Class is Lava!!

Ready to add a little heat to your sleepy back-to-school syllabus? Then watch your step! Because THE CLASS IS LAVA!!!

So here’s how the onboarding game plays out:


Your goal is to work with your teammates to successfully navigate your way through a series of challenges scattered throughout the classroom, collecting all ten items of furniture as you go! You can explore these locations in any order that you’d like.

Send an editable copy of the slideshow to each member of your classroom, and adapt the challenges from a team vs. team game to a self-paced adventure through individual checkpoints. Give your classes a fixed amount of time to complete all of the challenges in play, and allow students to navigate each “obstacle” and check it off of the list in any order that they’d like.

Picture this: it’s the first day back in your classroom! Do you go the traditional “two truths and a lie” route followed by awkwardly reading the syllabus aloud to a room full of sleepy teens? FORGET THAT — your students have been cooped up away from their classmates for MONTHS! And there’s no time for boring back to school lessons when THE FLOOR IS LAVA!!!

Wake up any tired back to school routine by turning your day one rules, procedures, and consequences housekeeping items into an all-out gamified team-vs.-team race that blends icebreakers, getting to know you activities, and MEANINGFUL face-to-face dialogue that’s guaranteed to stand out from the parade of other sign and return forms and the usual back-to-school procedural grind. If you’re like me, I want my students talking about my class at the dinner table from *the very first night* — and this is a game-changing way to start your year off strong


Rather than going the usual “two truths and a lie” approach followed by an equally awkwardly routine of reading the syllabus aloud to a room full of sleepy teenagers, I decided to turn my day one rules, procedures, and housekeeping items into an all-out gamified supply race that blends icebreakers, getting to know you activities, and MEANINGFUL face-to-face dialogue — intentionally designed to stand out from the parade of other sign and return forms and the usual back-to-school procedural grind. If you’re like me, I want my students talking about my class at the dinner table from *the very first night*. So I start each year with a simple promise: “They say that your favorite class is the one that you like the most. And your best class is the one where you learn the most. If we both do our jobs right, this class will be both.”

Game on.

In the Class is Lava welcome game, students are randomly divided into five competing teams (or divided into individual at-home squads with anywhere from 1-5 members in each group) in an effort to complete 10 different activities before the end of class bell rings, blending a mix of new school ed tech (Google Forms, Flipgrid, Remind, and Padlet) with old school pedagogies like collaborative learning and honest-to-goodness HUMAN INTERACTION — all of which are so critically important, especially in those first days of school. And along the way, they’ll likewise be…

  • Signing up to receive regular text message alerts from your class
  • Learning the ropes of your classroom with self-directed autonomy
  • Completing course intro surveys to help you know who’s who
  • Recording short video introductions to give you a sense of their tech savvy
  • Chatting with you casually without interrupting other teams’ progress
  • Posting selfies and bite-sized bios to help you put a face to a name
  • Submitting goals and short writing samples to gauge the work that lies ahead

I’m sharing this resource template and actively encouraging you to steal it for your classes. Save a copy of the Google Slides template and make it your own! Use it as is, or switch up the theme with a new coat of paint to fit the needs of your learners.

Change The Game.

Check out a handful of variations of the core activity to get a feel for how easy it is for teachers to re-theme the default template to suit the unique needs of your classroom, swapping out individual tasks and selecting the overarching story that’s right for your learners:

Get your students working, thinking, laughing, and ENGAGING from the very moment that class begins until long after the final bell has sounded for the day’s instruction — as if they were somehow playing your class like it was one giant video game. And just like that, you’ve got them excited to come back to see what you have in store for tomorrow.

That’s a game changer!

Click here to save an editable copy of the Class is Lava gamified syllabus template.

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

8 thoughts

  1. Hi John, thank you so much for sharing this resource and the other great templates you shared! I am confused about the spiderweb activity. What are students supposed to do with it? I am not familiar with this type of activity. Also, when doing this activity during distance learning, which activities would you recommend doing in a breakout room? What would you do with the students in class, and which would you have them do on their own time? Thanks in advance for your response!

    1. Thanks Laura! Here’s a linked tweet with a diagram of a completed spiderweb:

      As far as breakout rooms in an online call goes — use your best judgment there. I haven’t personally seen much success when asking students to scatter into designated virtual hangout spaces without the teacher there to help guide the conversation. Working individually or in a shared doc? No problem. But a dedicated chat room without teacher supervision can be dicey.

  2. Hi! I couldn’t get the Bartle test link to work in the “recliner” section of the Class is LAVA document. Could you please let me know what the actual link would go to?
    Thank you!!

  3. Does anyone have a video instruction (for us visual learners) explaining how I could use this activity?

  4. Are ya’ll going back to school face to face? I’m trying to wrap my mind around how to tweak this for online learning. Do you have a version that is more geared to distance learning?

    1. Thanks Kirsten. There are a handful of activities in the slide deck that are written for in-person learning, but you can absolutely swap them out for bother activities that can be completed online. Perhaps completing a PollEverywhere, signing up for Nearpod, etc. etc. – really the entire template is wide open and tasks can be tweaked in any way that best serves your classroom!

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