Warm up activities

Spiral Journal

Promote focus and reflection while allowing individuals to compose responses thoughtfully and calmly in writing.

Click on the CC icon in the bottom right corner of the video to turn on closed captions.  

Spiral Journal
Educator prep: None
Student prep: None
Video conferencing, Breakout rooms, Paper / pens
Duration: 5-30 mins

Activity purpose

Promote focus and reflection while allowing individuals to compose responses thoughtfully and calmly in writing. This can help generate and gather large amounts of data quickly and can amplify or punctuate large group interactions.

Useful for

First day of class, beginning or end of class, beginning or end of a module or such.

Useful for encouraging focus, and especially helpful for reflective, shy students, or people who need more time to think before participating, or people for whom your language of instruction is not their first language.

It is useful in how it allows students reflection time, and not everything they write and think about during the activity needs to be shared, but they get time to reflect and choose what they wish to share (contrast with Mad Tea which is a much faster process with little reflection time, but has lots of energy).


  • Prepare slides with the four questions for four quadrants (see slides to download and adapt below).
  • Ask participants to bring paper and pen(cil).


  1. Invite participants to fold a sheet in half-and-half-again (1 min)
  2. Invite everyone to place the point of their writing implement at the center of the page and start drawing a spiral as tightly-and-slowly as possible (2 mins)
  3. At the conclusion of the spiral drawing, invite participants to complete the four quadrants with different prompts for each one. Spend ~1 min/quadrant (~4 mins)
  4. Ask participants to circle/underline one thing or one word they had written (~1 min)
  5. Optional: Send participants to breakout rooms in groups of 2-3 to share one thing (~4-5 mins)


About 10-12 minutes. The video above models it from start to finish. Additional resources below give you access to the slides and additional prompt ideas you can use to adapt the slides for your own purposes.

Adaptations and examples

Here are some adaptations and alternative prompts: 

  • Although the example above uses questions that are general about someone’s thoughts and feelings about the new semester, you can adapt it to have content-related questions about a reading or course module.
  • Can be done asynchronously, where the teacher sends the video and asks students to post one thing on discussion forum and respond to others.
  • Can skip the break out rooms and replace by asynchronous pairing via email or class discussion board.

Example prompts for each quadrant:

  • You can create content-based prompts for each quadrant. E.g. after a class reading, students can reflect on a key thing they learned, a big question they have, a word or quote they enjoyed, and how the reading made them feel.
  • List 7 things you’ve seen, heard, felt/did, and compose a small drawing.
  • What have you noticed & observed, so what seems important about that data, now what’s needed next.
  • In times of grief/trauma: Yes it is true that [Affirmation]… It is hard because [Despair]… I will always remember/I will never forget [Reconnection]… Now that I have shared my loss, it may be possible to [Active Hope]…

Technical requirements

No specific technology required.

Useful resources

More 'Warm up activities' activities:
Equity Unbound Activity
Imaginary Buffet (or Potluck)
The purpose of this activity is to engage students with each other’s ‘small talk’, by making a game out of active listening.
Maya Hey
Equity Unbound Activity
PowerPoint Karaoke
Engage students in improv presenting, and enhance oral presentation skills in a light and humorous way.
Maha Bali, Jasmina Najjar, Hoda Mostafa
Lost in Translation
Raise awareness of the richness of language and creativity in using language.
Francesca Helm

Do you have an activity that you would like to suggest?

Do you have feedback or suggestions?

Share your thoughts, leave a commentx