Theatrefolk - The Drama Teacher Resource Company

Designing Your Virtual Classroom

There are many things to think about when it comes to designing your virtual classroom.

Background

When teaching classes via video conferencing, it’s good to think about what’s going on behind you. This doesn’t mean pets walking through your virtual classroom or visible piles of laundry in view of your camera, although those should probably be kept out of view as much as possible! Having an interesting and creative background can grab students’ attention, be a conversation starter, or make them laugh. It’s also fun to switch things up and create a fresh atmosphere for your virtual classroom.

We’re talking old school and low tech here. Virtual backgrounds are always an option, but sometimes they can be visually distracting. Think about creating your own teaching set. 

In terms of materials, pretty much anything goes. This is very much an exercise in “use what you have!”

  • Blank canvas: Start with a plain wall, or hang a large bed sheet, blanket, or large pieces of paper (butcher paper, Bristol board, wrapping paper) on your wall. If you don’t want to attach things to your wall, you can use a curtain and pin items to it, or use a bookshelf and display items on it.
  • Adhesives: Use tape meant for walls to hang paper (make sure it doesn’t damage your walls). Safety pins for fabric, binder clips, or command hooks can all work well.
  • Loose parts: Your imagination is the limit here. Ribbons, magazine cutouts, post-it notes, clothing or costume items, pieces of fabric, books, props, household items… if you can hang it, attach it, or display it, use it!

Here are some ideas for your virtual classroom background:

Warm-Ups to Wake Up the Brain:
  • I Spy: Put a variety of small items in the background and have students search for specific ones.
  • Memory: Put a variety of small items in the background and have students study it for one minute. Turn off your screen. Remove one item. Turn your screen back on and have students figure out which item is missing.
  • Taboo: Put a variety of small items in the background. Have students describe the items without using the actual words for the items. For example, if one of the items is an apple, students can say “fruit,” “juicy,” “grows on a tree,” “round,” or “red,” but not the word “apple.” See if students can get you to guess the item they chose in fewer than five descriptors.
Creative Challenges:
  • Colour Scheme: Create a background using only household objects all in one colour. For example, if your colour is red, you could display a red t-shirt, an apple, a toy fire engine, a rose, and some strawberries (or pictures/photos of these items).
  • Set Design: Make a background that looks like a set from a famous theatrical production, using only items from around your house.
  • Funny Frames: Attach cutouts to the wall that frame your head and shoulders when you sit in front of them, such as a hat, halo, wings, a speech bubble, or an animal sitting on your shoulder.
Feel-Good Moments:
  • Student Stars: Cut out colourful or sparkly stars, write your students’ names on them, and stick them up. You could add small sticker stars on each student’s name star for answering questions, participating in discussions, or submitting assignments.
  • Inspirational Messages: Have students submit various positive messages or favourite quotes from plays, musicals, or performers. Make them into posters and display them on your background.
  • Virtual Scrapbook: Hang photos of your students, as well as rehearsal and production photos, posters, and playbills from past shows on the wall.

Click here for a free student exercise and evaluation rubric: Monologue With a Background.
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