Tips for the Socially Distant Classroom


I am heading back into the classroom for face-to-face learning and I am nervous!  I teach first grade and the last time these students have been in a school building was March of last year!  After participating in virtual learning for an entire year they are walking back into the classroom. After the administration arranged my room with desks in rows and facing the same way, all my furniture was removed and I was told I cannot do group work… I froze.  

I completely panicked and wasn’t sure where to start.  So I did what I knew to do; I turned to the wonderful teachers who follow Education to the Core!  They have given me many wonderful words of advice.  Their Tips for the Socially Distant Classroom have definitely put me more at ease and better prepared for returning into the classroom!

Special Thanks to Jessica M., Jennifer M., Rachel B., Jana M., Marcy M., Katherine H., and Nelbelee N. for sharing photos of their socially distant classrooms that were chosen for our graphics!

Each student in our school was provided with a water bottle because all the water fountains were turned off and replaced with water filling stations. I don’t let my students keep them on their desks due to spilling. I have found that they spill them when they are on the floor too. Get those oversized plastic cups from Walmart. The ones that come in like 5 to a pack. Drill a hole in one side and run a zip tie through it. Zip tie to the leg of the chair where it meets the seat (or another place that keeps it off the floor). Students can put their water bottles in the cup so they don’t risk spilling them. You could also use this for other items like pencils, crayons, etc.” ~ Aimee T.R.

“For small groups, I dismiss my group a few minutes early so I can sanitize my table and stools, and then ring a bell for everyone to clean up. I have been so impressed with how well the kids have adapted to our new normal!” ~ Jennifer B.

 “Our kids are responsible for wiping down their areas after small group. I also recommend a plexiglass shield on your small group table to protect you as a teacher along with your mask. Some teachers double mask during small group close contact.” ~ Jenny B. 

Don’t worry, Education to the Core even covers Recess Ideas for Social Distancing!

“ I pushed everything to the sides of the room, removed my large rug, and then arranged my tables so that student to student distance is 6 feet apart. I put a square of red duct tape on the floor under each leg of the tables so they know where their spot is.” ~ Katie R. 

“Each desk has a Laundry basket for students’ belongings right next to their desk. They each have their own cubby/bucket and plexiglass on their desk. We put tape marks on the floor so they know the area their desk has to stay in.” ~ Sarah W. 

“For storage, our school opted for buckets with lids. They have also served as seats for outdoor learning (we take kids outside for lessons as often as possible) and even drums for music class. Just a thought.” ~ Kylie M.
Morning Meeting Slides for K/1st and 2nd/3rd

“Command hooks on the side of the desk are a great idea for backpacks too.” ~ Rachel L. 

“The hardest part for me was figuring out how to keep all of their supplies separated. They each have these bins in their desk and a “supply bag” with their crayons, scissors, glue, and pencils that they use in the classroom and take to Art. The side of their desks has a command hook to hang their headphones and I taped a gallon-sized Ziploc bag for “Work To Do” so their unfinished work doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. They each have a cup with a lid that holds their sort and anything else they need for Guided Reading, and they bring that to my table with their whiteboard, marker, eraser, and current book.“ ~ Jennifer B.

“We use clear plastic boxes with names. They need to be big enough for books etc. I made smaller lunchbox size ones for pencils, scissors and glue etc.” ~ Pamela J. 

“Keeping desks separated and “masks up” are something I do all day. My hint is a really good hand lotion. Washing and sanitizing your hands all day takes a toll.” ~ Kiersten S. 

“I only allow one student up at a time. I’m using hand signals for different needs. Whole-brain teaching rules work perfectly also. I have sanitizer and tissue stations in every corner of the room. I have arrows on the floor for the flow of traffic.” ~ Deborah E. 

“You do what you can to make everyone happy and comfortable so they can learn.” ~ Jessica M.

“Things will go better than you think. Had to get rid of my carpet and flexible seating, sadly. Kids sit at tables of 4 all day with plexiglass dividers, masks on all day. They have tubs under their table for their stuff and mailboxes and other places in the room for their things.” ~ Sarah S. 

“We made shields by screwing 2 2x4s to the bottom of a piece of plexiglass. Our science teachers used C clamps to attach them to the desk. We take frequent mask breaks outside and clean desks and chairs between classes.” ~ Patrice J.

“I rarely collect papers, correct them at their tables then they put them in their home/school folders. Lots of handwashing and hand sanitizer. Reading groups only use paper books from Reading A-Z. Once you get used to the restrictions it’s not so bad.” ~ Michele C.

“We have plastic desk shields and the kids wear masks. Be patient with yourself and the kids…it’s like the first day of school all over again. Teach procedures, set high expectations, and be prepared to be overwhelmed with joy at seeing their faces (well, half their faces if they’re masked up) again. It was the most thrilling first day of school in my life. I about cried through the whole thing because I was so excited to be with students again!” ~ Michelle S.

