Exclusive Interview with COVID-19!

Using writing to help kids address the pandemic

It seems to me that kids have two very different needs during the pandemic — to have happiness and playfulness in a hard time, and to make sense of the strange events that have upturned their worlds. Writing can address both those needs. I try to balance them by writing lots of playful, imaginative things with my students, and by giving them space to directly address the pandemic in their writing.

A couple weeks ago, I had my students talk to covid. Getting to talk, face to imaginary face, with the amorphous boogeyman of their lives is a powerful thing. We did something similar last spring, but this time I wanted them to imagine they were talking to a person, with all the quirks and wants and feelings of any person. Not because viruses are like people exactly, but because I wanted them to talk to someone they felt could hear them, and listen to someone they knew how to hear.

Which brings us to our exclusive interview:

OK, before I say more, I have to share something a student wrote. Tilly is a new student of mine, nine years old, only just finding confidence and enthusiasm for her writing, a subject that has been challenging for her. She wrote this faux TV interview, where she pretended to interview COVID-19 on air. I am frequently delighted by the (frequently delightful) things my kids write, but this one hits it out of the park.

She read it aloud, in a swanky news anchor voice and a cheesy teen pop star covid voice, grinning the whole time. Try it:

Hello Covid

Tilly: Hello, my name is Tilly and this is KNN, the world’s most trustworthy kids news network. Tonight I'm in the studio talking with covid-19, the world’s most known pandemic. 

Tilly: So, Covid-19, do you feel you've made an impact on the world? If so, what impact have you made? 

Covid-19: I think I've made a big impact. The kind of one that spreads. I think it's really catching on. 

Tilly: What do you like to do? What are your interests? 

Covid-19: I like to travel, and I like to surprise big and small gatherings. 

Tilly: On that subject, what is your favorite drink? A kid from Arizona asked us this one.

Covid-19: Well, I'd have to say Corona beer, mostly, because it has my name on the bottle.

Tilly: What is your favorite movie or show? 

Covid-19: I like CNN because they’re always talking about me? 

Tilly: What is your family like? 

Covid-19: They push me a lot to do bigger things. 

Tilly: How did you evolve into this? 

Covid-19: My bat-friend, Bob, really helped me make the jump into big time. I could never have done it without him...So, THANK YOU BOB! 

Tilly: Okay well, you’ve been a very interesting subject to talk to. Thank you for coming, and I have one last question: What do you say to the people who don't wear masks? 

Covid-19: Thank you for supporting me! 

Tilly: There you go kids, you've heard it from the one and only Covid-19 himself. Once again, this is Tilly,and you are watching KNN the world's most trustworthy kids news network.

~ Tilly

I love seeing examples of when kids’ humor and creativity pull their writing along, when writing becomes a medium to express their own awesomeness rather than just a challenging form they work in for the sake of literacy. And I love seeing kids find humor in hard things.

Where did this covid character come from?

The prompt for this piece was to write something (I called it a poem) where you got to talk to COVID-19.

  • You could ask it anything.

  • You could tell it anything.

  • It could answer your questions.

  • It could tell you anything it wanted.

Before we went off to do this, we did some character building work. I asked them to imagine if COVID-19 were a person — or at least a human-like creature. I asked them questions about this covid person and had them take notes:

  • What does their voice sound like?

  • How do they dress?

  • How do they move and walk?

  • What kind of objects do they have with them?

  • What kind of vehicle etc. do they arrive in?

  • What kind of music do they like?

  • Can they dance?

  • What makes them sad/mad/scared/happy/ashamed?

  • What do they want most of all?

  • What do they do when no one is looking?

Some of them had created some pretty fantastic villains (one was a ghost who lived in a sewer and had rats living in his hair, another was blue), so I told them they could go into this imaginary conversation with any support or protection they wanted. They could bring a brave friend, a parent, a loyal dragon. They could talk from inside a moat of hand sanitizer, with any PPE they desired. It could be a Zoom chat. They could be inside a protective bubble. Whatever felt good.

I told them to say what they wanted to say, but to be polite, not for the least reason that just writing “you terrible #&$#^$%@ virus” wouldn’t be a very interesting poem. And I told them to listen, because who knows, maybe this character would tell them something new. And once or twice at least, I think it did.