In this post, I’ll address all sorts and ways to build more interaction into your Zoom calls. (Many of the ideas can also work on other video chat platforms such as Skype, Teams, Facetime, and so on.)
All of these ideas can be used just for the fun of it. Some of them can also be used to teach information, practice academic skills or reinforce content taught in a class. Many are appropriate if you’re teaching preschool or early elementary, many are appropriate for happy hour with grown-ups. There’s a lot of flexibility to HOW you can use the tools – be creative!
What you can do IN Zoom
MANY activities you do in person work just fine in Zoom meetings. These are things you can just do verbally on a Zoom call – no special Zoom skills or extra technology needed.
- Show and Tell – works for any age from toddlers to elders! Just ask each person to bring an item to the meeting to show to people and to talk about.
- Petting Zoo… m. We all watch for pets to wander through Zoom meetings. How about planning a pet show and tell? Dogs are usually happy to participate. With other pets, it may be easiest for them to take a picture and share that.
- Talent Show, TED Talks or Share the Skill. You can do a talent show where people could read poetry, dance (or show a video of them dancing), tell jokes or play music. (Be sure to check out my post on making music work on Zoom.) They can do TED Talks, with or without slides, about their passion. Or, each participant could take turns teaching all the other participants a simple skill.
- Progressive Stories. One person starts a story: “Once upon a time, a polka-dotted elephant…” then the next person continues “… boarded a spaceship headed for… “
- Packing the Suitcase. One person starts with something like “My aunt was going on a trip to Japan, so in her suitcase she packed her toothbrush…” and the second person says “My aunt… packed her toothbrush and a four leaf clover.” The third person repeats what has come before and adds a new item. Keep going till someone makes a mistake.
- Two Truths and a Lie – Each person tells two true things about themselves and one lie. Others have to guess the lie. (Option: you could use polls to take votes.)
- Would you Rather? You can play this with a small group by having one person to ask any question using the format “would you rather ______ or _______” and the other(s) choose their preference. They can do it verbally, or you could use Zoom reactions – if you’d rather do choice A you use the thumbs up if you’d rather do choice B you use the clapping reaction. Or, with a large group, you could do polling and see what percentage would make each choice.
- Fortunately / Unfortunately. One person starts a story with something as simple as “One day I decided to go for a picnic in the park.” Then the next person says “Fortunately [fill in the blank]” then someone else jumps in with “Unfortunately [fill in the blank]” and keep on going… on and on… Great for tweens. With a group of 4 – 5, you can popcorn – anyone who wants to can go next. With a larger group, you might need to plan turns.
- Never Have I Ever: One person says “never have I ever _______” and describes something. If you’ve never done it either, you leave your fingers down. If you HAVE done it, raise a finger and keep holding it up. The next person says “never have I ever”. At the end of the game who ever has the most fingers up “wins.”
- I Spy in your room: Choose a person to be it, and a spy. Spotlight “it”. The spy looks at what is shown in “its'” camera image (i.e. objects in the room with “it”) and then says “I spy with my little eye something red” (or something that starts with an M, or whatever.) Others “raise hands” when they spot it. Note: some people (like me) sit in front of a blank wall, so you can suggest that they could choose a virtual background to put up or an image to share. (Just do a google search for “I spy pictures” and find lots of great options.) And you should also offer this option to everyone, as many people might be uncomfortable with people scrutinizing their environment.
- Play 20 questions. “Is it an animal, vegetable, or mineral?” (Learn more.)
- Play Simon Says.
- Scavenger Hunt. Ask participants to find certain objects – they run and find it in their home and bring it back to show to others.
- Draw on Your Head. Each participant needs scrap paper and a writing utensil (it’s best if they use a big, dark colored marker so others will be able to see their drawings.) They place the paper on top of their head. Then the host gives a clue, like flower, bird, house, etc. They draw a picture on top of their head without looking, and then share it with everyone else by holding it up to the camera.