“ I double mask and wear a face shield when doing that and make sure I am at a distance from the kid.” ~ Nora P.

“ We integrate A LOT of movement opportunities through power-ups, desk drumming, stretches, vocabulary etc.” ~ Alicia M.
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“Our indoor recess we do GoNoodle or play multiplication or fraction bingo.  I have 4th graders. PE is the only special they get to leave the room for.” ~ Jennifer S. 

“Kids get mask breaks for snacks and when they are outdoors. Everyone has individual supplies (Toolboxes). We rotate “toys/manipulatives, books….” only after they have been quarantined and sanitized.” ~ Shari S.  

“Kids adjust beautifully to the new routines, procedures, and protocols! Trust them, they work! Don’t stress, just enjoy every moment you spend with the kids.” ~ Kristina K. 

“I let them choose books from my Classroom Library, but they stay in their desks for the week and then go in my “Quarantine Bin” for at least three days. For indoor recess, I have buckets with magnet blocks, pattern blocks, etc that individual students use at their seat and then they “quarantine” on the shelf for a week until someone else uses it.” ~ Jennifer B.

“Use all the space you have to get as much distance between student desks. I use velcro tape from Amazon to mark the carpet for the position of the front two posts of each student desk so that they stay in place.” ~ Ashley C. 

“I put hand sanitizers on each of my students’ desks and they have to sanitize between each activity that they choose.” ~ Debra Z. 

“Lanyards for their masks…they just tuck or let their masks hang during mask breaks, lunch, etc. It keeps them from getting lost & dirty/off of the floor. I have plexiglass dividers & they don’t pay much attention to them. Have them pack a spare mask in their book bag – they get wet & dirty!” ~ Devon H.
Make sure to check out ETTC’s other blog post on 10 Ways to Socially Distance Your Small Groups for even more ideas!

“The kids like to decorate their barrier. They have their multiplication chart taped on. They hang their headphones. Display work. Whatever makes them happy during this pandemic.” ~ Michelle R.

“Things feel strange but it is temporary. Be positive, expect mistakes and give the kids space to put their personal stuff. Good luck!” ~ Shelly L. 

“1- baskets next to the desk to keep personal items which don’t fit in the desk.  2- desks flipped backward so that the kids can’t play with everything inside the desks.  3- optimize the kids sitting on top of their desks during a read-aloud or during some instruction.  4- putting legos or other small items into a plastic baggie or container for kids to have at their desks to play with during indoor recess or breaks.” ~ Becky L. 

“Each student has a basket from the dollar tree tied to the side of the desk or under the chair to store belongings and a water bottle.  like a disinfectant bin. That’s where I put things that need to be cleaned at the end of the day. Sanitize. Take time to sanitize.” ~ Samantha V. 

“We come to the carpet for less than 15 minutes. Centers are in individual boxes so they have their own.” ~ Katie W. 

“ I gave them their own bubble space with tape. Helps them feel safe and gives them a visual.” ~ Jennifer M.

“My best advice is to make sure they are always wearing a mask correctly and that you and the kids are cleaning their desks between each class. And using hand sanitizer between each class. As best you can.” ~ Suzanne P. 

“We take breaks. Each student has playdough, legos, and other small manipulatives that are kept in their desks.” ~ Teresa B.

“We are spreading desks out as much as we can, using masks/shields, minimal sharing of supplies, spread out at lunch (we are using half our gym as a cafeteria right now as well), etc.” ~ Lori M.

“They can only take masks off to eat at their “offices”.” ~ Rachel B.

“Assigned seats, spaced out, a lot of grace, sanitize, encourage discussion/talking & eye contact.” ~ Maranda H.

“ Painters tape or Velcro dots on the floor for lining up and spaces for stretch and movement breaks as well as giving them another place to work. We have talked about keeping these when the restrictions lift because the visuals of space are so good for students!” ~ Melissa D. 

“Depending on the number of students and size of your classroom I put my desk against the walls. That way they can sit and meet with me on the floor. We marked out 3-foot squares so a friend can sit every other square with their cushion. It was our way to offer some sort of flexible seating, they can work at a desk or floor space.” ~ Krista-Rae H. 

These individual centers can be digitally or hands-on. They include both literacy and math activities with and without manipulatives.

“Everything is individualized and positive Dojo points for staying in a safe zone and mask-wearing have been helpful. Math baggies, pencil boxes, play dough, are all in Sterilite shoeboxes with name tags attached. Whiteboard, handwriting workbooks, other workbooks, writing folders are in their seat sacks. Water bottles also fit in one of the seat sack pockets so they are out of the way. Their desk/table areas are their safe zones, masked required unless they are drinking or eating. Hand sanitizing in every corner of the room so it is accessible by adults in the room.” ~ Ben N Jenn N. 

