Table of Contents
- First Day at the Secondary Level
- Critical First Week of High School
- First Day of School Stations Activity, Icebreaker, Middle & High School, FREE
- Let’s Dig In!
- What’s your story?
- How can we, as ecologists, solve the wild horse problem?
- How can we redesign a space that makes us think our school is cool?
- What can we do to help kids get outside more?
- How would you incorporate working gears into the design for a hamster-driven vehicle?
- How can we learn to love reading (or love reading even more) and share this love with others?
- How can we, as future city planners, reimagine empty lots as places of importance in our community?
- How can we help first responders help hypothermia victims?
- How can we apply our understanding of slope to build stairs for a community member who needs them?
- How can we make our school more energy efficient?
- Even More Ideas
- Let’s Dig In!
- Chemistry Project Ideas That Reinforce STEAM Learning
- Elementary classroom chemistry projects
- Middle school classroom chemistry projects
- High school classroom chemistry projects
- 10 Fun Back-to-School Activities and Icebreakers
- 15 creative lesson ideas for the first day of school
- 15 fun back to school classroom activities
- First day of school activities for elementary students
- First day of school activities for middle school students
- First day of school activities for high school students
- This Character Ed (aka Social Skills) Bundle has visuals for almost every classroom routine!
- You will see in my lesson plans I do many activities to help teach our class rules: We take care of ourselves, each other, our school, and our world.
- You can grab my Class Rules pack HERE from my store.
- You can read all about Green and Red Choices in detail HERE. It has been the best thing I have ever created. It has truly changed the way my students behave in my classroom!
- You can find this STEM I Can Build anchor chart HERE.
- You can grab this Parts of a Scientist anchor chart freebie HERE. Want to know more about how I manage center time? Click HERE.
- You can read all about my home living dramatic play theme HERE.
- You can get this family word cards freebie when you sign up for my newsletter HERE.
- These fun, hands on Math and Literacy School Themed Centers are what I use for some of my table time activities too!
- Go grab your FREE lesson plans:
- EDITABLE Lesson Plans HERE (PowerPoint file)
- Surviving the First Day
- The First Hour Plan
- Reading Workshop: Celebrating Divergent Thinking with Ish
- Library Limits — Magazines Only
- Classroom Democracy at Work: Voting on Table Names
- A Patriotic Start: Reviewing the Pledge of Allegiance
- Maybe Math?
- Teaching Classroom Routines
- What is YOUR First-Day Plan?
First Day at the Secondary Level
First day at the secondary level is just as exciting and just as anxious as first day at the elementary level. There are so many names to learn, so many procedures to remember, and so many tasks to accomplish. Consider this suggested sequence of activities:
Post a philosophical statement on the wall and use it to initiate some discussion with students on the first day. Select one that has personal meaning for you (you might want to use different statements with different classes or different periods). Here are a few I’ve used:
- “You can’t earn if you don’t learn.”
- “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” —Albert Einstein
- “There is nothing more dangerous than a closed mind.”
- “Education is a process, never a product.”
- “Education is never about achieving perfection, but rather about meeting challenges.”
Meet and greet your students at the door to your classroom. Shake their hand, call them by name, and welcome them into the room. This is a critical moment for pre-adolescents and teens as it sets the tone for the rest of the day and the rest of the year. It lets them know that their attendance is valued and that they are part of a community of learners. I suggest that you make this single act a regular part of your daily routine. You’ll reap untold benefits.
Establish a seating pattern or seating chart early on. Initially assign students to desks. You might want to do this alphabetically so you can learn their names quicker. Later, you can inform them that a class meeting will determine final or rotating seating assignments.
Talk briefly about yourself. Let students see your human side by discussing your education, your family, and especially your philosophy.
Take attendance. Spend some time learning the correct pronunciation of students’ names. Make a positive comment about each students as you go through your class list (“Thanks for coming,” “Good to see you,” “How’s the team look this year?”).
Share an initial set of rules and classroom expectations. Secondary students will quickly determine what kind of teacher you will be by how many rules you have, how precise those rules are, and the severity of the punishments you establish for infractions. Remember K.I.S.S.—Keep It Short and Sweet. Don’t overload them with rules the first day. Let them know that they will be involved in establishing classroom procedures throughout the year.
Inform students about your expectations for each class and each period. They need to know about bringing textbooks, note taking, expected quizzes and exams, homework assignments and procedures, getting your attention (raising hands), and bathroom procedures.
Provide students with a syllabus or course outline for the semester or year. Inform them about the topics you’ll cover; the projects they will complete; and any special activities such as field trips, guest speakers, or multimedia.
Schedule a motivating or energizing activity related to your subject area. This can be in the form of a Jeopardy! game, a panel discussion, a scavenger hunt (see First Day at the Elementary Level; adapt the hunt as necessary for secondary students), or a cliffhanger like one of these:
Begin reading a book, but stop at a climatic point. Tell students that you’ll read the conclusion tomorrow.
Give students some brainteasers or puzzles related to a forthcoming topic. Tell students you will provide the answers in tomorrow’s class.
Engage students in a hands-on project (a mobile, diorama, poster, etc.). Tell them you’ll provide time in tomorrow’s class to complete the project.
Provide a very short, but motivational, homework assignment. Here are some possibilities:
History: Interview your parents or grandparents about a recent historical event.
Science: Locate a discovery or invention that was not around 20 years ago.
English: Write your own epitaph.
Math: Find three mathematical equations used in popular media (billboards, magazine advertisements, TV commercials, etc.).
P.E.: Discover what the world record for the hammer throw is or what is the hammer throw? For men? For women?
Art: Find a Salvador Dali painting and tell what it means to you.
- Wrap up the period by giving students a preview of things to come. Whet their appetite for the coming week, the coming month, and the coming year. Leave them with a feeling of anticipation.
Critical First Week of High School
Has this happened to you? You’re lounging on a white sandy beach. You reach for your PDA so that you can check the time for your scuba lesson. Then, as you look at your calendar, you have a revelation. THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL IS ONLY WEEKS AWAY! The transition from vacation back to the classroom can be stressful, but with the right amount of pre-planning and a good strategy for that first week, you can ease into school feeling cool and ready for success.
In my high school classroom, I’ve found the key to success has been to focus on three critical areas: Building a rapport with students, establishing rules and expectations, and having a strategy to help students get motivated to learn. Use my week-one strategies below and printable calendar to guide your back-to-school plans.
Build a Rapport With Your Students
Contrary to popular belief, teachers who develop positive working relationships with their students do not do so by magic. I’ve found that developing a good rapport with students takes strategic planning. My formula:
- Perform tasks such as establishing rules with your students to create a class community.
- Present yourself with a stern yet caring demeanor.
- Most importantly, clearly communicate your expectations to your students on day one.
Establishing Rules and Expectations
On the first day of school, immediately after introducing myself and giving a brief description of the READ 180 program, we develop our class rules. This is a two step process.
Step 1: I lay down some essential “Ground Rules” that are based on what I need in a classroom environment. These include things such as:
- Follow directions the first time they are given.
- Arrive on time and prepared.
- Respect others as well as class materials.
Step 2: After I communicate these guidelines, I make creating a Class Rules list a community-building process. I incorporate students’ views and opinions by posing two simple questions:
- Why are you here?
- What is necessary in order for you to accomplish your goals?
Student responses are charted. Then I use their answers to modify and add on to the Ground Rules. Involving students in the development of class policies initiates the critical thinking process and gives students the sense that my class is more of a democratic community than a dictatorship.
Forming Class Rules is one part of the process of conveying clear expectations to students, which is critical for creating a productive learning environment. Other areas that need to be addressed within the first week of school:
- Giving students a list of materials that will be needed daily (binder, pens, pencils, folders, etc.)
