group (6 or fewer) review their set of optional responses to provide a literal, funny, or slightly cringeworthy response to the prompt.
Round robin storytelling
One student begins telling a story. After one or several sentences, the person next to them (on the video call class display) continues where the previous student left off. The students are likely to weave a wild and wacky story that will elicit laughs and help cultivate a fun learning environment. Story contributors can say their ideas out loud or type them in the chat box.
Team-Building Games For Social Emotional Learning
One student begins by giving specific, meaningful praise to another person in the group. That person then chooses another person who has not yet received specific, meaningful praise. The last person to be selected then gives praise to the teacher to complete the circle.
Examples of specific, meaningful praise: when you listen, I feel like you’re really listening to me, you’re not afraid to share your good ideas, you are a good group leader and help us stay on track.
Themed school weeks
Students collaborate in small groups to come up with fun, unique theme ideas for each week in the classroom. Each group presents and the entire class can vote to choose the theme for the following week.
Examples: Pirates v. Ninjas — students dress up as pirates or ninjas; Silly Hair Week — wear a different hairstyle each day; Fashion Week — dress it up or do your own thing; Class Idol — answer questions in a singing voice that mimics another famous singer.
Design a chant/song
Divide students into small groups of no more than 5 and move them into breakout rooms. Give the students 10-20 minutes (depending on the age group) to come up with their own chant or song that represents their team and best qualities.
Design a flag
Divide students into small groups of no more than five and move them into breakout rooms. Give the students 10-20 minutes (depending on the age group) to design a flag or graphic representation that represents their team and best qualities. The students can use Google Slides or a similar sharing platform to work collaboratively on the design.
Design a call and response
In a call and response, one leader or small group shouts a call, while the rest of the group yells out a response. Divide students into small groups of no more than five and move them into breakout rooms. Give the students 5-10 minutes to come up with their own class call and response (with optional hand movements) that they will use at the end of class. The entire class can adopt one or you can use multiple calls and responses over the academic year — students may enjoy switching it up every several weeks!
- “We are” — “Invincible!”
- “Marco!” — “Polo!”
- “Boom!” — “Went the dynamite!”
- “And a hush fell over the crowd!” — “Hushhhhhhhhhhh”
Can you GIF me a hand?
Within small groups, students can have individual time to design a GIF or meme to share with someone who has helped them, supported them, or taught them something valuable in the past week. While such praise is validating on its own, the GIF creation adds a fun element that makes it easier for shier or less vulnerable students to share their gratitude.
While meditation is considered an individual activity, meditating as a class can help form bonds based on shared experiences and emotions. The teacher can read a guided meditation or play quality examples online in moments where students may need to become calm and composed.
For example, it might be helpful to do a guided meditation before a narrative writing lesson — tapping into one’s imagination can help them continue to visualize as they write for entertainment. Meditations may also be helpful before public speaking presentations — the tone of the meditate could focus on being confident and supporting peers as they stand up to present.
*previously published at TeachThought.com