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By on May 17, 2015

Geography. The one subject often taken for granted in our classrooms. We assume that our students know the difference between a city, a state, a country and a continent. However, oftentimes that assumption is met with the disappointment that somewhere along the way they seem to have lost this important knowledge. You see, when newly acquired knowledge isn’t applied to a meaningful experience, it becomes forgotten. So, students go from grade level to grade level, without applying any of the geographical knowledge that they acquired back in 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade, and by the time graduation comes around they don’t know where they are or where they’re going (literally).

There is hope. Below is a recipe for the best Mystery Hangout experience, to get your students thinking about, and interacting with the world that’s outside of your classroom.


  • A (teacher) Twitter profile and/or Google+ profile
  • 1 – Projector (Interactive WhiteBoard, not necessary)
  • 1 – Computer with a built-in camera (tablets, iPads and Chromebooks also work)
  • 1 – Adapter (to connect computer to the projector)
  • Devices for students (optional)
  • Maps

Day 1
Use your (teacher) Twitter profile and/or Google+ profile to connect with other classes that may be interested in doing a Mystery Hangout.

  • Post a tweet that says something like the following, with the appropriate group/grade level-based hashtags.         “Looking for a 4th grade class to Mystery Hangout with the week of June 1st-3rd. 1:30-2:30 p.m. CT #satchat                #edchat #edtechchat #BFC530
  • Post a connection request on Google+. You can even post in the Mystery Hangout community for (sometimes) faster responses.

*** Always include your timezone on posts.

Day 2
Prepare your class.

  • Show students a map of the world, either on a physical map or a Google Map.
  • Have students identify the major landforms around the world. Oceans, seas, rivers, mountains, etc.
  • Conduct a mini-lesson on questioning strategies. Have students practice asking yes/no questions to determine a location.

– For example:
“Is your location near an ocean?”, “Are you located in the Central Time Zone?”, “Does you location get any snow?”

  • DO NOT give students clues on where the other class is located. Remember, this is a test of their geography skills.
  • If you’re using physical maps, then see about laminating them, and allowing students to use dry erase markers to eliminate their guesses.
  • Have students write down their good yes/no questions.

Day 3
Assign roles and responsibilities.

Depending on the size and grade-level of your class, you may want to assign groups to different tasks. It’s also completely normal to have the first Mystery Hangout as a whole-class activity where all students participate in all jobs. Over time, you’ll find that being more organized with jobs allows students to dive deeper into the activity, versus competing with one another for time and attention.

Below is a list of jobs that you can assign to your students, either as individuals or as small/table groups.

  • Greeter: introduces your class to the other class (saying something along the lines of “Good Morning, We are Mrs. Burgess’ class and we’re looking forward to guessing where your state/city/country is located today)
  • Data Keeper(s): keeps a running list of the questions and answers from both classes.
  • Researcher(s): primary point person/people who work(s) closely with the data keeper(s) to eliminate locations based on information obtained from the other class’ answers.
  • Question Asker(s): primary point person/people who ask(s) the questions to the other class.
  • Question Answerer(s): responsible for answering questions posed by the other class. This could also be a whole-class job.
  • Sign Holder: holds sign in front of camera, to let the other class what’s going on. Signs include: “Researching“, “One moment, please” and “Your Turn“.
  • Photographer: takes pictures of the interactions and learning taking place during the Mystery Hangout.
  • Fact Sharer: once the Mystery Hangout concludes, this individual is responsible for sharing fun facts about the location with the other class.

Day 4
Set up a trial run of the technology you’ll be using for your Mystery Hangout. This trial run should only consist of you and the other teacher, your class does not need to participate at this point. This is just to make sure that the technology works.

  • Hook your camera-enabled computer up to the projector.
  • Contact the other teacher via Google Hangouts (make sure it’s not blocked in your school).
  • Walk around the classroom while you’re in the Hangout to ensure that the other teacher is able to hear from a distance.
  • Position the camera-enabled device in a location that gets a good view of where the students will be sitting during the Mystery Hangout.
  • Decide if you’re going to do a Mystery Hangout On Air, which is archived in YouTube for later viewing.
  • Decide on who will be calling who via Google Hangouts on the day of the Mystery Hangout.
  • Check to see if any of your students are not allowed to be photographed. You’ll want to place these students in a part of the room that is not visible by the camera, likely towards one of the front corners of the room.

Day 5
The big day has arrived!

  • Remind students of their jobs/responsibilities.
  • Set expectations for your class that include: “Being respectful”, “Listening to the other class’ questions and responses”, “Do not speak loudly, when researching”.

Begin the Hangout.

  • As the teacher, you’ll be functioning as the facilitator. Making sure the technology works, redirecting students (if needed). That’s really it. The students should already have their jobs by this point, so your end of the instruction for this lesson/experience is easy-peasy.
  • When one class guesses the other class’ location, give the remaining class the opportunity to continue guessing.
  • If both classes guess one another’s location in a short amount of time, then you can have them dive deeper, and try to guess the city that the other class is located in.
  • At the very end of the Hangout, make sure that your fact sharer provides a brief summary of your class’ location. This could turn into a lengthy conversation with even more questions being asked by both classes.

The End.

  • When the Mystery Hangout concludes, there are a number of directions you can guide the class in. You can have students:

– Complete an exit ticket, listing 3 things that they’ve learned from the other class.
– Gather the questions and answers from the Data Keepers, and create a short quiz based on the information gained
from the interaction.
– Have students write a reflective blog entry on the experience.
– Establish a penpal relationship with the other class to allow students to continue in their newly made connection.

Now that you know the perfect recipe for doing a Mystery Hangout, I encourage you all to set one up for THIS YEAR. One of our 5th grade classes completed their first-ever Mystery Hangout last week, and I can honestly say that I’ve never seen students so excited to get their social studies books and planners out as I did during this experience.
As the teacher, you get to operate as the facilitator, so have fun with exposing your students to A Whole New World!

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