10 Activities for Building Community in Virtual Spaces

My grandmother Sylvia meeting my daughter for the first time in 2010.

Storytelling Prompts

I encourage groups to move beyond the ‘if you were a flavor of ice cream, what kind would you be?’ type of icebreaker question, and instead invite participants to discuss questions that promote vulnerability and more meaningful connectivity:

  • Tell us about a family member, living or dead, who has had an important impact on your life.
  • Tell us a story about something kind you did for another person, or, tell us a story about something kind another person did for you.
  • Share a food memory that is connected to a family custom or tradition.
  • Talk about joy. When was the last time you felt joyful? Tell us the story.
  • Share a story about a time when you did something challenging that took a lot of courage? Or share about something a friend, family, or colleague did that you considered to be really brave.

Two Truths and a Lie

This is a classic activity for good reason: it provides people with an opportunity to share more about themselves, and it often sparks laughter. I like to set some parameters, for example: the stories told have to be from the participants’ childhood, or from their past weekend, or draw on experiences from a former job. This helps ensure the ‘truths’ that get shared are more personal than just facts about participants. Put people into breakout rooms of 3–4 to play the game. Later invite some participants to share with the whole group something they’ve learned about a peer that resonated or that they felt connected to.

Just Like Me

Adjust your Zoom settings so that each participant can Spotlight one of their colleagues. Then read several statements that you’ve prepared in advance, such as the ones below, which each participant should say out loud (probably with microphones off) while looking at the person they’ve spotlighted. Save time to debrief the experience afterwards.

  • This person gets sad sometimes, just like me…
  • This person brings joy to others, just like me…
  • This person is under pressure, just like me…
  • This person Is super powerful, just like me…
  • This person feels far away from a loved one, just like me…
  • This person has fears, just like me, just like me…
  • [Does anyone in the group want to add any?]

Treasure Hunt

Provide participants with a short list of items (ex. “something black, something round, and something special) and give them a few minutes to find items from their home, office, etc. that fit each category. Invite people to share one of their items and tell the story behind it.

3 of the many books from the Black Lives Matter bookshelf that are read by celebrities, activists, and artists.

Black Lives Matter Bookshelf

Provide participants with a link to this virtual bookshelf that has links to videos of people reading aloud from picture books such as A is For Activist or A Kids Book About Racism. Working with 1–2 partners, the small groups select a book/video to watch together in a breakout room, and then share with each other how the book resonates with their own experiences and values.

Which two words best describe how you’re feeling right now?

Mood Chart

Share this chart that captures the different feelings that might be present for participants, or create your own. Using the Zoom annotate feature (or a similar tool on a site like Jamboard or Miro) participants can anonymously circle (or place a symbol on) one one or two words that resonate with how they are feeling. Give the whole group some time to observe their collective results. Then invite participants from each of the four quadrants to share more about their selected word.

Awards Ceremony

This activity helps foster a culture of public appreciation and celebration.

  • Brightens The Day
  • Did Something Caring
  • Went Out Of Their Way To Help
  • Supported Me on a Challenging Project
  • Is Inspirational

Breakout Quotes

Choose four quotes that will resonate with your group and put them into a slide deck that you share from your screen. Select quotes that speak to issues your community cares about, or reflect values held by participants or your organization. Invite different participants to read each quote aloud. Participants then self select breakout rooms that align with their chosen quote and discuss why that option resonated with them.

That’s Me

Prepare a series of statements that go from playful to more personal. When you read each statement, all participants who agree with the statement use the “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom. At the end of each round, provide participants with an opportunity to tell a story that illustrates why they raised a hand. This activity helps build community by giving participants the opportunity to share personal stories. Consider saving the most personal questions for groups where a high degree of trust and safety has already been established.

  • I ate something delicious last weekend
  • I have taken a few meditative or mindful moments in the past week
  • Someone in this group did something kind for me recently
  • There are some things going on in my personal or family life that are weighing heavily on my heart today
  • I experienced negative treatment because of my identity in a previous workplace (or class)

Billboard Chart

Using a service like Spotify, identify five songs and play 3-second sound clips from each. Participants try to identify the artist and song title, and type their response into the chat but don’t yet submit them. Then, when you say ‘go’, they use the Waterfall technique: everyone submits their response at the exact same time. Next, ask participants to direct-message you with a song they associate with an important person or poignant memory. Play the guessing game again, and afterwards, ask the person to share the story behind their song choice.

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Jonathan Osler

Jonathan Osler

Jonathan Osler writes about educational equity and racial justice. He’s a longtime educator, organizational leader, and fundraising / communications strategist.