The only thing people are talking about right now is coronavirus. And it seems pretty much the same with my students. Many of them want to share the latest news they heard or talk about what it was like when they went grocery shopping and couldn’t find any toilet paper or discuss any of the other various issues related to this pandemic.
Like all good teachers, I want to talk about what my students are interested in, which means there has been a lot of discussion in class lately about coronavirus and all the resulting issues facing our world.
But I’m also trying to be careful not to let coronavirus completely take over our class discussions. For many of our students—and for me, too—talking about coronavirus too much can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear. That is the last thing we want in the classroom.
As I’m trying to find a balance between talking about the issues and not provoking my students’ anxiety, these are some of the ideas I’ve had. I thought I would share them here in case it helps others to think about how they want to approach discussions related to coronavirus in class.
As teachers, I think it’s our job to share important information to our students, even if it doesn’t directly relate to the subject we teach—especially in a crisis like this. Some of our students don’t have good Internet access or access to a lot of information, so learning more about the virus in class could be essential for them and could even help calm their nerves by helping them feel more informed. I’ve shared with my students a few infographics that I think are helpful, especially ones that don’t contain a lot of text, so they are relatively easy for English language learners. I like this one from the CDC:
Here is another good one, from Information is Beautiful:
Frame the Narrative
Another reason why I think it can be good for teachers to talk about coronavirus in class is because it can help us to frame the narrative for our students. Our students will pick up on our attitudes toward the crisis, which will influence their own thinking.
Unfortunately, there are some people here in the U.S. who are using this crisis to promote an “us vs. them” mentality in which they put the blame for this virus on a particular country or an entire racial group.
I try to promote a different mentality when I talk about the crisis with my students. When I talk about it in class, I try to talk about it for what it really is: a challenge that the whole world is facing together. It’s a time for countries to support each other.
If we completely avoid talking about coronavirus, we might miss an opportunity to counteract some of the negative, racist, and xenophobic things our students might be hearing from certain news outlets and people they know.
It’s also a chance for us to show our students that it’s good to be aware of what’s happening in the world but, at the same time, to remain calm and avoid panicking.
Try to focus on positive stories
We’re all hearing a lot of bad news right now. I talk about some of these issues in class, but I’ve also been trying to focus on the positive things that are happening in the middle of the crisis. If we’re going to talk about coronavirus, I figure we might as well try to focus on positive things.
Yesterday, I told my students a true story that was posted on Twitter by a woman named Rebecca Mehra. It’s the story of how she helped an elderly couple who were too scared to go inside the grocery store to buy what they needed. I told the story in the style of Story Listening, pausing to draw pictures while students watched and listened. Then, I gave them the written text to read. Click here to download the text I used.
These are my drawings from the story:
I’ve also been trying to share some news articles with my students that focus on people helping others during this time. Today, we talked about how Jack Ma is donating millions of masks and testing kits to numerous countries, and Taiwan has pledged to donate 100,000 masks per week to the U.S.
And we can all celebrate the fact that the number of cases in China is decreasing, which gives hope to the rest of us.
Do fun stuff
Although we talk some about the current crisis, I’m trying to limit the amount of time we spend talking about it in class. Many students are already hearing a lot about it from other sources, so I hope that our class can be somewhat of an escape for them, and they can forget about their stress and anxiety for a while. I’m trying to spend most of our online class time doing our normal class activities to help maintain at least some stability.
I’ve also been including some activities specifically to help my students stay calm and focus on positive things. With my higher-level students, I usually have them do a freewriting activity once a week. Today, for our freewriting, I asked my students to write about something that made them feel happy during the last few days. Afterwards, I invited students to share with the class what they wrote, and we had a nice discussion about the things we appreciate in our lives right now.
I also did a short guided meditation activity with my students, where we focused on our breathing for a few minutes and tried to relax each part of our body. It’s a good language learning language activity, too—my students learned new words like inhale, exhale, and tighten/relax your muscles. I watched this Five-Minute Meditation video from Goodful to get some ideas for the meditation, though there are a lot of other meditation videos on YouTube that you can either show to your students or just watch on your own to get ideas.
We can also encourage our students to find activities that bring them peace and joy at home. I ended class today by telling my students that I’m looking forward to doing some cooking and baking at home this weekend, and I encouraged them to do something they enjoy, too.
These are just some of my own thoughts as I’ve been trying to figure out what to do in class over the last couple of weeks. I wish everyone the best as we are all trying to figure out how to teach in the middle of this bad situation!