Help Your Students Adapt to COVID-19 Safety Guidelines in the Classroom

Returning to the classroom in Fall 2020 will be a challenge for both teachers and students. Here are some tips and questions to consider for maintaining COVID-19 safety guidelines in your classroom this year.

Help Your Students Adapt to Covid Classroom Rules

The 2020-2021 school year will be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Going back to school will look completely different for our students, and we need to be prepared to help them adapt to these changes. The tips in this post will help your students make a smooth transition back to the classroom, whether it’s full-time or a hybrid model.

Tip #1 - Keep Things As Normal As Possible

School has always been a safe place for our students, and we don’t want that to change. Schedules and routines provide a structure that students can rely on and trust. It’s important to spend lots of time the first few weeks of school practicing the new procedures. That way, the students will get used to them, and they will just become part of their daily routine.

A large portion of the first day of school is usually spent going over rules and procedures. Go over your usual expectations, and add in new COVID-19 requirements. The students are new to your classroom, so at least you don’t have to undo routines they’ve practiced all year.

Obviously, we all hope that school and district administrators, with teacher and parent input, will have worked out many of the procedures and practices we will need to keep EVERYONE safe this Fall. No two schools are the same, and it’s likely that even the most specific guidelines will need some tweaking when put into practice. Let’s look at some of the new procedures we might be faced with and some questions we might need to consider for your classroom.

Wearing Masks:  Many states are requiring everyone to wear a mask. This will definitely be something new for the students in your class. Be sure to consider these questions as you’re going over expectations.

  • Will the students be required to wear masks all day?
  • Will you have extra masks for students who don’t have them? Will they be provided by the school, or parents? Do you need to add “Extra masks, sealed in bags” to your list of supplies sent to parents?
  • Where will students put their masks if they need to take them off, like at lunch?

Washing Hands:  Good hygiene has always been important, but this school year it’s going to be imperative. You can use these videos to review good handwashing practices with your students. You should also discuss the answers to these questions with them.

  • Where will the students wash their hands? Is there a sink in your classroom or will they go to the bathroom?
  • When and how often should they wash their hands?
  • Can they use hand sanitizer instead of washing their hands? If so, will they use their own, or a common sanitizer station?

Moving Around the School:  With hundreds of students in most schools, it’s going to be important to have guidelines for students when they leave your classroom. Here are some questions to consider.

  • How many students can be in the bathroom at one time?
  • What will lunchtime look like? How will students get and eat their food while staying far enough apart?
  • How will classes move in the hallways?

Use of Water Bottles:  Water fountains are going to be off-limits this school year. Water bottles are going to be necessary, so be prepared to answer these questions.

  • Where will students keep their water bottles?
  • When are they allowed to get a drink?
  • What should they do if a water bottle rolls across the floor, or is handled by another student?

Going over these expectations on the first day of school will help to answer many of your students’ questions and ease their anxiety. Give them a chance to ask any other questions they have. When they see that you are doing everything possible to keep them safe, they will feel comfortable in their new classroom.


Tip #2 - Plan for Social Distancing

Many schools are likely to  for the new school year is social distancing. Your classroom space is going to look different than normal, because desks may not be in groups. They might have to be arranged as far apart as possible, and your students will likely have to try to stay at least 6 feet apart.

Using tape on the floor is one way to give your students an idea of the distance they should be maintaining. You can put tape around their desks so they each have a square that separates them from others. You can also use tape on the floor to help students line up with enough space between them. 

I know a lot of back to school activities require students to work in groups and move around the classroom. We’re going to have to be creative with ways to help our students get to know each other and adjust to the new school year.

Here are some resources that will help you plan for the first few days of school while following social distancing guidelines:

  • First Day Activities for Elementary School Students:  This packet of activities has lots of fun activities for the first day of school. Your students will be able to share about themselves with the “All About My Name,” “Self Portrait,” “Don’t Worry, Bee Happy,” “All About Me,” and “Can You Guess Who I Am” pages. You can even have your students do the scavenger hunt around the classroom if you only have a few students do it at one time.
  • Icebreakers:  You can use these 5 icebreaker activities to help your students learn about each other. If your students need to collaborate on a project, they can do it in a shared Google Slideshow so they can work on it at the same time without being too close to each other.

Don’t forget to include opportunities for your students to get up and move around. They will need lots of breaks throughout the day, since many schools aren’t having traditional recess time. The students can spread out around the classroom to do exercises or Go Noodle videos

Tip #3 - Keep Supplies Separated

Another big change for this school year is that students won’t be able to share any supplies. Make it easy for your students to adjust to this change by having specific places for them to put all of their belongings.

When your students enter the classroom in the morning, they should keep everything they bring with them at their seats. They should also have specific places to keep all of their supplies. In addition to the storage in their desks, I like giving each of my students a book box to keep beside their desks. That’s where they keep everything they need for independent reading, like books, notebooks, a pencil, and post-its. 

The classroom library, pencil sharpener, and tissue box used to be gathering places in your classroom. This year, we are going to have to find creative solutions for these shared spaces. You can add handheld sharpeners and packs of tissues to your supply list so each student has one. The classroom library will be a little bit more challenging. You can help students select books to add to their book boxes. As they finish reading them, you may want to consider a 48-hour “quarantine”  before another student can use them.

Tip #4 - Be Patient with Your Students

I know students twirling masks on their fingers or touching other students’ supplies is going to be frustrating. However, it’s important to remember that all of these changes are brand new for your students. Many of them spent most of the past 6 months at home. They didn’t have to wear masks for long periods of time or practice social distancing. They are going to need lots of reminders. 

Be clear and consistent with your expectations at the beginning of the year, and before you know it these new requirements will be part of the daily routine. Your students will feel safe at school, and they’ll be ready to start learning new things!

Tara Dusko is a third grade teacher in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania. She's spent the past 14 years finding engaging ways to make her students love learning. When she's not planning lessons for her classroom, she is spending time with her husband and two children or trying out new recipes in the kitchen. Get some tips for reducing the stress of teaching on her blog, Teach Without Tears.

About the author

Tara Dusko


About Tara

Tara Dusko is a reading coach who helps teachers implement a reading workshop model in their classrooms. She previously taught 5th grade for one year and 3rd grade for 13… Read more

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