COVID-19 · management · remote learning

Three Quick Tips for Maximizing Time at the Beginning of a Virtual Writing Workshop

My daughter, Isabelle, is attending fourth grade from home. She’s in a fully remote class with peers from her school. Even though she can navigate several different Zoom rooms throughout the day, she still needs support to keep herself organized and on-time. With a little over two weeks of remote instruction under our belts in this house, I am sharing three quick tips that you can use with your students to get writing workshop underway so you don’t lose time with some of the things that typically waste time in the classrooms.

Use a timer. Teach students to set a recurring timer on their device five minutes prior to the start of the minilesson.Not only does this practice encourage punctuality, but it provides kids with a few minutes to take a movement break, use the bathroom, and get organized.

I work with Isabelle to set up timers for all live Zoom lessons when we receive her schedule for the following school week. She’s on a six-day cycle so it makes recurring timers a bit trickier so you’ll notice some things appear once whereas others only show up on certain days.

Gather materials. As a home chef, I’ve come to rely on the practice of mise en place, which allows me to cook efficiently since I gather my ingredients ahead of time so that I don’t have to stop while preparing a recipe. Young writers can have their materials set up in their workspace so they don’t have to leave their seat to retrieve anything during the minilesson. Plus, if students have all of the necessary materials gathered ahead of the minilesson, then they’re ready to begin writing as soon as it’s over.

Isabelle sits in the waiting room for writing time with her teacher with everything in place at her desk.

Take attendance differently. Naturally, you’ll want all of of your students to be online before you start the lesson. A quick scan of your students’ faces or profile pics (if their cameras are turned off) is all you need to begin. However, some schools require teachers to take attendance at the beginning of every virtual lesson. To make things easier, try one of the following things:

  • Run a report. If you’re using Zoom, you can access attendee reports for meetings by going to the Reports page and selecting Usage. From there, you may adjust the date range to find the meeting you’re looking for. There number listed under the participants column is clickable to show the complete list of attendees, which includes their name, email address (if they signed in to a Zoom account), their join time, their leave time, and their total time in the meeting.
    • Several educators have reported the attendance feature in Google Meets being a bit wonky. If you’ve found the same thing, consider partnering students up so students can look for their buddy so you will know who’s present prior to beginning the minilesson.
  • Use the chat feature. Ask students to type “here” into the chat or ask them an inclusion quesiton, which will serve as attendance for the workshop. If you’re using Zoom, you may save the chat by following a few simple steps. If you’re using Google Meet, you can learn more about using the chat by clicking here.
  • Assign numbers and have students rename themselves. Some teachers assign each student a number. Then, they ask students to use rename feature (in Zoom) so their classroom number precedes their name (e.g., 18 – Stacey). When one clicks on the list of participants, it’s easy to scan the list to determine who is missing by noticing whose numbers aren’t listed.  

Teaching in a live, virtual space is challenging. However, if students are punctual and organized, then you’re freed up to do what you want to do, which is to teach writing.

2 thoughts on “Three Quick Tips for Maximizing Time at the Beginning of a Virtual Writing Workshop

  1. Love your timer strategy. Wondering if that is a chrome extension or a website that you are using? I am not sure I will use it will all kiddos, but giving them this as an optional tool is a great idea!


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