- Communicating the methods that will be used to assess their work (i.e. rubrics). Providing visual examples of what is considered “presentable work” and what is considered “unacceptable work.” I have learned from experience, that if you skip this vital step, you will likely receive written work that appears as if the dog has chewed it or it was accidentally left in a back pocket and run through the washing machine.
Tip: In order to address multiple learning styles, all expectations should be conveyed verbally, in writing, and visually.
Getting Students Ready to Learn
I divide my first-week activities into those that get students acquainted, projects that introduce technology and warm up skiils, and reading-focused lessons.
The first day of school can be difficult for teachers and students. My students’ main concern is adjusting to their new environment and getting to know new classmates. I feel that a high-quality teacher must begin the year by trying to get to know the students well. Thus, it is equally as important for teachers and students to get acquainted. To help us all start out right, I rely on these key icebreaking activities that have worked well with my teenage students.
- Find Your Match
- New Names
- I Am Searching for Someone Who
To get students ready and motivated to learn right from the start, introduce technology-based projects during the first week of school. For these examples, the only necessary materials are books and a video camera:
- Have students create a commercial advertising their favorite book or a book they’ve read recently. I start by leading a discussion about the characteristics of commercials that are particularly memorable to viewers (jingles, great tag lines, strong images, etc.). In addition, I create a “sample commercial” to serve as a model for students.
- Have students create a five-minute video biography. Try to have students include details about their early childhood years, life at home, hobbies, interests, and lifelong goals.
Motivating Students to Read
Motivating most adolescent readers, especially those who struggle with literacy, is a challenging task. To get students excited about reading, I start the school year with a read-aloud that will be relatable to students and will increase their enthusiasm about reading. One book that’s been a big hit with my students is Sharon Draper’s Tears of a Tiger.
Once students are enthused about reading, it is time to assess their reading levels and allow them opportunities to preview your class library.
- As an assessment, I like this Reading Inventory.
- Use the Book Pass activity and Book Pass Log (PDF) to help familiarize students with your class library.
Both of these projects help me become more familiar with my students and get the students enthusiastic about attending class.
Connecting With Parents
Not only is it significantly important to clearly inform students of your expectations, this information must be conveyed to parents as well. Developing good relationships with students’ guardians is vital in limiting the amount of turbulence you encounter during the school year.
Like most teachers, I send home a general letter the first week of school. This note to parents outlines our Class Rules, necessary materials, and the types of activities we will be occurring throughout the year.
I’ve found it to be helpful to also attach a notice requesting parental permission for students to be photographed and video taped. Parents are usually comfortable with this when they are clear that those photographs and videos will only be displayed within the school building and will be used for the sole purpose of exhibiting their children’s hard work.
First Day of School Stations Activity, Icebreaker, Middle & High School, FREE
I hate cheesy name games and I refuse to make the worst first impression by just reading a syllabus to my students. The solution is this engaging first day of school stations activity designed to facilitate discussion and help you start building a strong classroom community from Day One.
UPDATE: This free stations download now has two versions. The original was designed for English/Language Arts classes, while the new edition features generic wording to make it work with all subject areas. Math, Science, Social Studies, World Language, and Electives teachers rejoice! You, too, can enjoy some non-cheesy fun with this first day of school stations activity. (Sorry, software and licensing limitations mean I can’t provide an editable version.)
This free 38-page PDF includes:
• 21 slides to lead a class step-by-step through the station rotation activity
• 16 pages to print and post around your room to form 8 stations
• a single-page worksheet to use at the end of class or assign as homework anytime during the first week of school
Materials you need include:
• Sticky notes (8 per student)
• Index cards (8 per class)
• Printer paper (white or, even better, colored)
Hope these materials help you start the year strong!
Looking for a way to get teens working from the very beginning of class? Check out this Full Year Collection of Bell-Ringers (an all-time TpT best-seller) that cover grammar, lit. terms, and vocabulary in bite-size chunks.
Special thanks to my talented teacher friend Madeline Alyce for the inspiration! to check out her free annotation tools.
Thanks for stopping by!
Cover image credit: Pexels, Public domain
By sharing their thinking at this early draft stage, teachers invite feedback from peers. That’s another strategy for effective project planning. (Most project ideas were shared anonymously and some are mashups of similar suggestions. Thanks to the creative teachers behind these PBL plans.)
Let’s Dig In!
Which of these driving questions might frame a meaningful inquiry experience for your students?
What’s your story?
Project #1: In this language arts project for the early elementary grades, students compose photographs that tell compelling stories about their community. To get ready for this challenge, they interview professional photographers for advice about composition. Then they identify locations that they think make their community special. They also write informational text to accompany their photos. To make their work public, students might produce a StoryMap to publish online or a kid-friendly travel brochure for their community visitors’ center.
How can we, as ecologists, solve the wild horse problem?
Project #2: This is a high school science project with a strong local focus. The teacher behind the idea is from Nevada, where the wild horse population poses a threat to the fragile desert ecosystem. Students will research the issue and propose solutions to an expert panel. They will be expected to defend their solutions based on facts, data, and ethical decision-making, and appeal to stakeholders on all sides of this contentious issue. Note: Although this project idea is tied to a specific location, other teachers could adapt it by considering the ecological issues facing their communities.
How can we redesign a space that makes us think our school is cool?
Project #3: Here’s an idea suitable for any school that is overdue for a makeover. The teacher behind this idea has built in constraints to force creativity: proposals must make the building more efficient and student-friendly. Students will apply their understanding of math and art to generate scale drawings, which they’ll pitch to school administrators (along with proposed budgets and rationale or justification for the change). I can also imagine students making prototypes in a makerspace or using an online tool like SketchUp to generate plans.
What can we do to help kids get outside more?
Project #4: This project challenges “big kids” (grades 5-6) to enhance the health of preschool kids by proposing creative ways to encourage more outdoor play. I can imagine how a strategy like design thinking would be useful for helping students understand the perspective of their intended audience (in this case, preschoolers and their teachers or daycare providers). For final products, students might produce an online guide to local parks, or lead play days in which they would demonstrate games or activities to get little guys and their caretakers outdoors.
How would you incorporate working gears into the design for a hamster-driven vehicle?
Project #5: Here’s a project for upper elementary or middle school grades that’s big on the fun factor while addressing specific science and engineering content. Design constraints set expectations that the vehicle will be safe for the hamster and durable enough for multiple trials. Students (and hamsters) will test their final products in lunch-hour races and other public demonstrations. Videos of these events will be shared online to reach a wider audience.
Project #6: Intended to engage seventh-grade students in English language arts, this project puts a premium on student voice and choice. Students will be asked to discover what makes reading “work” for them, and then share their strategy with peers. The results might be read-alouds, library events, student-led research, community action, or whatever students propose. There are good opportunities for differentiation in this project.
How can we, as future city planners, reimagine empty lots as places of importance in our community?
Project #7: This project invites students to be innovators. Where do they see opportunities for local improvements? How can they use engineering principles to design and model improved purposes for empty lots or blighted spaces? Student investigations are likely to include surveys, interviews, prototyping, collaboration, and more as they take on this real-world challenge and share their results with local decision makers. The same project could incorporate social studies or economics by having students consider the stories behind specific places. What used to occupy now-vacant spaces? What changed? What was lost?
How can we help first responders help hypothermia victims?
Project #8: Intended for middle school science students, this project focuses on an authentic need in mountainous regions. Students will apply their understanding of science and engineering to design a device that emergency responders can use to warm hypothermia victims. Products will need to be portable and suitable for covering large portions of a victim’s body. Potential benefits could go well beyond academic understanding; these products could be lifesaving.
How can we apply our understanding of slope to build stairs for a community member who needs them?
Project #9: For math teachers wondering if PBL can work in their content area, here’s a project to consider. Understanding of algebra is literally bolted into this project. By adding the service component (i.e., building the stairs), students will be able to see how math is used outside the classroom. As a modification, students could also design ramps for wheelchair access. This project invites collaboration with community nonprofits that focus on housing and accessibility issues.
