Aug 04, 2020

50 Ways to Build Relationships, Routines, and Culture in Week 1 of Remote Teaching

While some teachers (about 1 in 3 of those I've surveyed informally) are going back to their classrooms for some sort of in-person instruction, many educators will be teaching either completely remotely or in various blended models for this fall at least. If you're a teacher reading this post, yours is a daunting task. But if I know anything about you... it's that:

  • you don't give up easily,
  • you handle unpredictable situations with poise, and
  • you always think of your students first.

With those three valiant strengths in mind, I'd suggest you're uniquely ready to knock this year out of the park. To give you a little extra confidence boost, I've curated 50 ways teachers can build relationships, routines, and culture in week 1 of remote teaching. If it helps you, or if it sparks an interesting idea for you, please share it with a fellow educator who'll be in the trenches with you!



1. Have students create LinkedIn profiles or professional learning portfolio websites on Google Sites... a perfect connection to the career prep portion of your class.

2. Use PickerWheel to have students answer “get to know you” questions at random.

3. Make it your mission to get on a first-name basis with every students’ parents/guardians by a certain date, and make this date public to hold yourself accountable for your mission.

4. Host a low-stakes digital game hour where you can play trivia games, finance(or not)-related games, and get to know your students outside the academic schedule.

5. Survey students to gather their outside-of-school interests, then create a get-to-know-your-classmates trivia quiz.

6. Group students into small, ordered sections of 5 or 6 (by height, alphabetically, length of eyebrows, etc), and have them make meaningful connections between each participant, in order. The circle’s connections are common interests between each student, and the circle must connect back from the last student in the order to the first. Hence the circle.

7. Conduct a poll/questionnaire about your students’ interests in and out of school, then use a free service like Discovery Education to make a crossword puzzle featuring fun facts about your students so they can get to know one another. BONUS extension in #8 below!

8. Add a secret message to your fun fact crossword puzzle by circling various letters from the completed puzzle to create an anagram. E.g. the crossword puzzle’s circled letters could generate an anagram that students would have to unscramble to reveal “WELCOME TO JUNIOR YEAR” for bonus points, extra raffle tickets, etc.

9. Use a service such as Google Voice or Remind to create a classroom specific phone number for fast text or voice alerts.

10. Have students create TikTok or Flipgrid “All about me” clips, then pair students to find common interests.

11. Laugh at your own mistakes when you’re facilitating remote learning. Nobody’s perfect, and we’re all going through a nationwide trauma. Students probably want to know their teacher is a human who cares about them in this challenging time.

12. Start a question to your student(s) with, “As a human…”

13. Play “Find and Tell” with non-digital objects students have in close proximity to them. Find an object that is really weird, find an object that is eye catching, find an object that has a story, etc. BONUS extension in #14 below!

14. Ask students to find an object in their home that has sentimental or non-monetary value to them. Connect this via discussion to the intertwined values of money, material possessions, and experiences in a behavioral finance mini lesson.

15. Have students design their own professional-looking email signature with their accomplishments and key values. They can then use this email signature for their classroom discussions, and upgrade it throughout the year.

16. Have students create Google Slides "vision boards" for their own financial or career goals over the next 1, 5, and 50 years. Pack them away, and revisit them in a few months.

17. Have students create (or curate together from outside sources) a “Billy on the Street” (look it up for a laugh on Netflix or Youtube) discussion pack with poll & lightning round questions students could ask their peers about money, careers, investing, behavioral finance and more.

18. Use a MindMapping tool like Venngage to have students display their key values, questions, and curiosities about the world of personal finance.



19. Publicly time absolutely every classroom activity (Source: Teach Like a Champion 2.0). You can show your phone timer, embed a Google Timer in your slides, deputize students to be the keepers of the clock, or find another creative way to track and display activity times remotely.

20. Consolidate all classroom items into one place, like your LMS (Source: Harvard GCSE).

21. Repeatedly practice the transitions from one learning activity to the next with your students. As you know, compounded over several months, these seemingly small moments can result in lots of time gained for learning. So ensuring your students ace your transitions is quite literally an investment in their learning. Christian's coming AT YOU with the personal finance analogies!

22. Communicate with your district’s IT team about any outside sites you plan to have your students access before your lessons - Youtube, EdPuzzle, Nearpod, NGPF, current events/news sources, etc. - so you don't run headlong into your district's firewall blocking/filtering your key academic items. This usually happens, of course, at the absolute worst time in your lesson plan.

