being me, global, MIEExpert15, mystery skype, student voice

A Few Ideas for Using Skype in the Classroom

There are technology tools that come along and make your day easier, that make your day better.  There are technology tools that integrate themselves so seamlessly into your lessons that you soon forget what life was like before.  There are tools that you know you can rely on whenever you need them.  And then there are tools that encompass all that and oh so much more.  Tools that elevate your teaching ideas to places you never thought they could have gone.  That’s how I feel about Skype.  Skype and I have been faithful friends for the past 16 years, ever since I moved to America, but our relationship really deepened 5 years ago when I brought it into the classroom.

So why has Skype been such a central piece of my classroom?  Because it is free, efficient, easy to use, and opens up a world of possibility that I never could physically bring into my classroom, yet through its power and immense network I can.  Skype simply makes what we are doing better.  It gives us audiences, authors, experts.  It connects us with places around the world and gives my students a way to change the world.

So what are some of our best ideas?

Students speak to author Adam Gidwitz
Students speak to author Adam Gidwitz

How about using Skype to do market research?  We did just that in our epic nonfiction picture book project where the students had to write a book catered to a K and 1st grade audience.  So voila, through the magic of Skype we spoke to several classrooms throughout North America and learned what we need to learn to make our books so much better.

How about speaking with an author?  This has always been one of my favorite ways to use Skype since so many authors speak to classrooms either completely free or for very cheap.  It is powerful for students to see the genius behind their most favorite books and only heightens their experience with the book.  Did you know that the incredible Kate Messner has a list of authors who Skype for free?

How about working on geography skills while building community?  That is exactly what playing Mystery Skype has done for my students.  If you have never tried this simple guessing game, please make sure you plan one this year.  They are so easy to plan and incredible to be a part of. This is always one of the most favorite things my students do throughout the year.

How about having students teach others how to do something?  My students have used Skype to teach others how to blog and how to play Mystery Skype.  They have been teachers for other classes and other teachers.  Think of the power in that!

How about using it to share book recommendations?  As summer nears, my students are adding books to their “Plan to read” lists and a great way to get more suggestions is by scheduling Skype calls with other students eager to recommend great books.  This is a great way to get new suggestions both for my students and for my own classroom library and it seems to hold more power when it is a student-to-student recommendation rather than just me book-talking.

How about bringing an audience to you?  It would cost a lot of money for my students to visit an elementary school to perform or speak, but via Skype our audience can come to us.  So whenever the chance exists, I try to bring in a live audience through the camera.  Having the live audience ups my students’ performance and gives us a way to connect with others.

How about learning about other cultures?  I think we often think that every call has to be planned out and structured but sometimes just giving students tim e to  speak to other students can be exciting within itself.  One of my classes spoke to a school in inner-city New York, something I did not think would mean much to them because it was not out of the country, but the experience rattled them.  They could not believe how different their school and community was from theirs.  That call cemented something that I had been telling them all year but that they didn’t quite believe; America is a very diverse nation indeed.

How about to raise awareness?  My students have used Skype calls to raise awareness about the “R” words, bullying, and other issues near and dear to their heart.  Again, by providing them with a platform to spread their message that extends beyond our classroom walls, they see the significance that their words may carry.

And finally, how about to learn something more?  With the massive network of experts that Skype In the Classroom provides it has never been easier to bring in someone who knows more than me to help the students learn.  All I have to do is search for what I need and I can almost always find someone who matches that.  I love showcasing new fields of information to the students, and they love getting to ask even the weirdest questions.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join ourPassionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

mystery skype, video

Video: After the Mystery Skype Call

Another video in our Mystery Skype series.  In this one students briefly discuss what they do after the call, including the very important supervisor led discussion that wraps the call up.  In this discussion, the supervisor speaks to the strengths and weaknesses and the problems of the call, while the rest of the group brainstorm solutions.  This is all led without the teacher and a major ownership opportunity for the students.

Make sure you check out the other Mystery Skype resources


I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

mystery skype, video

Video to Help Prepare for Mystery Skype and Jobs

My amazing students have been shooting videos to help others start with blogging and Mystery Skype.  I am excited to reveal our first video in our Mystery Skype series; how to prepare and ideas for jobs.  Please feel free to use this video with whomever you see fit.  More videos are coming before the end of the school year.

Be sure to check out the Mystery Skype page for more resources

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” can be pre-bought now from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

mystery skype

Mystery Skype Jobs Created by My Students

my students during a call
My students during a call

Last year was my personal best for Mystery Skype.  We did one almost every week, and by we I mean my incredible students.  They took ownership and pride in ding the calls quickly, professionally, and efficiently, and I often stood back in awe watching them unfold.  My kids were Mystery Skype masters by the end of the year and I look forward to start over with a new group of 26 students this year.

So it was only natural for my students to develop the original jobs into something that worked better for them.  So here you have an updated list of possible jobs for a great Mystery Skype call.

Greeter -1 student – Does exactly that: greets the incoming class by speaking about our class and going over the rules.  At the end of the call they are also the ones that thank for the call.  Once their job is done they merge into the think tank.

