Distance Learning: Spin and Steal for Social Emotional Connection

Catching up with kids after time away from school can be such a great way to learn more about their lives and deepen connections. And, this year, when teachers are being asked to blur the lines between being educators, counselors, and social workers, it’s more important than ever that we know our students as full humans with complicated lives. But it never fails that when I ask kids, “How was your break?” or “What did you do over break?”, I get total silence (or if I’m lucky, one-word answers).

Enter: my beloved Wheel of Names.

In my experience, asking such general questions about time away from school makes kids shut down. But playing a nail-biting game of SPIN AND STEAL?! That somehow causes a deluge of information, connection, and insight. My groups will literally talk until I close the Meet. (And sometimes after, because… email.)

In case you haven’t guessed it by now, Spin and Steal is a completely fake game that I totally made up. And yes, you should play it too.

Here’s how it works:

  • I load the Wheel with shortcuts to questions before the group Meet begins. I try to mix simple and more complex questions. This list is one of the best I have found in terms of questions that engage and push kids to share – I use it almost every day.
  • Once the Meet begins, I share my screen with the wheel ready to go, explain the rules of the game, and ask the kids to design a secret hand signal for that day’s game.
  • Once our hand signal is set, I randomly pick a kid to go first, and spin the wheel for them. We may or may not cheer while it spins. (We do.)
  • When the Wheel lands, we all do a little confetti victory dance – just try not to, they’re contagious! – and then the student answers whatever question the wheel lands on. (One important note: In my classes and meetings, kiddos are always welcome to pass, spin again, or just watch. I never force students to answer personal or social emotional questions, in any setting. I’m looking for connection, not obedience – I want to offer them the respect to set the limits and boundaries that feel right for them. If I notice a student is passing or opting out repeatedly, I take that as a sign to schedule a one-on-one check-in to see what might be at the root of that pattern.)
  • At any point while the student is answering their question, another attendee can make the secret hand signal to “steal” the question and answer it for themselves, when it’s their turn.
  • If more than one student shows the signal, I’ll use a game-show voice to call on them one at a time, so they each get a turn.
  • Once all of the “steals” are complete, I choose the next student to spin and we start the process over.

I’m going to be honest here: I have no idea why this works. It’s just a group of kids waiting their turn to answer social emotional questions, like they would in any Morning Meeting/classroom community meeting. But gamifying the moment somehow changes the whole experience. The questions can seem basic, but they give me an invaluable peek into how students are feeling, what their week off was like, and what’s looming large in their lives right now. It’s also such an amazing opportunity to see them interact, build off of each other, and share empathetic responses to the group’s answers. I’ve been surprised at how personal and deep students are willing to go in front of their peers using this method. Ask a kid directly, get a shrug. Add drama and confetti?! Suddenly, it’s a party!

After my groups really get the hang of this game, I hope to have students create the questions for the group. I would love to hear what their wonders are, and what kind of questions they’d like to ask each other. That step might take a little extra guidance, but I think it will be worth it!

Here are the questions from the wheel today:

  • What are you feeling curious about right now?
  • What is making you smile today?
  • What was the best moment of your time off from school?
  • What have you learned about or discovered recently that surprised you?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • What was the biggest challenge of your time off from school?
  • What’s happening in your brain today – in just one word?
  • What did you have time for last week, that you normally don’t?

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