23. Practice the most commonly used video call skills - screenshare, mute/unmute, window resizing, creating a distraction-free background, etc. - with family or friends before your next video call with students.

24. Turn class procedures into a good-natured race between class sections, publicly tracking how different sections’ best times stack up against one another.

25. Popsicle stick cold calls work beautifully in both live classrooms and virtual classrooms. To implement this technique, write your students’ names on popsicle sticks, one name per stick, and keep each “class” in a cup on your desk. Shake the cup, and pull a name for a quick-but-fair cold call.

26. Use playing cards or an online playing card deck simulator as a cold call mechanism or student small grouping mechanism!

27. Use a randomizer tool like PickerWheel to cold call random students or select random discussion questions from your pre-determined options about the topic at hand.

28. Fishbowl Procedure Roleplays! Assign one small group of students (the "inside" group) to roleplay one of your virtual classroom’s most important norms/procedures, while another small group (the "outside" group) observes and gives feedback. Then switch inside/outside groups and tackle a new norm/procedure.

29. Conduct checks for understanding without video. E.g. the “Nod” Google Meet extension, Nearpod’s poll feature, chat to respond.

30. Issue clear “what to do if your wifi cuts out...” instructions.

31. Constantly narrate what your students should be seeing and doing on their screens.

32. Find or build a system of hand gestures for key classroom responses.

33. Use visual aid Add-ons like Google Meet’s “Nod” extension to collect non-verbal feedback from students during video calls in which students do not (or cannot) have cameras available.


Academic Culture

34. Constantly vary the ways students engage with you, and with each other. Visual, verbal, musical, tactile, artistic, etc.

35. Record key snippets of lessons beforehand, and share them in your LMS 12 hours in advance. This can add a self-paced element to your lessons for students on every level.

36. Help students find the humor in the often ridiculous challenges of remote learning. Encourage students to laugh at their own mistakes, not at others', then learn from them and move on.

37. Survey your students to understand their technology limitations at home. This will allow you to take the Goldilocks approach with your use of technology… not too hot, not too cold, but just right for the reality of your students’ networks.

38. Survey students about what skills they’re most excited to build/practice in your class. Return to the survey results frequently to tie new lessons to your students’ start-of-the-year goals.

39. Build a Virtual Background (you can use these in Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet) with academic or behavior expectations embedded.

40. Practice-practice-practice your non-verbal communication skills over video: hand motions, eyebrow motions, your proximity to camera, your movement around frame vs. still composure, etc.

41. Acknowledge students for meeting academic expectations, and praise students for exceeding them (Source: Teach Like a Champion 2.0).

42. Use local businesses as group names in a classroom economy game. You can consciously tie the lessons students learn in your classroom to direct benefits outside the class, and maybe even generate internship opportunities for your students.

43. Survey former students about what helped them be successful in your class. Turn their responses into a “Life Hacks: Virtual Classroom Edition” Slide Show, Manual, or Flipgrid page.

44. For each self-paced student activity, add one or two Challenge or Extension activities for students who master the activity early.

45. Bring in non-digital tools like pen and paper to your remote learning environment. (Source: Virtual PD: The Psychology of Online Learning)

46. “Narrate” students meeting expectations to reinforce academic and behavioral norms.

47. Have students use Google Slides, Canva, Piktochart, or another visual software to make their own Virtual Backgrounds with icons, quotes, and public figures who inspire them. You can use these with most of the widely used video call software.

48. Invent a classroom “outer space alien” (perhaps they have tin foil antennae...) who visits your class semi-frequently to have students explain in super-clear language various topics (financial or otherwise) from earth.

49. Create a raffle structure where excellent student conduct - not just verbal participation - earns raffle tickets. The chance of winning creates a more sustainable incentive (so many teachers buy raffle prizes out of their own pockets...) AND helps level the participation playing field between extroverted and introverted students.

50. Create "participation budgets" (convenient analogy to personal finance content…) in which students must employ multiple types of participation - verbal, non-verbal, musical, tactile, etc. - to earn credit for an activity.


Be THAT helpful teacher colleague. If this list helped you, or if it sparked an interesting idea for you, please share it via Email, facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, or Pinterest! Thanks!

About the Author

Christian Sherrill

Former teacher, forever financial education nerd. As NGPF's Director of Growth & Advocacy, Christian is laser-focused on our mission to guarantee all students a rigorous personal finance course before crossing the high school graduation stage. Having paid down over $40k in student loans in the span of 3 years - while living in the Bay Area on an entry level teacher's salary - he's eager to help the next generation avoid financial pitfalls one semester at a time.

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