- Cooking with Friends, Cleaning with Company, Sewing with Sisters, Knitwits, etc. Sometimes in this period of physical isolation, it’s just nice to have someone to hang out with while you get work done around the house. It’s fine to have a Zoom call with some friends while you all cook and eat dinner together in your separate houses, or while you clean house or get craft projects done.
There are also some simple tools within the Zoom platform that you can use in creative ways.
It’s easy to play charades. Decide who will offer the clues. The host uses private chat to send a message ONLY to the clue-giver. The clue-giver then acts out the word that they were given.
For Taboo, the host would use private chat to send the word, the keywords the clue-giver CAN use, and the taboo word they can NOT use. Hosts would really want to have all these words typed up in advance so they could copy / paste into chat to make it go quickly.
In my post on sharing screens, I talked about the basics of how to use the whiteboard feature. Here’s some easy games to play there – for some you’ll need to be sure you’ve given participants permission to annotate screen. Pretty much any “pencil and paper game” you’d play sitting at a table at a restaurant you can play here.
Draw out a grid on your whiteboard – you and opponent take turns drawing in X and O.
You come up with a word, draw out the hangman. Participants guess letters.
We play a game where one person makes a random scribble, then the other person needs to use that scribble as the foundation for a drawing – creating some artwork that somehow includes that scribble.
A childbirth educator puts her students into breakout rooms and asks them to work together to draw a picture of the female anatomy relevant to pregnancy and birth, then screen shot it and bring back to the group to share. This is a laugh-inducing, group bonding beginning to their discussion of anatomy and physiology of birth. You could use this shared drawing technique in many other contexts.
We created a game called “Poll Pundit.” We had lots of polls set-up with yes / no questions (is your bedtime usually before 10 pm? have you eaten pizza in the past week? do you have any tattoos? Just search for “100 yes/no questions” for ideas.) We’d choose two contestants. We’d tell them the question, and launch the poll (so people could start voting, but can’t see the results yet). We’d ask one contestant to predict what percentage would say yes and WHY they thought that. Then we’d ask the second contestant to guess and WHY they were correct and the other person is wrong. Then we’d reveal the answer.
Using the Waiting Room
Play the Password game. Pick four contestants, split into team one and two. One person from each team will be the clue giver – they stay in the meeting. The other person from each team will be the guesser – send them to the waiting room. (Click on their name in the participant list to do this.) Then tell everyone still in the meeting what the secret word is. Let the guessers back in. Clue Giver 1 gives a 1-word clue. Guesser 1 guesses. If they get it wrong, then clue giver 2 give a 1 word clue and guesser 2 guesses, and so on will someone guessed the mystery word.
Who Am I? This is like that game where you have a sign taped on your back with a name on it, and you go around the party asking everyone questions to figure out who you are. In the Zoom environment, the host puts one person in the waiting room, tells everyone else the clue, then lets them back in. The person asks yes / no questions, and everyone can respond (by nodding or by using the yes/no reaction buttons.
Using the Breakout Room
You can also use the breakout room for games if you want teams to be able to confer. For example, I participated in a Trivial Pursuit game, where the host would read the question, then send the three teams into their breakout rooms to come up with their best answer and a couple backup plans – they’d come back in one minute. He’d call on one team – if they got it right, they got one point. If they got it wrong, it passed on to the second team for two points. If they got it wrong, the third team could attempt for three points.
Any game a single player can play on a screen can be shared with other participants, and they can play socially.
Crosswords, Sudoku, etc.
You can do an online crossword or other newspaper style puzzles with a couple friends by just having one of you share screens and do the typing, and the others can call out answers to type in.
I haven’t tried to build an escape room with google forms, but my son has participated in some Outschool classes that use them. The teacher designs the escape room in advance, then shares their screen. The kids work through it, solving the puzzles till they reach the end. My son had a lot of fun solving puzzles and interacting with the other kids, and they were all getting practice in fourth grade skills at the same time with math puzzles, reading comprehension puzzles, and logic puzzles.
