30 Clever Pop-Up Programs for Your Student Organizations to Try

Programming takes a lot — of resources, energy, you name it.

Even some of the smallest scale programs often require juggling a lot of moving pieces: Booking and setting up a venue, purchasing and gathering materials, marketing it to your desired attendees, and finally, hosting it.

And even when you put on a big production meant to encapsulate many students, it doesn’t guarantee maximum student engagement. Sometimes it’s the small things that you and your student leaders do that keep students engaged. 

That’s where pop-up programs come in! Their simplicity is what makes them so powerful. They’re super adaptable to all types of organizations and needs, meaning that students and professionals can use their creativity to add a twist or two to best serve their communities. 

Their simplicity makes them ideal programs for newer student leaders and professionals to host as they get their feet wet. 

Pop-up programs also tend to be low-cost since the required materials can often be pulled from leftover or bulk supplies you have lying around. 

Here’s a bunch of programs you might want to see popping up on your campus!

Community Building

1. Speed friending

Set up seats in two rows across from each other so students can move around and meet new folks, guided by the hosts’ discussion questions. (Here are 100 questions to get you started.)

2. Campus partner hangouts 

Invite some friends from different offices around campus to share their services and build rapport.

3. Make a wish in a campus body of water

If it’s already a tradition to toss coins or fish food, you can do that. Otherwise, you can pass out something that floats and can be gathered up after the activity— like colorful rubber duckies to signify different types of students (blue for first-years, yellow for second-years, and so on).

4. Pool party

Crank up the tunes, set up some games, and make a splash!

gif of a people on colorful pool floats

5. Campus culture quiz

Help your first-year students get to know your institution’s lingo and traditions.

6. Veterans Day 

Collect items and notes for care packages to be sent to your local VA.

7. Lunch and learn 

Have a student leader or colleague with niche knowledge host a lesson over lunch.

Self Care

8. Take what you need

Set up a wall of sticky notes and have students write notes of encouragement or motivation. They could also include inspirational quotes, compliments, or a to-do list item. In exchange, each student can take a note that expresses what they themselves need.

9. Naptime 

Throw it back to your favorite part of school by setting up some mats, blankets, and soothing music in a quiet area and inviting students to a snooze.

10. Pet playtime

Invite therapy animals and their owners from a local organization to stop by and play. 

Or, to save time and money, you could invite professional staff to bring their well-behaved, sociable pets. But be sure to make your students aware of potential allergens.

gif of Brie Larson being handed 3 puppies

11. Dance parties

Encourage your students to get moving and grooving with impromptu dancing.

12. Yoga or aerobics

Introduce a structured class like yoga or Zumba — hosted by a knowledgeable student, by a staff instructor, or an expert in your the local community.

13. Vision boards

It’s never a bad time to look toward the future. Provide participants with some cool pieces of cardstock and magazines to make it more stylish.

Mainly for Fun

12. Joke booth

Good, hearty laughter releases muscle tension for up to 45 minutes. Give your students this dose of medicine with anything from classic knock-knock jokes to fresh memes.

13. Horoscope reading

If your students have somehow gotten to this point without getting their charts read, now is the time to learn their sun, moon, and rising signs. 

14. Fortune cookies

Create some college-inspired fortunes (about getting a good night’s rest or acing an exam) to bring some joy to your students.

15. Game competitions 

Minute-to-win-it games like wrapping someone up with toilet paper or sliding a cookie down one’s face are some classic, silly choices.

"Let's play" gif, The Rock

16. Pin the tail on the… 

Take this party classic and twist it up as you wish, perhaps by pinning a grade on an exam or a cap on a graduate.

17. Jump rope competition

If you’ve seen the movie Jump In, you know…

18. Bobbing for apples

Or do it with donuts hanging from a string any time of the year.

Art and Performance

19. Poetry reading  

Feel free to follow a theme based on a national awareness celebration. You can provide books of poetry and short stories based on the theme, which students can also check out after the program is over. 

You could even use pages from old books and magazines to create blackout poetry that participants can read aloud.

20. Improv games

Improv can be fun for actors and non-actors alike. Here’s a list of some fun games you can facilitate.

21. Lip sync battle

You can do a team battle, like in Pitch Perfect and even use tracks from the movie franchise.

22. Build a snowperson

You could do this out of marshmallows and serve it up with hot chocolate, or make a life-sized one as a team together. During warmer weather, you can make a sandperson instead.

23. Zine station

Base it on a theme, collect scans of the finished products from each student, and put them together in a booklet for all to see.

24. Planting

Start from seeds or from a cutting of a big succulent.

25. Button making

Help students stay on trend by showcasing their personalities with buttons they can put on their backpacks, laptop bags, and clothing.

26. Rock painting

If planting a real garden isn’t feasible, make a rock garden or let students make their own. They can craft a simple design or write a saying that means a lot to them.


27. Breakfast for dinner

Who doesn’t love free food?

28. Healthy snacks

Ants on a log is old news. Homemade granola bars, anyone?

29. Picnic 

Set up a blanket in the sun and invite students to eat with you.

30. Family-style dinner

Make a bunch of spaghetti or pancakes and invite your students to chow down together. 

What sorts of pop-up programs have worked best on your campus? We’d love to hear your stories and see your photos. Tweet us @themoderncampus.

Sara Friend

About the author: Sara Friend (she/her) is a former Content Marketing Intern at Modern Campus Presence and a graduate of the New College of Florida. She loved being an RA to first-year-in-college students. She's now a Mentor Manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast. Learn how we can help get your students involved.