How can we make our school more energy efficient?
Project #10: Here’s an idea that could generate measurable savings for local schools, while giving students the opportunity to apply their understanding of energy. Depending on content focus and grade level, students could investigate everything from energy audits to alternative energy sources and behavior change. As an extension, students might contribute their results to the Cool School Challenge.
Even More Ideas
Looking for even more ideas to borrow? Here’s a post from last year’s PBL World with more driving questions to consider.
If you have a rough-draft project idea that you’re contemplating for the coming school year, please share it in the comments section below and invite the Edutopia community to offer some friendly critique.
- Make posters or collages that promote tolerance and understanding of difference. Post them in your school. Start a club to promote peace and tolerance.
- Plan and host an Ethnic Awareness week.
- Find, interview and write histories of diverse people in your community.
- Volunteer to tutor students who need help with academic work or social skills.
- Make New Kid Survival Kits for new students to your school.
- Learn and create a program to teach about good nutrition.
- Interview seniors and report on – personal histories, community, and stories of character…
- Teach a class on the importance of getting healthy and staying healthy.
- Create fliers to distribute to pet owners about the nutritional needs of pets
- Make gift baskets and deliver to seniors.
- Help disadvantaged children make gifts to give to other people.
- Collect shoes, eyeglasses, etc. for children in a third world country
- Purchase or write a children’s reading book and read to and give away books to children in hospitals.
- Make “I Care” Kits for the homeless shelters in your area.
- Hold a clothing drive and deliver items to homeless shelters.
- Prepare food and serve at a homeless shelter.
- Create a cookbook and sell and donate receipts to charity.
- Hold a food, clothing drive and provide to local charity.
- Hold a used book sale. Donate the money to school library or literacy group.
- Collect used and new books to give to a hospital, nursing home, shelter, or preschool.
- Read aloud to a person who is visually impaired.
- Organize a reading hour for children at your school or library.
- Make reading or math flashcards for primary students.
- Set up a buddy system at your school for kids with special needs.
- Fundraise for Braille books for the visually impaired.
- Organize a public issues forum for speakers running for local political office.
- Hold after-school classes to younger latchkey students.
- Create a play that teaches young children how to stay safe at home while their parents are away.
- Make a flyer of after-school safety tips for young children
- Organize a first-aid training session for your school, club, or community
- Create a video on holiday safety tips.
- Sing, perform a play, give a magic show, host a dance, or play an instrument for senior citizens.
- Research your community and write a children’s book with a younger student on your community.
- Write stories and story questions to read to younger children.
- Hold an “Elderfair” at a local senior center.
- Become pen pals with residents of a local senior center.
- Create a time capsule with items from students and senior citizens.
- Work with senior citizens to create a “then and now” book on themes such as school, childhood games, work, recreation food, music, etc.
- Create “need to know” packets for students coming into next year’s class.
- Create teaching aids for a nearby day care center.
- Start a bird sanctuary. Build birdfeeders, plant trees, write journal entries about birds for younger grades.
- Create a student-run conference on a topic. Have booths, breakout sessions, and speakers.
- Develop a school creed or service slogan and host school assemblies to promote service work
- Establish long-term service programs that future classes can continue.
- Lobby city/state officials to pass laws or ordinances of concern to you.
- Develop booklets on cultures within your school or community. Give them to the library and the Chamber of Commerce
- Translate town pamphlets and flyers into other languages to help community members who do not speak English.
- Organize and host an event to help prepare students making the transition to (middle school, high school, college).
- Begin a youth-philanthropy board and fundraise to support topics of concern to board.
- Conduct water sampling of local streams, lakes and ponds and provide results to State Dept of Natural Resources.
- Study traffic patterns and accident reports for roads around school to evaluate safety issues.
- Organize and administer a school store to sell school supplies and clothing with school logo/mascot and donate profits to charity.
Chemistry Project Ideas That Reinforce STEAM Learning
For Teachers By The Room 241 Team • November 8, 2019
The science of chemistry is much more than observing reactions when combining two or more different types of chemicals. Our understanding of the universe, our planet, and humans as electrochemical beings is fundamentally based on understanding the principles of chemistry. This makes learning about chemical processes through experimentation vital to the concepts of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM). Student exposure to the fascinating world of chemistry is imperative to cultivating tomorrow’s doctors, physicists, researchers, and scientists. Here are some chemistry project ideas to foster students’ curiosity.
Elementary classroom chemistry projects
Sympathetic ink substances disappear and then reappear when heated.
Ink types: milk, lemon juice, vinegar, grapefruit juice, Windex, and cobalt chloride
Dip a paintbrush or Q-tip in lemon juice. Write something on a small piece of white paper. Let the “ink” dry before holding the paper over a toaster. Heat will magically cause the secret writing to appear.
Instructions for this project here.
Fizz inflator for balloons
Mixing vinegar and baking soda causes a reaction that creates carbon dioxide.
- Small balloon
- Empty plastic water or soda bottle
- 1/2 cup of vinegar
- Baking soda
Instructions for this project here.
Lava flowing in the classroom
Oil floats in water because it is less dense than water. However, salt sinks in water with oil because salt is more dense than oil.
- Food coloring
- One tsp of salt
- 1/4 cup of vegetable oil
- Transparent drinking glass
Instructions for this project here.
Make ice cream from scratch
This experiment shows an endothermic chemical process that allows ice cream to form out of the following ingredients:
- A bag of ice
- 4 oz of vitamin D milk
- 4 oz of cream
- 4 tsp of white sugar
- 1/4 tsp of vanilla flavoring
- 1/2 cup of rock salt
- Small and large Ziploc freezer bags
Instructions for this project here.
Fun with slime
This chemical experiment shows the unique quality of this compound to be both a liquid and a solid.
- Two disposable cups
- Elmer’s or white craft glue
- Food coloring
- Borax powder
- Tablespoon and plastic tsp for measuring and stirring
Instructions for this project here.
Heat-producing chemical reactions
How common household items produce heat when combined.
- One thermometer
- One medium-sized bowl
- Stirring stick
- 1/4 cup of hydrogen peroxide
- One tsp of yeast
Instructions for this project here.
Middle school classroom chemistry projects
Chemical reactions needed to create crystals involve making a solution that cause solute particles to coalesce and build a nucleus.
- A flower with a strong stem
- Food coloring
- Hot water
Instructions for this project here.
Never-ending lava lamp
A heat source causes oil to expand faster than alcohol and then cool, demonstrating changes in density caused by thermal expansion.
- Glass container that can be sealed
- Baby or mineral oil
- 70% and 90% alcohol
- Incandescent light bulb
Instructions for this project here.
Separating salt and sand
This experiment investigates the concepts of solubility and insolubility.
- 8 oz canning jars
- Magnifying glass
- Graduated cylinder
- Two spoons
- Coffee filter
Instructions for this project here.
Explore exothermic chemical reactions, crystallization, and the science behind supercooling.
- 4 Tbl of baking soda
- One liter of clear vinegar
Instructions for this project here.
Mini lemon volcano
Explore chemical reactions involving baking soda and citric acid. Stirring baking soda and citric acid increases frothiness.
- Two lemons to make one volcano
- Baking soda
- Food coloring
- Dish soap
- Craft sticks
- Spoons and cups
- Medium-sized tray
Instructions for this project here.
Fizzing bath bombs
Students can explore the chemical concept of neutralization while doing this experiment.
- Kitchen scales
- Spray bottle
- Citric acid
- Bicarbonate of soda
- Lavender oil
- Tennis ball (optional)
Instructions for this project here.
High school classroom chemistry projects
Luminescent chemical reaction
How a specific chemical reaction produces light energy without creating heat.
- Anhydrous sodium carbonate
- Sodium bicarbonate
- Ammonium carbonate monohydrate
- 3% hydrogen peroxide
- Copper sulfate
- Funnel, flask, and spiral condenser
Instructions for this project here.