Questioner – 1 or 2 students – they are the kids that ask the yes or no questions, often it is beneficial if these kids have a decent grasp of geography and can come up with questions on the fly.

Filter – 2 kids or more – These kids act as a filter between the runners and the questioners assessing the questions that are coming their way.  They have to pay close attention to what answers are and what has already been asked as the think tank often misses an answer.  They can then use their common sense to filter the best questions to the questioners.

Answerer – 1 student – answers yes or no to the questions and should have a good grasp of geography.

Runners – 3 students – the runners are responsible for communication between all of the different posts and often wear signs or their shirts to identify them.  We love the runners because they keep the chaos down.

Google Mappers – 2 students – Use Google Maps to try to help with questions or find the answer.  Should be connected to think tank.

Wall map & atlas mappers – as many kids as you want – part of the think tank but are using any map tools they can to come up with more questions.

Lead thinker – the boss of the think tank – this kid needs to be a gentle leader that can keep everyone organized and on track.  They ensure the think tank runs smoothly.

Supervisor – 1 student – this student oversees the entire operation and takes notes on what works and doesn’t work.  They lead the debriefing we have after every Skype call to discuss what we need to work on and be proud of.

Note taker – 1 or 2 students – writes down all answers and questions during the call for easy access by filters and if any confusion occurs.

Tweeter – 1 or 2 students – these students are in charge of the backchannel whether through Twitter or TodaysMeet and add the extra layer of connectivity to the world live tweeting results and questions.

Reporters – 2 students – these two take pictures and notes throughout the call to then write a blog post on our classroom blog after the call is done.  That way we can show off all of the great calls we get to be a part of.

Often at the beginning of the year I ask students to try various jobs so that they can figure out which ones they are really good at.  I cannot wait to see how the kids do this year and if you want to do a Mystery Skype with us – reach out – school starts September 3rd!


Great Mystery Skype Questions to Get You Started 

So You Want to Do Mystery Skype

How to Do Mystery Skype

mystery skype

Great Mystery Skype Questions to Get You Started

My students have grown into being quite good Mystery Skypers but it has taken them most of the year and many practice calls.  One thing they have really worked on has been the act of asking great questions so we thought it would be nice to offer up some great sample questions for when you get started with Mystery Skype.  However, the best way to grow is to not follow a list but instead discuss throughout the year what the best questions are for your class.

For the USA

  • Are you in North America?
  • Are you in the United States?
  • Are you east of the Mississippi?

Depending on the answer to that, you can go in different directions:

If east of Mississippi:
  • Are you one of the original 13 colonies?
  • Do you border a Great Lake?
  • Do you border an ocean?
  • Do the Appalachians run through your state?
  • Do you border Canada?
  • Are you Northeast/Midwest/Southeast region?
  • Do you border the Gulf of Mexico?

If west of the Mississippi:

  • Are you in the West/Southwest region?
  • Do you border the Pacific?
  • Do the Rocky Mountains run through your state?
  • Do you border Canada?
  • Is your state landlocked?
  • Are you one of the contiguous states?

For Canada:
  • Are you in North America?
  • Are you in Canada?
  • Do you border a ocean?
  • Do you border Alaska?
  • Do you border the Hudson Bay?
  • Are you landlocked?
  • Does your province have a NHL team?
  • Do you border the United States?
  • Do the Rocky Mountains touch your province?
  • Are you north of British Columbia?

These are suggestions only!  Depending on your answers you have to adapt your questions.  We play in a yes/no format where students get to continue guessing until they get a no answer.  Then it becomes the other teams turn.
Things we do not recommend doing:
  • Vague questions such as weather related ones unless they are specific.
  • Guessing states too quickly.
  • Not having a student write down the questions and answers.
  • The teacher having their location on their Skype profile.
  • Wearing a shirt that represents or is a clue to your location.

Things we do recommend doing:

  • Paying attention to the questions that the other team asks – often it gives away clues.
  • Paying attention in general.
  • Having a sign signaling thinking or someone telling jokes/stories.
  • Staying calm and don’t be rude to each other.
  • Assigning jobs and sticking to them.
  • Having a student-led discussion after the call to discuss success/failures and figure out how to improve.

mystery skype

How To Do Mystery Skype

This month, I was excited to have an article published in “Learning & Leading” on how to do a Mystery Skype call.  This exciting way to practice geography sills has been an almost weekly occurrence in our room this year and one which I hope many others will try as well.

Excerpt follows:

It is time for my students to guess where the class they are meeting for the first time via Skype is located.
“Is it North Carolina?”
There is silence in the classroom as my fifth graders crane their necks toward the screen.
“No!” shouts the voice from the computer speakers, and my students scramble back together. A buzz of “What could it be then?” envelops them.
This is what it sounds like when 23 students engage in what is known as Mystery Skype. The idea is incredibly simple, but the unfolding of the idea can be downright magical. When else can you see students using all of their background knowledge, tech savvy, and common sense just to figure out where someone is in the world?

 To read the rest of the article, please enjoy “Learning & Leading.”