“Just know, you got this! The kids will be so happy to be back together.  Most importantly continue to take care of you.” ~ Becky G. 

“Tape something to the floor so that kids keep their desks where you have placed them. I taped a sticky note to the floor under where each desk’s front left leg sits on the floor. You’d be surprised how the desks move and how reminding them to make sure the leg of their desk is on the sticky note helps so much. This saves your time and helps to maintain social distancing.” ~ Kim N. 

“Lots of handwashing (trips to the bathroom also help with a change of scenery and a bit of exercise). Clean desk before and after lunch. Kids are so excited to be back. Just set clear expectations and be consistent with them.” ~ Sue A.

“Just a fair warning that many people don’t think about… your class will be louder with the desks spaced out so much. Between wearing masks, me asking them to speak up all the time, and them being so far from the person they want to talk to, they just talk really loud now.” ~ Autumn H.

Make sure to plan for those rainy days… 20 Ideas for Socially Distanced Indoor Recess

“My best tip is to have age-appropriate pep talks. I teach 5th and often say “we don’t have to like the new rules, but we do have to follow them. it won’t be like this forever.” We’ve also had conversations about how kids are doing the hard work (masks/sanitizing/distancing) to keep themselves, friends, and families safe.” ~ Karen E. 

“Just try your best, that’s all you can do.” ~ Mandy C. 

“Expo marker cleaner has 98 percent alcohol which makes for a good cleaner. Wash hands frequently. I have a sink in my room and have “smell good soap” and lotion for them to help with the process. We have dots on the floor for them to stand apart.” ~ Stefany R. 

“I use small crates or baskets on the floor beside the desks. Each student has their supply of math manipulatives, a cup to hold a water bottle so it doesn’t condensate on everything in the basket, all folders and spirals are in there, a baggie with extra glue, pencils, etc. they have their own tissue box. We share nothing this year. On the front of their desk is an accordion folder that they put their finished work in.” ~ Kathy C. 

“I went to a local carpet store and asked for a donation of carpet squares for my classroom. I numbered them (each of my students get a new number assigned to them each week) with Sharpie and spread them around my room for the kids to have a space other than just at a table/desk.” ~ Corinne C. 

“ Just make smart decisions to keep your students and yourself healthy. Pay more attention to bulletin board displays and however else you can bring some positivity into your classroom/school.” ~ Kayla M. 

“I used tape to show students their “space”! I also keep all their supplies in plastic bins next to their desks. It’s worked pretty well!” ~ Katherine H. 

“Dismissal is done in shifts so not all of our middle schoolers are in the hall at the same time. Every teacher sanitizes desks and chairs between periods.” ~ Tammy A. 

“I work in a self-contained sped class, we are working on independence so I put paw prints on the floor for line spacing and some on the floor for the kids to ensure their desk stays in the correct place. It worked really well in my class. I also print all of their paper assignments and put them on their desk so they can keep them in their binders and get them out on their own.” ~ Gabby F. 

“Wearing a mask is a must! Individual baskets and a lot of cleaning!! Be safe.” ~ Nelbelee N. 

“I attached cups that were plastic with zip ties on the side of each desk. And they put their water bottles in that. That way they are not getting up to go and get any water. Also, I put a Walmart bag on their desk that was able to put trash in. That keeps them from getting up.” ~ Amy H. 

“In one room we got rid of desks and students sit inside of hula hoops (learning circles) they use clipboards! If a student wants a chair they can and a few sit at tables but not many! We have clear dividers on the tables!” ~ Kayla H. 

“ Take vitamin C, Echinacea, zinc, and vitamin D3 daily before you start.” ~ Lourdes B. 

“I recommend yoga mats. This gives the kids opportunities to sit somewhere other than at/on their desks. It also lets me do yoga/SEL breaks, and the kids bring them outside when the weather permits. I put hooks on the side of each desk, and the yoga mats hang by the handles. Each child has a crate next to his/her/their bin with another “technology bin” inside that stores an iPad and a keyboard. Whiteboards are great, so the kids can hold them up, and you don’t have to get close to individuals. I got the kids individual play-doh, Lego bags, etc.” ~ Jen G. 

“Colored masking tape is a game changer! It helps get kids back to their “spot” at the end of the day and helps with grouping!” ~ Madelynn V. 

Thank you to the Education to the Core community for all of these wonderful and practical Tips for the Socially Distant Classroom!  After reviewing all of these ideas I am ready to make that return into the classroom.  Most importantly, I am hearing that reassurance that I am not alone and we can do this together!  

If you have any Tips for the Socially Distant Classroom, I would love to hear them in the comments below!  What is working well in your classroom?  If you are returning to the classroom after distance learning like I am, what are you nervous about?  Don’t be afraid to reach out for advice like I did.  We will continue to grow and learn together. 

Written by: Christopher Olson

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