How to make a pH indicator
Understand what a pH scale is and why it is an essential part of learning about chemistry by having students make their own pH indicator.
- Two cups of chopped red cabbage
- One cup of water
Instructions for this project here.
Magic trick: Burning a one-dollar bill (not really!)
Explore the chemical reactions among paper money, alcohol, oxygen, and carbon dioxide.
- One $1 bill
- Lighter or matches
- Salt to make colored flames
- Solution of 50% water and 50% alcohol
Instructions for this project here.
POP! goes the nitrogen triiodide
When iodine crystals react with concentrated ammonia, it creates nitrogen triiodide and a loud popping sound.
- At least one gram of iodine
- Concentrated aqueous ammonia
- Paper towels or other filter papers
- Ring stand
- Long stick with a feather attached to it
Instructions for this project here.
Splitting water molecules: Electrolysis of water
This project allows students to explore the concept of battery energy used to induce chemical reactions that do not occur spontaneously.
- 9-volt battery
- Metal thumbtacks
- Clean, clear plastic water bottle
- Epsom salt
- Plastic cup or beaker
- Black permanent marker
- Modeling clay or paper towels
Instructions for this project here.
Revealing different pigment chemicals in leaves
Students learn about chromatography and the chemical concept of solubility.
- Fresh, green leaves or fresh spinach leaves
- Food processor or mortar and pestle
- Ceramic or glass cup
- Coffee filters
- Isopropyl alcohol
- Straw or pencil
Instructions for this project here.
For further information about teaching the concepts of STEAM, visit our STEAM Teaching resource page for more fascinating and fun activity ideas.
Tags: Mid-Career Teacher, New Teacher, Science, STEAM, Veteran Teacher
10 Fun Back-to-School Activities and Icebreakers
first day of school picture
biography that includes current height, favorites, and three goals for the school year
a letter each student writes to their future (end-of-the-school-year) self
any trinkets students want to put in that represent themselves at the current point in time. This often includes pictures of best friends and boy bands, sport medals, little toys, etc.
First Student: I am Kaitlin Smyth and I like kangaroos.
Second Student: I am Sungat Patel and I like s’mores. She is Kaitlin Smyth and she likes kangaroos.
“Continue Class Team-Building All Year Long” by Lindsey Petlak
“Building Teamwork and Bridges: A STEM Icebreaker” by Alycia Zimmerman
“Icebreakers to Create a ‘Cool’ Class Environment” by Rhonda Stewart
“Back to School: First Week Fun” by Kriscia Cabral
“Fabulous First-Day Ideas”
As an extremely shy student, the beginning of a school year filled me with angst. My heart raced before the first bell ever rang. I’d wonder if the teacher would be as nice, or as mean, as I’d heard. I worried whether I’d make any new friends, and I would literally hold my breath waiting to hear how the teacher would mangle my name. In a 1970s world filled with Annes and Kathys, it was tough being a shy kid named Eugenia Hajduk on the first day of school. Until the fourth grade.
Fourth grade was the absolute best start I’d ever had to elementary school. The teacher didn’t take attendance by calling our names. She let us tell her and everyone else our names by playing The Name Game. I was able say my own name (pronounced Geena High-duke), and the weight of the world was lifted off of my shoulders. For the next week, we played Get to Know You games as she called them, every day. My shyness faded quickly that year just because of those daily, just-for-fun, games.
I tell you the story above because I truly believe our own childhood experiences help shape the teachers we become. I’m especially sensitive to those children who are shy, and I make sure I learn the nickname and pronunciation of each of my student’s names before school begins. And I do get-to-know-you activities and icebreakers the first week of school. Scholastic Teachables has some dandies — from a reader’s theater play that brings a new class together to seating cards with sharable jokes — that are ready to print and run with.
Who’s in Our Room Word Search
Arrival on the very first day of school is different than any other day of the year. It normally takes about 20 minutes for my whole class to assemble due to late buses, parents who needed just a few more photos, and students who accidentally found themselves in the wrong room. This is the perfect activity while we wait for everyone to arrive. When students come in, they find a seat where this word search and a newly sharpened pencil are waiting. My third graders always enjoy searching for their own name along with those of their new classmates. After 10 minutes or so, students naturally begin helping each other, opening those very first lines of communication. Try making a Who’s in Our Room? puzzle at Discovery Education’s Puzzlemaker.
Divide students into groups of 4–6 students and give each group one die and a copy of the D-icebreakers printable. (To save paper, display the sheet on the interactive whiteboard.) Students take turns rolling the die and answering the question that matches their roll. My students like when we do this as a “speed round” with a three-minute timer running on our whiteboard.
Skit-tell Us About Yourself
With students seated in a circle, I pass around a bag of Skittles, telling each student to pick two. Once everyone has their candies, I turn around the Skit-tell us About Yourself board.
Going around the circle, students share information about themselves based on the color candy they have selected. If you only have enough time to go around once, students can choose between their two colors. If someone has two of the same color, they can give two different answers to the same question or trade with a classmate. This activity can also be done with any other assorted colored candies.
Autograph Scavenger Hunt
Pass out the scavenger hunt sheet and watch the students swing into action as they try to find a different classmate for each box. This activity gets loud (in a good way!) as students go from one to another, but conversations get started that definitely break the ice!
Beach Ball Introductions
Students sit in a circle and toss a ball to a classmate in the circle. Students share information about themselves using the sentence stems their left and right pointer fingers are closest to. To prepare the ball for this activity, I used a permanent marker to write the first part of the sentence on one half of the ball while the words I write on the opposite side call for further explanation. For example, the student’s left hand might land on This summer I ______ , while their right hand lands on the word during. They might answer, This summer I went to visit my grandma during the month of July. In another variation, I use a ball that has several different ideas for sharing information. On that ball, the student responds to whichever prompt their left pointer finger is touching.
Back to School “Survival” Bags
Each year I make treat bags for my students to give to them on the first day of school. This activity helps students understand that the classroom they have been assigned to for the next year is a warm and caring environment. I place the bags on desks before school, so as soon as my students walk in the room they see the bags tagged with their names and the words “Your Third Grade Survival Kit.” Excitement builds throughout the day and they can hardly wait to find out what is inside. Shortly before going home, we take all of the items out of our bags one by one and discuss their meaning. The items I have chosen for the bag let the students know they are in an encouraging environment where we will all look out for each other and where effort is expected and rewarded.
Click on the images above to print you own editable treat bag.
This is a good icebreaker at the start of class, or just when the kids need a break. I tell my students that I want them to line up by the day of their birth, in chronological order from January 1 to December 31. Then I tell them they can’t talk while they do it! Students use a combination of sign language, charades, and all ten fingers (and sometimes toes!) to line themselves up in order. With third graders, this can sometimes take a while. Once they have achieved the task, I have them do it again but in opposite order, from December 31 to January 1. This time, however, they are allowed to talk to each other. The same task that allows talking is always finished more quickly. Afterwards, we discuss how a team task can be completed more quickly when people communicate with each other.
This activity can also be done with first or names in alphabetical order, height, shoe size, etc.
One school year is a pretty big percentage of an elementary student’s life and a lot can change from September to June without your boys and girls even noticing. Creating a time capsule the first week of school is a great way to reflect on the changes when it gets revisited during the last week of school. You can create one big time capsule or individual student time capsules that you store. Potato chip canisters work particularly well for individual time capsules. Here is what I plan to put inside this year:
What Do We Have in Common? Card Towers
I found this activity last summer and it was a big hit on the second day of school! Students were broken randomly into groups of four. Each group was given a stack of index cards and a challenge: Build the tallest card tower in the class! The catch? Before you could add a card to the tower, you had to write something on it that every member of the team had in common. As more cards were added, the commonalities tended to stretch a bit (we’ve all had water to drink), but it was all in the name of teamwork.
