In this post, I’ll address all sorts of ways to build more interaction into your Zoom calls. (Most of the ideas can also work on other video chat platforms such as Skype, Teams, Facetime, and so on.)
All of these take place just on the Zoom platform – no need for them to click out to any other websites or use other apps for any of them, which makes them accessible to people of all ages and levels of tech savvy.
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!
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 participants 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 Zoom polls to have people vote.)
- Would you Rather? You can play this with a small group by having one person 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 choose 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 virtual 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. Participants draw a picture on top of their head without looking, and then share it with everyone else by holding it up to the camera.
- Happy Hour, Dinner Parties, Costume Parties. Gather on Zoom, chat about what you’re drinking, what you’re eating, what you’re wearing, etc. Then let the conversation go where it will.
- 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 or work on craft projects. 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.
Games that Use Chat
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. Spotlight them so they’re easy for everyone to see.
For Taboo, the host would use private chat to send the word, and the taboo words the clue-giver CAN NOT use. Hosts should have all these words typed up in advance so they could copy / paste into chat to make it go quickly. (This is good for multi-age, because youngest kids just get the one word – like crayon – that they can’t say. Mid-age kids would get a couple taboo words. Adults would get “crayon. Also can’t say color, Crayola, wax.”
Celebrity or Sheet Charades
These games are sort of like charades, in that the clue-giver is given a clue that they then try to get the other participants to guess. In these games, there are multiple rounds, and you use the same set of word clues for each round, so they come back again and again in new formats. Possible rounds could be: charades, pictionary (use the white board in Zoom), taboo-like round where you can use ANY word except the clue word, and single-word rounds where you give ONLY one word to help them guess it (this works well as one of the later rounds in the game, where all you have to do is say “state” and they know it’s California, because we all know California is one of the clues that game.)
Says You (based on the NPR game show)
The host comes up with an obscure word they don’t think anyone will know the true meaning of. They use chat to send the correct definition to one person, then they tell everyone what the word is – type it in chat to everyone so people can see it. Then each person has one minute to make up a definition, then they post it in chat for all to see (the person who received the real one copies and pastes it and sends that.) People get a point if they guess the correct definition, and people get a point if someone guesses the definition they made up.
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. Here are a few ideas.
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.
Participants work together on a drawing.
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 open the poll so everyone could see the question and start voting, then we’d ask for two volunteer contestants. 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 say WHY they were correct and the other person is wrong. Then we’d reveal the answer.
This is fun as a community activity, because you can look at who the participants are in the meeting and make your predictions based on what you know about them or might guess about them.
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 a name of a famous person, 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) until they figure out who they are.
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 online on a screen can be shared with other participants, and they can play socially.
Crosswords, Sudoku, etc.
You can do an online crossword, spot the difference, 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, telling the teacher what answer to type in. They solve 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.
“Let me tell you about my vacation.” This is a fun improv game, where the host gathers a collection of pictures into a slide deck, in the pattern: location, unusual person or creature, problems that could arise, and happy endings. The contestants start by saying “Let me tell you about my vacation. I went to [host shows the first slide].” Then they start telling an improv story about what they did there. When the host chooses, they bring up the next slide, and they have to say “Then I met…” and so on.
I want to address taking turns for games. 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:
- Calling On People: Have your own list and go in that order. Or go in alphabetical order. (Note: the participant list puts everyone in approximate alphabetical order. But it’s 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.) A nice thing about alphabetical is that people know when their turn is coming.
- Let Them Choose: You, as moderator, 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. (Or, keep track by checking them off on a list.) FYI, both these methods can be 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.
- Arranging People: The 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 automatically see the same view you do, so they won’t know who will be next. All our screens look different! Participants can click on someone’s camera image and drag them to a specific place on their screen – for example, dragging someone to the top left corner when they’ve had a turn, but only they see that order. If you are the host, the host can arrange people and share their order with all participants by choosing “follow host’s video order” in the view menu so they can all see who has had a turn.
- It’s worth remembering that folks on phones see only 4 participants at a time, on tablets 9, on laptops 25, on desktops with high CPU 49. So, obviously the different number of participants shown means they may be laid out differently.
- Raise Hands: 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.
More Interaction Options
I have ideas that require the participants to either go to a website, or use an app, either on their primary device they’re using for the call, or on a second device. Check those out at Use Other Apps with Zoom. Ideas include: Jamboard, Mentimeter word clouds, Kahoot quizzes, Jackbox Games, skribbl.io, online jigsaw puzzles, and online board games.
I have ideas specifically targeted at Zoom calls with toddlers and preschoolers at: Young Children and Zoom.
You can also learn more Zoom skills in my Zoom User Guide.
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: