Like many catechists, I have had the novel task this year of teaching faith formation remotely. My students are second graders preparing for First Reconciliation and First Holy Communion.
Late last summer, when we were told that we would be moving to remote learning, I spent hours watching webinars on remote catechesis, viewing videos from teachers on distance learning, and joining in teacher Facebook groups for online teaching. I was grateful to find the template proposed in the video “Tips for Catechists Teaching Remotely” by Joe Paprocki. I committed to the basic structure and timeline he proposed. One of the first elements is an icebreaker. Whether meeting remotely or in person, having an icebreaker sounded like a great idea to hook the children’s attention.
For the first few weeks of our remote sessions, I spent up to an hour each week trying to find a new icebreaker that not only connected to the topic of that week but also was suitable for a remote group of second-graders. Researching new options every week was time-consuming, and creating the elements of each icebreaker took even more time.
One activity several teachers suggested was a scavenger hunt. The teacher gives the students a list of things to find in their houses, and the children have to gather items and come back on camera for show-and-tell within a given time limit. I call this my “One Minute Challenge.” I give the children an objective that is related to the lesson for the day, and they have a set time limit to hunt for an item related to that objective. Then they all unmute and share their items. Two of my primary goals with my remote classes are engagement and getting the children talking. This activity checks both those boxes.
I first used this activity in October. Since St. Francis of Assisi was our saint of the month for October, part of the lesson was talking about him and praying the peace prayer. The object for this scavenger hunt was simple and direct: get a pet or a stuffed animal to join us for the session. Most brought a stuffed animal. It seemed to give them a measure of comfort to have those “stuffies” with them through the session.
I didn’t intend to make the “One Minute Challenge” a standing part of my lessons. But the next week I was stumped for a good icebreaker, so I used it again. Now it has become a regular part of our sessions. “Are you all ready for our One Minute Challenge?” is the first thing I ask after everyone checks in. It doesn’t take any effort for me to prepare for the challenge, and it is flexible enough to fit any theme or lesson.
For a lesson on prayer, the objective was to find something that reminds us of prayer or something starting with the letter “P.” That resulted in everything from a two-foot-tall crucifix to a plate. For our lesson on the Ten Commandments, the objective was to find something we love, as we would be learning about loving God and loving others. That was fun, because at least half of the kids brought back a father, mother, or sibling. For our first Advent session, the objective was to find something related to light. That resulted in candles, flashlights, and showing a lit Christmas tree. As the children are preparing for First Reconciliation, on the day we reviewed the steps of celebrating the sacrament, their objective was to find something that reminds them of celebrations.
This activity has become a bigger part of my remote lessons than I ever would have imagined, and the “One Minute Challenge” has helped make these sessions fun and engaging even though we are apart.
How do you engage children during remote learning sessions? What fun icebreakers have worked for you?