The Name Game
There are so many variations of this classic game! The version I play with my third graders involves everyone sitting in a circle and the first person to go says their first and last names, then something they like that starts with the same initial as their first name. The next student follows with their name and what they like, but then needs to repeat what the previous classmate(s) said. For example:
The game continues around the circle until one student cannot remember the previous classmates’ declarations. The next student begins the cycle again until everyone has had a turn. This is also easily done with names and alliterative places, names and animals, etc. Older students might enjoy playing the rhyming name game using this name game generator.
If you are looking for even more great ideas, check out the links below where my fellow bloggers have shared even more ways to get your school year off to a great start.
The purpose of icebreakers, of course, is exactly what my fourth grade teacher knew all those years ago: to help your students get to know each other, overcome anxieties, start friendships, and learn the importance of teamwork.
15 creative lesson ideas for the first day of school
Back to school. Finally! In Belgium, school starts on the 1st of September, after a summer break of two months. Other countries have already begun the new school year, others still have a few weeks to go.
There’s one thing we all have in common: the first day of school. A special day for students and teachers. A day full of emotions. Stress, fear, relief, happiness, joy, …
How can you make sure those first-day-of-school emotions are good emotions? I’m betting on creative back-to-school lesson ideas students will find a fun thing to do.
So here they are!
15 fun back to school classroom activities
First day of school activities are based upon one goal: to get to know each other. Most first day of school activities are for elementary, but I included a few as well for middle school students and high school students. Some can be used for all ages too.
First day of school activities for elementary students
1. All about the bag
Hand out a paper bag to all your students the first day of school and put a little note on it:
- Fill this bag with 4 things or objects that tell something about yourself. (only 4 things, no more, no less)
- All your objects have to fit in this bag.
- Decorate the bag if you wish!
- Bring the bag back tomorrow and be ready to share with the class.
2. Figure me out
In fourth grade, students have already learned arithmetics. You could let them create a profile of themselves, describing some fun facts using arithmetics. Take a look at the image below for an example.
Students have to figure out the person by calculating the facts. Then they have to guess who that person is.
3. Beach ball game
All you need for this first day of school activity is a beach ball and a marker. Write down several questions on the beach ball in a random order.
Examples of questions:
- What are you most proud of?
- What’s the most heroic thing you did?
- What’s your favorite animal?
- What color is your toothbrush?
- I am thankful for _____
- What’s your favorite movie?
- What’s your favorite sport?
- How many siblings do you have?
- What’s your favorite dessert?
- What do you like to do after school?
- When’s your birthday?
- And so on.
Now form a circle and throw the beach ball to a student. Wherever the student’s left thumb lands, is the question he has to answer. After answering that question, he can throw the ball to another student.
4. Create a time capsule
You probably already know the concept of a time capsule. If you have ideas of your own, go with it. If you don’t, here’s something you could do with a time capsule an the first day of school.
Let your students write down their wishes and hopes for the following school year. What do they want to learn this school year? Then put everything in the time capsule and bury is somewhere safe beneath the ground. You could also put a fun class picture in it.
At the end of the school year, you dig up the time capsule and let your students reflect on what they’ve learned and if their wishes at the beginning of the school year came true. You can also try to make the exact same class picture. It’s fun to see who has changed in one year and who didn’t.
You could do this first day of school activity in college as well! If your students are much older, like college students, you could let them write down the profession they want to practice at the end of their studies. A lot of them will have changed along the way, but it’s fun to see how their dreams and expectations change in time. It’s also fun to just include a bucket list of each student. These are things they want to do during their time as a college student.
5. Nice mnm’ing you
Everyone loves mnm’s. Besides eating them, you could also use them for a fun back to school lesson. Divide the mnm’s over a few cups and share them with your students. Students have to pick out a mnm blindfolded and tell a story or answer the question. Every color represents its own story.
- Red: something about yesterday
- Orange: something you do well
- Yellow: something about your childhood
- Blue: something you learned last week
- Brown: something you can’t live without
- Green: something you watch or listen to
Oh, one more thing… Of course students may eat the mnm’s after finishing the question. Guess who’s going to be the most popular teacher this year? 😉
The Randomness widget from BookWidgets is handy for creating a variety of back-to-school games. Spin the wheel to generate a student and ask them to talk about a randomly selected topic. Alternatively, you can give a specific topic and spin the wheel to see which student is chosen. Curious for our example? Click here.
Topics may include:
- What would you do with 1 million euro?
- What is your favorite place on earth?
- What is your biggest dream?
Click here to start creating your own back to school randomness activity with BookWidgets.
7. Would you rather
To get to know your students you could ask them crazy choice questions. Make fun cards and let them pick one. They have to answer the question “would you rather…?”.
Here are some examples:
- Would you rather have to eat raisins every day or eat peas?
- Would you rather walk around with a hole in your pants or with a broken zipper?
- Would you rather eat a salad or liver?
- Would you take a bath or a shower?
- Would you rather have lunch with the president or a famous singer?
- Would you rather wear gloves or a hat in the winter?
- Would you rather eat chocolate or skittles if it’s all you had to eat on a hike?
- Would you rather adopt a cat or a dog?
- Would you rather go snowboarding or skiing?
- Would you rather wear flip flops or sneakers?
- Would you rather have an in ground pool or a horse?
- Would you rather live in Hawaii or in Italy?
- Would you rather get in trouble with your parents or your teacher?
- Would you rather ride on an elephant or a giraffe?
- And so on.
You can also put these questions in a “randomness widget” with BookWidgets and let students spin the wheel.
8. Snowball fight
Let each student take out a sheet of paper and write down 3 interesting, but not widely known, facts about him or herself. There can’t be any names on the papers!
Let students crumple up their papers into balls and have a paper “snowball” fight. After a few minutes, all the paper snowballs will be all over the classroom. Now, students have to find a snowball, and unfold the paper. Each student must try to find the student whose snowball he or she retrieved.
9. Fit in puzzle
Create a giant blank puzzle and hand out a blank piece of the puzzle to every student. They have to decorate the puzzle piece with drawings that say something about themselves. After, you collect the puzzle pieces and complete it again with the help of your students. Now you have something to put on your empty classroom wall!
First day of school activities for middle school students
10. Tell it with emojis
Let your students summarize what they did during their summer break using only emojis! If you have new students, you can also let them introduce themselves using emojis.
- Hobby(s): 🎨 💃🏻
- Family: 👨🏻 👩🏼 👧🏽 👧🏻 👦🏻
- pet: 🐶
- Loves: 👗
- Hates: ☔️
- Favorite food: 🍝
The back to School Bingo is a fantastic icebreaker activity for middle school children as it will help them to get to know their classmates. Create a Bingo Card in BookWidgets and in each square, write a brief description, such as:
- Lives close to school
- Likes pizza
- Has 3 siblings
- Loves sport
- Can juggle
Challenge your students to go around the room, asking classmates some questions. When they have a match, they are allowed to tick off that square. Click here or on the image to check it out.
Click here to start creating your own back to school bingo activity with BookWidgets.
Social media and smartphones are going to be omnipresent during this school year. This fun classroom activity for the first day of school is a nice reminder of that fact. Let’s get crafty and create an art-phone like the one in the image. Create an Instagram wall, a chat session and a social profile.
For more details, take a look at this Pinterest pin.
13. (B)all about me
It’s kind of the same as the creative Instagram activity above this one, but still a little bit different.
Students have to decorate their paper ball with drawings of themselves. Check out what I mean by clicking on . The result is beautiful!
First day of school activities for high school students
14. Get on that chair
For this classroom icebreaker, students need to be flexible and balanced. For every student, the teacher places a chair. All the chairs should be lined up in a single line. Every student has to stand on a chair. Then, the teacher asks them to go stand in a certain order. For example: “I want you to organize yourselves from young to old.” The students now have to change places without touching the ground.
With this 1st day of school activity, the students get to know each other better in an interactive way. The teacher can give other orders like: “from tall to small.” or “from A to Z.” Every time the students have to change their positions without pushing someone off the chairs. If you want to make it more challenging, you can set a time limit.
15. Lie to me
This first day of school activity is a fun way to get to know your students better. Not just the basics, like where they live or if they have a brother, but real stories and anecdotes.
The students have to tell 3 facts about their life. Something that happened to them. Two of them should be true, and one should be a lie. The other students have to find out which one is the lie. You’ll be surprised what kind of crazy things can actually happen! (Or how good your students can lie!)
“I love making Snapchat videos with funny faces and welcoming to my classroom. Doing so automatically brings laughter and comfort to my class. The greatest ice breaker of all time. The kids love it!” – Valerie Golden Nies (Mrs. Golden) 3rd Grade
“I … like using the iPad in my classroom. We’re lucky enough to have one per student. They go to the app Pages and create a poster using shapes, stamps, photos that have taken etc., that represent themselves and their interests. Then through Apple TV, the children are able to use their iPad to show their poster on the screen. They really love this, and have fun asking each other questions.” -Anonymous
“I have the kids use Spark Video to make a video presentation about themselves. I then post it on Seesaw and send home QR codes to parents encouraging them to log onto Seesaw to see their child’s first day project. I use Seesaw A LOT and this gets many parents to log on that first day. It’s also a great way to get kids excited on the first day with an iPad project.” – Terri Brown 4th grade
“Students sit in a circle and write their fears on a piece of paper. We crumble them up and stomp on them. The kids love it!” – Anonymous
“Students create a timeline using only 5 events and tell us about why they chose events.” -LeAnne Boyer
“A wrinkled heart activity to teach compassion and self control of words and actions. The kids unknowingly decorate a huge whole class red heart with things they love and their name (taking group turns for two days). When they’ve all finished adding their part, the class sits in a circle and I begin by saying words can hurt as much as actions and can leave our hearts worn. Each bad thing I say, the heart gets passed and each kid must wrinkle a part with the hurtful words I say (I don’t let them say the bad phrases). Once it made its way around, we discuss how we feel. We talk about how apologies are helpful, and so are actions of kindness. We do it all again, but this time I say positive phrases (surface level and deep such as you’re hair is cute or you’re a great mathematician) Once it’s gone around once again, we look at our wrinkled heart. We discuss how we need to think before we speak, because words can wrinkle hearts.” – Anonymous
“I have the students interview each other and report back either orally as in a reporter or write up a news article about their partner.” – Anonymous
“I have them throw a marshmallow into a garbage can. We talk about how everyone is different and for some it’s easy (they are close to the can) and some it’s hard, but we all have the same goal. Some students might get different help so they can also meet the goal.” – Anonymous
“We always make a ‘time capsule’ at the beginning of the year. Students fill out a sheet that details their favorite books, songs, movies, how they are feeling about starting 4th grade, wonders, worries etc… Then we put them all together, roll them up, put them into a tube and seal it until the last day of school. It is so fun to take out our sheets and see how much we have changed over the school year!” Peg Pearson, 4th Grade
“I write and leave my new students a letter on their desk. It introduces myself, tells them all about me personally and I give them a little third grade background. At the end of the letter I give them a direction to use the paper provided and write a friendly back to me telling me all about themselves and what they are most excited about in the third grade. It allows me to see how well they can read, write a friend letter and follow directions. It also lets me learn more about them!” – Anonymous
Also see: Back to School Resource Page First Day Hunt
To familiarize students with the school and personnel, I take students on a hunt for a certain goodie (cookies, watermelon, etc.) around the school. Before school begins I hide the goodie somewhere on campus and write out clue cards. On the first day of kindergarten we read the clues which take us around the school, into the office, the library, restrooms, playground, etc. As we read the clues we look for the goodie in all the places. The last clue leads us to the goodie. After the students find the treat they get to eat it. We also then create a map of the school and create a book about our hunt. Kim, Grade K
Sentence Strip Unscramble
This activity is great to use the first day kids walk in, while you greet new students and their parents. Type a short letter attached to an envelope inviting students to unscramble the sentence you have placed in their envelope. Sentences like: Welcome to 3rd grade! It’s going to be a great year! I’m glad you are here! Be sure to cut between the words like a puzzle. The students job is to place the sentence in order. S. Crenshaw
“I CAN’T” Funeral
A great first day activity is the “I Can’t Funeral”. Distribute a small piece of paper to each student for them to write at least one thing they think they cannot do academically. Such as “I can’t do word problems,” or “I can’t read well.” Collect the papers, place them in a shoe box or paper bag, and bury it in the school yard. Or bury it away somewhere in your school or classroom to pull out at the end of the year. Have a simple service with appropriate words such as “Today, we bury our can’ts. We will miss them terribly but we will learn to live without them”. Nadine Poper
“Dear Me” is a letter students write to themselves on the first day of school. Inside the letter they are to discuss their feelings about starting a new school year, what they loved/hated about the previous school year, and what they expect to learn this year. The requirements can be changed. The teacher collects the letters to put them in individual envelopes. At the end of the year, the teacher passes out their letters. The students read their own letter. This can lead to other activities such as sharing their letters, seeing if their opinions changes a great deal. It is exciting to read all the letters to get to know the students, understand where they are coming from, and what they expect. At the end of the year it is exciting to observe the students react to their own letters (and share with others). Another adaptation is that I give this assignment to the 6th graders. Then I give them the letters when they graduate the 8th grade. Some students really get a kick out of reading what they wrote 3 years prior. Ms. V
A Great Book to Start the Year
I usually begin the year by reading the chapter book “Walter the Lazy Mouse” by Marjorie Flack. This is an old book that none of the children have ever read, so the story is always a surprise to them. Walter is very lazy and never pays attention in school. He ends up getting lost, and meets three frogs. He tries to teach the frogs what he knows, but soon realizes that he only knows the wrong answers since he did not pay attention in class. He goes back home, returns to school, and becomes a good student himself, so he can come back and teach the frogs correctly. I think it’s a great book to begin the school year. There are so many cute art projects using mice that it’s easy to find a follow-up creative activity, too. Mary Ann Oczkowski, 2nd Grade
All About Me Posters
On the first day of school, I have my students draw and color their name on a large sheet of paper. They add things about themselves, including their birthdays and their favorite things to do. The posters are then displayed on the wall in the classroom. Drucilla, Grade 3
When the children arrive on the first day of school I have a bookmark waiting for them on their desks. I ask them to make it as beautiful as possible as it will be very important to them throughout the year. Later that morning we look at everyone’s bookmarks and talk about how we are all going to become even better readers that year. Ashley DeMazza
During the first week of school I have my class create a puzzle. I cut a poster up and give each student a piece of the puzzle. (Be sure to put a dot in one of the corners so that you know which side is up.) The students put their name on it and decorate it. Then as a class we put the puzzle together on a bulletin board. This is great for problem solving and cooperative learning. Every year the kids love it. Cheryl Pauly
Materials: ball of twine, kite string, or mason’s line One student (or teacher) has the ball of string and shares one small fact about their life or an interest they have. Any other student in the classroom finds a way to connect, and raises their hand. The student with the twine holds the end of the twine and chooses where to pass it, preference given to students who have not connected yet. Each student who has connected holds the string and passes the ball of twine. The object is to have all students share something, creating a “web” that shows we are all connected through each other. The connections sometimes get very fun and creative, and rewinding the ball of twine shows you a thing or two about how manageable your class is! John Markealli
Many of the classrooms in my district are arranged in a way that groups 3 or 4 students together in individual desks. On the first day, have the students decorate a plain manila file folder with their name and any other decorative elements that they choose. Have the students place these in their own desk to use as needed for cover sheets or open them and create their own personal “cubicle” for test times. L. Parker
During the first week of school my Kindergarteners help me to make a large tree out of Brown Butcher paper. I encourage parents at open house to send in 2 or 3 family pictures to put on the family tree. We then add leaves–green for the beginning of school, then we change them as the foliage turns. The kids are very proud to have picture of their families in the classroom. It also fits nicely in our “All About Me” theme. Alyssa Robbins, Kindergarten
First Day Advice
At the end of each school year, one of my closing activities is to have my class write a letter to my next class giving advice as to how to be successful in 2nd grade/my class 😀 I bind their letters together and I usually read it the first day. Not only is it a hoot to hear “their” take on what makes ME tick, but it’s a very good ice breaker.
