Running Writer's Workshop in COVID Times

The COVID global pandemic has changed teaching for schools all around the world, and understandably so -- it’s an infectious illness that could spread like wildfire in schools, in particular, if precautions aren’t taken. That doesn’t mean that it’s not hindering how we’ve all become accustomed to teaching, and for something like Writer’s Workshop in particular, it’s a tough obstacle to overcome!

Writer’s Workshop is an essential framework for teaching writing in my classroom, so I’m not willing to teach writing another way because I’ve learned how successful it is for my students and how much it helps them grow as writers. That just means that I need to get creative in how I adapt Writer’s Workshop in COVID times!


This is a title graphic showing a primary teacher and students in a classroom wearing medical masks with the text, "Running Writer's Workshop During COVID Times (for French Primary Teachers)" on it.


For starters, one of my favourite ways to run Writer’s Workshop is by doing things at the tapis...but unfortunately, social distancing means that that’s not possible for the time being. In non-COVID times, teaching at the tapis is ideal, so keep it in mind for the future!

FACE-TO-FACE TEACHING IN THE CLASSROOM

Instead of using the tapis, you could take your Writer’s Workshop lessons outside!

Before you do that, though, you’ll need to be sure to teach mini-lessons to your primary students about working outside specifically. It will be a new environment for them to learn something like writing, so there will be lots of distractions and lots of opportunities to get off-task.

Set them up for success with a series of mini-lessons around routines and expectations for learning writing outdoors!

When you’re teaching indoors, though, there are still ways around social distancing. How I’m approaching this personally is having my students stay at their seats, and I’m teaching from the whiteboard at the front of the room.

I’m using my dry erase markers to draw, write, and colour in what I can as part of my mini-lesson and modelling for my students. I wish I could use a document camera instead, but I’m making it work!

In non-COVID times, I normally allow my students to write wherever they’d like in the room, but we need more structure for safe social distancing right now. Instead, my students have three choices for writing spots this year:
  1. At their desks
  2. On the floor, using their chairs as tables
  3. On the floor using clipboards
This is a photograph of a primary student's writing practice worksheet.

When I do take my students outside for writing, we’ll use clipboards out there, as well. I’ve taught mini-lessons about all of these routines and modelled them extensively for my students!

The sharing component of Writer’s Workshop is the trickiest during COVID times.

Usually I like to have my students sit criss-cross applesauce beside their partner and share with each other, but of course, that’s not possible right now. Here are some alternative ideas that might work for you, depending on your school board’s rules for COVID:
  • Do the share component outdoors.
  • Have your students wear their masks and sanitize before sharing.
  • Do a gallery walk of sorts where students can leave their work on their desks and everyone walks around, checking each other’s work while maintaining social distancing. You can use a bell or other signal to let students know when to move on to the next desk.
  • Another gallery wall idea is to stick up page protectors on the walls around your classroom, one for each student. When they’re done with their writing, they can slide their papers into the page protectors, and again, students can walk around and check out each other’s work. You could have partners stand six feet away from each other so that they can still share their noticings and questions.
  • Have 2-4 students share in front of the class each day, and have students raise their hands to share noticings and questions.

VIRTUAL TEACHING

While this isn’t the most ideal, you can still teach writing through Writer’s Workshop in a virtual teaching format.

You can film your mini-lessons ahead of time and then have your students (and their parents/guardians) watch them at home. Then, they can practice with the materials you provide (however your school board determined is best -- digitally or mailing packets home). You’ll just want to remind parents to not write for their kids! ;)

The below photo is one that I took after recording a video writer’s workshop lesson for my students. I shared the video with them, but also the picture, in case they wanted a closer look.

This is a photograph of a primary grades writing activity.


This school year is definitely forcing us to think outside the box, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing! And you never know -- you might find new ways of doing things that you actually love and will continue to implement for years to come. :)

Did you catch my post about what Writer's Workshop is versus what it isn't? Click HERE to read that one, too.

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