Digital buddy board recipe

Four icons in four corners of the rectangle. Upper left: Two stick figures giving each other a high five. Upper right, a person in a computer screen talking to three other people in computer screens. Lower left: a clipboard. Lower right: a person talking to a buddy on a computer screen.

-by Tim Grivois-Shah, Ed.D.

Digital Buddy Board is a strategy for integrating social and emotional skills practice into academic instruction.

To get started, you’ll need:

Buddy Boards adapt well to digital learning spaces.
  1. A way to arrange and rearrange a roster into pairs.
  2. Something for buddies to do.
  3. A time and a place for buddies to do ‘buddy stuff.’

Here are each of these three ingredients in detail:

A way to arrange and rearrange a roster into pairs.

When implemented in an on-site learning space, buddies are usually assigned and displayed on a physical board. The board might be a list on a paper chart, or teachers might use magnets or velcro to attach nametags/photos to the buddy board. It’s important that you have a way to arrange and rearrange your pairs frequently, as the purpose of a buddy board is for every student to connect to every other student many times throughout the year.

Digital Buddy Boards are easy to make and are powerful frameworks for ensuring frequent, meaningful opportunities for students to connect.

The same criteria are important for Digital Buddy Boards. You’ll want an easy way to arrange and rearrange students into pairs for buddy activities. Here are three free digital tools that you can use to create your buddy board:


Trello is a free service that allows you to create digital ‘index’ cards and arrange them into list. It’s exceptionally flexible, and if you start your Trello journey by creating your digital buddy board, you’ll likely use buddy boards for many other aspects of your digital classroom management. Here is a link to an example of a digital buddy board that I created in about 15 minutes, including uploading the stock photos of imaginary students.

Google Sheets

Another way to create a digital buddy board is by cutting and pasting your roster into a Google Sheet. Then, all you need to do is share the link with your class and students can see their buddy board any time. It’s also easy to arrange and rearrange student pairs.

Google Drawings

While I like the Google Sheets version of Buddy Board, I also like being able to organize students into many kinds of groups for different purposes. It took me about 10 minutes to create this Digital Buddy Board using Google Drawings, and you’ll notice that you could have students buddy-up in rows or columns, and in groups of two or four. Use it for Buddy Board or for other cooperative grouping strategies.

A piece of paper

Sometimes, our best tool in a digital space is a piece of paper. Simply list your students in two columns, and draw a circle around the buddies. If it needs to exist digitally, use your cell phone camera to take a picture and upload it to where you keep your other instructional materials. It took me about 15 minutes to write a roster of 30 learners, circle the buddies, and upload it into my google drive.

Something for Buddies to Do

If your district has access to Sanford Harmony, you actually have access to a box of activities that buddies can do. It’s free, but you’ll need to find someone who can work with Sanford Harmony to sign a memorandum of understanding, and you’ll also need to find a way to train your staff on how to use the entire program. If you have the capacity to explore Sanford Harmony, it’s one that I recommend for primary and intermediate grades.

However, you probably don’t need to do a whole lot of work to think of ways for buddies to connect with each other. I’ve included a list of a few ideas organized into academic, quick chat, and connection activity categories. If you’re getting started with Digital Buddy Board on your own, you can search for lists of buddy activities and pick from the ones that speak to you. 

The best buddy activities are:

  • Low risk–They keep interactions within clear and safe boundaries. I might ask pairs to list about who lives in your house. I would never ask students to describe their relationship to anyone who lived in their house.
  • High warmth–They are designed to be positive, fun, and at the very least, something that every student in the class can accomplish.
  • Brief–Usually, you’d like buddy activities to be 3-5 minutes at the most. The idea is for students to have frequent opportunities to interact with their buddy throughout the day, and keeping activities brief makes it easier to schedule.

A time and a place for buddies to do “buddy stuff.” 

Schools implementing Buddy Boards school-wide will generally use buddy activities at natural transition points throughout the day. After recess, at the end of a period, or when waiting for the assembly to start are common times that teachers might use buddy activities for onsite learning.

Digital learning spaces might consider buddy activities at the start or end of a synchronous class meeting. I’m noticing my daughter’s class often waits about ten minutes for everyone to return from lunch. In the meantime, students could practice skip counting with their buddy, or get on a jamboard and draw together.

The other consideration is where buddies will meet. Some digital spaces lend themselves well to breakout groups. If this is possible, creating breakout rooms for buddies to talk to each other would be an excellent way to connect students digitally. If your synchronous learning platform doesn’t allow breakout groups, other options are sticking to visual buddy activities that can happen in pairs while still remaining in the whole group, or modifying buddy up activities to include the whole class.

The reason why I encourage the schools and organizations I work with to implement a buddy board strategy is to ensure that no one leaves their relationships with their students, participants or colleagues to chance. Buddy Boards adapt well to digital learning spaces, and can be a powerful way for you to communicate love and belonging in your learning space.

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