First Day Letter
On the first day of school, I have a letter ready for each child. Although the letter is the same, each is addressed with the child’s name. In the letter I introduce myself, talk about my family, my summer holidays and my hobbies. I then ask them to write back to me and fill me in on them. The students are very interested in the personal life of the teacher at this age. The letter back gives a review of the “friendly letter” format, gives me an overview of their writing ability and an insight into the child as well. Penny – Grade 5
First Day Name Puzzle
On the first day of school, I like to make a name puzzle with my students. I take a large piece of poster board, and mark out lines that can be cut into pieces. Make sure that the puzzle will have enough pieces for each student to have one. We all gather on the floor to write our name on the blank side of the poster board. I write my name in the middle, and the students write their name in all different directions. When I have free time, I cut the board into puzzle pieces. As a class we each find the spot where our puzzle piece belongs. Tape the puzzle together after school, and post it on the wall in the classroom. When the students return the next day, the will be excited to see the puzzle, and to show off their name. My kids have fun talking and, working to put the puzzle together. Carmen, 1st Grade
First Day Nameplates
On the first day of school, I have enough pre-cut letters ready for each child to spell out their first name twice. Each student is provided a sheet of cardstock cut to fit their name, and folded in half to form a tent. The students then glue their names on both the front and the back side of the ‘tent’ and stand the nameplate on their desk. After this fun activity, not only does the teacher have a clear view of each new student’s name, but the student can also see their name in print and can use it to copy from, match letters, count letters to compare with classmates, etc. Darlene L., K-1st
First Days Activities
For the last several years, we have started back with students in the middle of the week. Those “odd” days I have spent slowly introducing the classroom rather than begin active lessons. A new grade level and classroom is so overwhelming… there is so much so to see and do! I make a word search using my new class list and have a crossword puzzle (or similiar “seat work”) available. I set out many math manipulatives for free exploration. Learning Centers are a big hit in my room–so, I have really neat ones out that first week. We spend those first days going over discipline, listening skills, and procedures. Even the first full week of school, we go slow–introducing each text book one at a time. I don’t even pass them out until we are ready to use them. Lisa Slaughter, 2nd Grade
Fun First Day Activity
On the first day of school I have plenty of pre-cut letters in lots of different colors on a table. As the children come in they find the letters to spell their names and glue them together. I hang these from the ceiling! They really brighten up the room and look great for Open House! Usually this is the first thing they point out to their parents. Shelly, 1st Grade
A great introduction to Science at the beginning of the year is to talk about scientists. Give your students a piece of white paper and tell them to draw what they think a scientist looks like. Let them have about 10 minutes or so to do this. Then instruct students to write on the paper what they think a scientist does. Encourage them to use a word or short phrase. Ex. read, study, mixes things, experiments, observes, etc. After a few minutes, have students put their pencils down and ask them to share different words that they wrote. Ask the students, Do you read? Have you ever experimented with things? What about things in the kitchen? Have you ever created something? Objective is for the students to realize that they are all scientist. A scientist does not have a particular look. They are all scientists. Karen Wilson, Grades 3-6
Making An Important Book
On the first day of school I read The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown. I review paragraph writing and instruct them to write a paragraph following the same format as the book about themselves. I also do the same. After the rough drafts are written they are to do a final draft and attach it to a white piece of paper, where they add an illustration. All the pages are laminated and bound into a book. Students reread this book throughout the year. It easily becomes a favorite. Students also enjoy reading the book from the previous years classes. Robin Long
New Student Information Booklet
During the first few weeks of school, my class makes a book about the school. Each student has a page about themself with a picture that they make themselves. I include pictures of important staff and faculty, important parts of the school (gym, media center, computer lab, etc), and extra copies of the student information from the beginning of the year. When a new student arrives, they take the book home for a few days to help get familiar with the school. The students love this and it works great. Jennifer, Grade 1
Take a digital picture of each student on the first day of school. Insert into a Microsoft Word document in which each student types or writes about what they would like to learn in second grade. Glue on the front of a file folder and put samples of student’s work in it throughout the year. Take a picture of each student the last week of school and have students write what they learned throughout the year. Glue on the inside of the file folder. Use folders as a portfolio to send home at the end of the year.
Grade Level(s): K, 1-2, 3-5
While introducing the class rules and expectations, I have a student model each desired behavior. I take a digital picture of it and use them in a PowerPoint. I make a slide of each rule with the child’s picture for the background. I print the slides and post the picture rules on the wall. The heading for this is “Model Behavior” or “Welcome to Our Picture Perfect Class”. Debbie Coria
Students write three things about themselves on a piece of paper. Then they crumple the paper up into a “snowball.” Students have one-two minutes to have a snowball fight. When time is called, everyone grabs the closest snowball and tries to find the person who wrote it. They then introduce that person to the entire class by sharing the three facts. If you really want to liven things up, join in the fight with your class. Daphne Sherrod
I have a Year 2 class (5-6 year olds). In the first week of school, we make time capsules (small cardboard boxes) with pictures of “What I want to be,” “Who my friends are,” a print of their hands, a sample story, and a sample of handwriting. We decorate the box with their name in glitter and hang them from the classroom roof. They are exciting to open at the end of the year to see how we’ve changed! Kim Burdett, Taupo, New Zealand
Toothpaste to Teach Respect
Before we discuss classroom rules I tell the kids we are going to play a game. Each group has a travel size tube of toothpaste. First I tell them to squeeze all the toothpaste onto a paper plate. Then I tell them the game is to try to get all of the toothpaste back into the tube without using any tools expect a toothpick (including not using their hands!). Well, it doesn’t work. I then tell them that the toothpaste is like words we speak. Once we say an unkind word we can’t put it back in our mouth. Then we talk about repecting one another and our classroom rules. I heard about this idea from Dr. Dobson. Mary Beth Busick
True False Quiz
On the first day of school I give my new students a T/F quiz all about me. I have silly things in there like “I like to hang upside-down from trees” “I love Harry Potter books” and “My favorite color is purple.” The children take the quiz and then we go over the answers. I usually give a small prize to whoever gets the most correct. Then it is their turn to write a T/F quiz for me about them. If there is time, I will try to answer the quizes out loud so that everyone gets to know everyone a bit. I tell them I want them to pay attention to punctuation and do the best they can on spelling as well, without putting too much pressure on them about it. This give me a change to preview their skill level as well as get to know them.
Turning over a new Leaf
On the first day of school students see their names written on a leaf that is hanging from a tree in our reading center. The quote, “Turning over a new leaf” is written on the board and we brainstorm ideas as to what it means. Once the children have an understanding of the quote, they then write me a letter that begins, “This year I am turning over a new leaf. Last year I…..and this year I want to….” Many students wrote about grades, and others wrote about wanting to change their behavior. Students feel better after we have discussed that they are indeed turning over a new leaf because they are starting the new year with a clean slate! Andrea, Grade 4
Also see: Back to School Resource Page
Pre-K & Preschool activities for the first days of school.
Find more Beginning of School Activities for Pre-K
In the beginning of the year, we spend a lot of time talking about rules and practicing rules. Our lessons and activities are centered around learning the rules and procedures of the classroom, but the children are having fun at the same time. Children learn how to organize the classroom, putting things back where they go. Everything in our classroom has a place, and it stays in the same place all year, so that children can find things and put them away more easily. During the first few weeks of school, children explore almost all of the main materials in our classroom while learning rules for using them. Read more about the first days of Pre-K.