Use an online boggle generator to randomly “roll the dice.” Share the screen so all players can see the letters. Each writes out their own answers at home, then read them out to each other like you would if you were playing at home.
Family Feud / Game Shows
We used a Family Feud template from Rusnak Creative to create a custom Family Feud game. Then we shared the screen to share it with players. I think there are lots of other game show simulators online (like factile for Jeopardy), mostly originally designed for use in a brick and mortar classroom, but if you can play it on a computer, you can share it on your screen.
Playing Online Games Socially
There are lots of online games you can play either with friends, or with random strangers on the internet. MANY of them include a chat feature where you can type messages back and forth to the other players. But it’s more fun to do them in Zoom where you can talk out loud as you play.
For this game, each player joins a zoom call where they can talk. Then they all open a browser too. (You can make the zoom window smaller so it doesn’t take up your whole screen.) They play the game together in the browser and talk while they play.
This is a Pictionary style game, where one player is shown a clue – they draw it and others try to guess what they’re drawing. To play, go to https://skribbl.io/. One person chooses “create private room” and then sends that link to everyone in the Zoom chat, and starts the game.
Go to https://digitalpuzzle.ravensburger.us/ Choose a puzzle. Tell your zoom-mates which puzzle you chose – they’ll see it in the list of “active games” and can join you there. In theory, you can lock the puzzle after your friends have joined you, but we’ve occasionally had other people wander in. It’s never been a problem for us to have others play.
Board Game Arena
The site https://boardgamearena.com has LOTS of online games to choose from. Choose to play “real-time” and choose to “play with friends.” It will ask whether you’re sharing the same screen (i.e. are in a house together sharing a device) or not. Then it will give you a link to send to them. Then you can talk on zoom and choose a game together and play along as you talk.
You can also check out Codenames online. Romper also says “A variety of classic board games can also be played online. Games like Uno can be played via Facebook and websites like Tabletopia have games of virtual chess and checkers kids can play with grandparents.”
External Apps / Websites
Mentimeter (Word Clouds)
I really like word clouds for connecting a community (for example, we used it on the first night of a camp to ask: what will you miss most about in-person camp and what are you most looking forward to about online camp.) You can also use it for agenda setting at a meeting or class where you ask people to share the three topics they most want to discuss.
In real time, people enter their answers to a question, and they are collated into a word cloud, which makes the most common responses large fonts, and less common responses are still there but smaller.
Go to mentimeter.com. Create a free account. Then click on “your presentations.” Create a new presentation. Choose word cloud type. Type in your question. You can prepare these in advance if you want. When you’re ready to use it, go to your account, open presentation, choose “share” in the top right – it will give you a code and a link.
You could then ask people to either: 1) use a separate device to go to menti.com and enter the 6 digit code, OR 2) copy the link for voting and paste it in the chat box so people can click on it and enter the words in their browser. Then, click on “present” in the top right. Share your screen of that presentation, and participants will see the words appear as they type them in.
Note: there are lots of other things you can do with mentimeter like multiple choice questions (but I just use polls in Zoom) or make slides (I use PowerPoint) and open ended questions (I use chat). The rankings could be helpful in decision making. A birth educator uses a true/false quiz where she shares true facts AND common myths and asks whether they are true or false. It displays a pie chart of their responses – this is good for testing what misconceptions students might have.
PollEverywhere.com has many of the same tools. You set up a poll, activate it, then share your screen so they can see the results as they come in. They CAN go to a website to enter responses. Or they can use their phones to text a response. The mechanism is confusing – but if you give REALLY clear directions it could be OK. The screen you share says something like “text janelle303 to 22333.” But when you text you need to first type in the number you’re texting to (22333) and then your message (janelle303). Then you get a text back saying “you’ve joined Janelle’s session. When you’re done, reply leave.” Then you’re supposed to intuit that now is the time to type in the answer to whatever question was asked.
Kahoot is another similar platform – from the little I’ve seen of it, it’s more polished than PollEverywhere, but I haven’t had a chance to explore it. Again, you design things, share your screen, they use another device to install an app and play along. Can do quiz, true/false, polls, etc.
Jackbox Games are collections of party games that one person has to purchase. Then they can share their screen so everyone can see the main game. They start a game, then all the participants use their own devices to go to https://jackbox.tv/ and type in a code to join the game. Then they all play a game together. There are lots of fun games. There are two you can write custom questions for – Quiplash 2 and Drawful 2 – which allows you to make up fun games tailored just for one particular audience, or allows you to use them in an academic setting with clues based on a lesson you want to review. (here’s a guide for homeschooling parents. Note, these games are aimed at a mature audience. You can turn on family friendly settings, which brings them to about middle school appropriate.
There’s something called Quizlet that my son’s chemistry camp used – it may be like kahoot?
There’s a game called Photo Roulette described here which pulls random pictures off each player’s device to share and people have to guess whose is whose. (You do have the ability to approve whether or not it’s OK to show the items it can choose from.)
I want to address taking turns. When you’re in a physical room together, it’s easy to just “go around the circle” in order. In Zoom, it’s a little trickier to figure out who goes next and when it will be your turn. Here are some ideas:
- You can ask whoever is ready to go first and keep doing that till all have had a turn. Or you can ask one person to go, and when they’re done, they call on someone to go next. Either of these methods work well with smaller groups. But in bigger groups, you may need a moderator to keep track of who has gone to make sure everyone gets a fair turn. Also, both these methods can be very awkward for introverts and neurodiverse folks to have to decide when their turn is or worse, to not know when their turn will be and then be put on the spot.
- One moderator can go in the order that people appear in gallery view on their screen, like saying “I’ll start in the top left corner of the screen and go from there.” But it’s important to realize that other people don’t see the same view you do, so they won’t know who will be next. All our screens look different! First, if someone is on a mobile device, they may only see 4 or 9 participants at a time – with larger screens and more CPU you can see more – I see 25 on my laptop screen, my husband sees 49. So, obviously the different number of participants shown means they may be laid out differently. But even beyond that, I’ve not been able to figure out how Zoom decide what order to show images in when using gallery view. I know my image usually appears on the first screen, but otherwise it appears to be random. So, if it helps you keep track, you can do it this way, just know that it doesn’t help others keep track of who will be next.
- You can use the participant list – it puts everyone in approximate alphabetical order, so you could all look at the participant list and go in that order. (Note: it’s actually a little complicated in that it lists host, then co-host, then unmuted participants in alphabetical order, then muted participants in order… but it could help.)
- You can have players use the “raise hand” feature. Then when you look at the participant list, whoever raised their hand first will be at the top – whoever raised it second goes second and so on. If you want to keep the same order, just leave their hands raised, if not, lower their hands after each turn.
I have ideas specifically targeted at Zoom calls with toddlers and preschoolers at: Young Children and Zoom.
I got these ideas from many places – my co-workers at Parent Trust and Bellevue College, from a Lamaze webinar, from our director of religious education at church, and from lots of online articles, including:
More Zoom Tutorials
- Becoming a more skilled Zoom participant (gallery view vs. speaker view, changing your name, looking better, sounding better, and finding a better signal so your calls don’t freeze)
- Hosting a Meeting (starting a meeting, inviting people, scheduling a meeting, security issues to reduce Zoom bombings, muting, recording, and the basics of sharing screens)
- Advanced Meeting Management (spotlight, breakout rooms, co-hosts, polling)
- Sharing Screens on Zoom (how to share PowerPoint slides, videos, documents, the whiteboard, etc.)
- Optimizing PowerPoint for use on Zoom – you can place all the audio, video, and images you need all in one PowerPoint to help your meetings go more smoothly.
- Music on Zoom: playing recordings, live music or leading songs
- Young Children and Zoom – tips for how to help teachers and grandparents connect with kids online and how to help children connect with others – includes lots of suggested interactive activities