Click here for a complete list of Beginning of School books!
Toss the Ball
This is a simple getting-to-know-you game that we play several times. Children toss a ball to each other (we have one of those soft, stuffed globes from Hugg-a-Planet that we use). As they catch it, they tell their name and a favorite thing (ice cream, color, TV show, etc.)
Painting with Water Color
Children paint using a water cup and water color paint set. The children learn how to wet the brush and the paint, and clean the brush in the water cup before getting a new color. They learn to wash their brush at the sink before storing it in the paint box.
Painting with Tempera
We use the tempera paint cups (which are available in the art center every day). We discuss rules for painting and cleaning up.
Dry Erase Boards
Children explore with dry erase boards. They learn procedures for using the markers and cleaning and storing the lap boards.
Children learn how to make a book with colored or white paper and a stapler. They draw pictures on the pages. Many children make their own books in the Writing Center during the year once they learn how.
First Letter with Stickers
Children stick mini stickers on the first letter of their name.
Wax Resist Names
Children trace over their name with an oil pastel crayon then paint over the paper with water color paint. The waxy crayon resists the paint, so that the name shows through.
Children string fruit loops onto a piece of yarn to make a necklace. We do this on the first day of school because it is an early dismissal day and lunch is not served that day. This gives them a snack if they are hungry.
Children play with play-dough and cookie cutters. We discuss rules for using play-dough, cleaning up and storing materials. To clean up, children separate play-dough tools and cookie cutters into containers. There are hand brooms for the children to sweep play-dough bits from the floor and table.
Children use 1-inch strips of colored paper, cut them into small squares, and glue them on black paper to make a Mosaic. We talk about safety rules for using scissors and how to use glue.
Magazine Picture Cutting
Children cut out pictures from magazines and glue them on paper. We review scissor safety rules.
We practice putting simple wooden puzzles together, emphasizing that all pieces must be put in the puzzle correctly before storing it.
Children explore with geoboards, and other basic math materials, such as pattern blocks, Unifix cubes, bear counters, etc.
This is a very simple cooking activity for the first days of school. Children mix food coloring in white icing, spread the icing on graham crackers or a bagel half and add sprinkles.
Children experiment with mixing colored water. We use the primary colors (red, blue, yellow) to make new colors. We use paint trays with 6 small bowls to mix the colored water in and eye droppers. Children can dump their water into a bucket once they have filled the 6 bowls and start again.
Read the post about Friend Bingo. This is a game that helps children learn their classmates’ names.
A nursery rhyme that goes well with a Back to School theme:
- Mary Had a Little Lamb
Look for printable posters of these rhymes on the Nursery Rhymes Page.
- Give Me a Clap, by Dr. Jean on the “All Day Long” CD
- Scrub a Dub (Hand-Washing Song), by Dr. Jean on the “All Day Long” CD
- Scissors Snip, by Dr. Jean on the “All Day Long” CD
- The More We Get Together: On the Singable Songs For The Very Young CD
Find more Beginning of School Activities for Pre-K
- First Days in Pre-K: More info about beginning the year in Pre-K
- Getting to Know You Activities: my article on Teachers.net
You might like these Pre-K Math Journals for August/September (Back to School), available in my shop.
Don’t worry – we never sell or share email addresses!
My lesson plans for the first ten days of school are almost always the same with a few little tweaks here and there. To make back to school easier for you, I’m sharing my lessons plans for the first ten days of school! Everyone has been asking for them so here they are!
The link is at the bottom of the post! Did I mention there is an EDITABLE version too?
This post contains affiliate links.
You will find daily lesson plans and weekly center plans! I put at least one new thing in each center every week so those are in there for you too.
The number one most important thing you will need to do in the first few weeks is to begin building trust and relationships with each little learner so they can feel safe and happy. If they feel safe and happy most likely the moms will feel safe and happy leaving their children with you each day.
The first two weeks I sprinkle in tons of All About Me themed activities during the day to help build that relationship with each child in my classroom. It also helps the child get to know me as well. I always participate in every All About Me type activity we do and try to include any other teachers or therapists throughout our room or building.
For most of our little learners, this is the FIRST time they have been to school. Most have no idea how to sit at circle, get in line, eat snack or lunch at school, wash their hands, clean up, wait their turn, and wipe their own bottoms when they go #2.
The first month is all about teaching all of these routines! It is not wasted time I promise. Take the time to use visuals and teach each and every classroom routine and expectation. Take the time to teach them now so you can just use cues later.
This Character Ed (aka Social Skills) Bundle has visuals for almost every classroom routine!
Starting on the first day, we practice our morning routine: say bye to mom/dad, put things away, answer the question of the day, sign in, and pick a table time activity. I go over the arrival routine chart, and I model the routine (pretending like I am a student in the class), talking out loud about what steps I need to do so students can hear and see me doing the routine.
Then I have the students put on their backpacks and we all walk outside the classroom. Students take turns practicing the morning routine, a few at a time, with me cheering them on using the chart as a visual.
It is amazing how much different arrival time is on the second day just by teaching the arrival routine on the first day!
You will see in my lesson plans I do many activities to help teach our class rules: We take care of ourselves, each other, our school, and our world.
I send a note home to the students’ families, we make class books, and we make anchor charts. We read children’s books and discuss if the character is following the rules. We also talk about how the students feel and how they think others might feel when they do/don’t follow the rules.
We also talk about what could happen if someone doesn’t follow a rule (ex: someone could get hurt, other’s wouldn’t be able to learn, etc.). I always use natural consequences as examples.
You can grab my Class Rules pack HERE from my store.
Fire drills and any other emergency/safety drills can be super scary for our little students. I teach emergency drills just like I teach any other routine…with visual supports and social stories! We read The Fire Drill at circle time, I model the routine, and the whole class practices a fire drill. Now students know what to expect when that loud alarm goes off later in the week.
I also teach the Playground Rules and it is amazing the difference it makes! You can see in my lesson plans that I slowly introduce all the different choices students have on the playground (balls, bikes, chalk, swings, sandbox, hopscotch, etc.), teaching the rule for each those first 10 days.
On day 5 I introduce the most AMAZING thing ever…..Green and Red Choices at a class meeting.
You can read all about Green and Red Choices in detail HERE. It has been the best thing I have ever created. It has truly changed the way my students behave in my classroom!
During center time the first 5 or so days, I introduce and teach about each center in our classroom. My classroom has 5 centers: art, blocks, pretend, library, and discovery (math, science, STEM).
Instead of open centers the first few weeks, I spend time during center time introducing each center in more detail. I take the whole class (my new class only has 10 kids) and we sit on the floor or at the table in the center.
I introduce the center name, color, and symbol. We talk about the materials in the center, how to use them, who we could pretend to be, and how to clean up. Then the students play in that center for about 20 minutes. When we are done we go to another center and we do the same thing all over again!
After I have introduced each center once, the second time we go to the center as a class to review it. It takes about 5 minutes and then students play in that center for about 25 minutes. Then we go to another center, review it, and play in that center.
When I taught full day (18 kids a day) I split the class in half. Each group went into a different center with a teacher and after 30 minutes the kids switched and went to the other center for 30 minutes. The other center times (we had 3 center times a day because we were full day), students could just play in centers as they wished.
You can find this STEM I Can Build anchor chart HERE.
During circle time, I read a book about each center and we do some kind of interactive anchor chart.
You can grab this Parts of a Scientist anchor chart freebie HERE. Want to know more about how I manage center time? Click HERE.
I always have colored noodles in the sensory table the first few weeks because it’s super easy to clean up. The noodles I bought from the grocery store and I dyed them using food coloring and rubbing alcohol. Put a dustpan under the sensory table and teach students how to sweep up the items that fall onto the floor. You can make a square with washi tape on the floor for a visual support as well!
I always like to set up a home theme in the pretend center the first month of school.
You can read all about my home living dramatic play theme HERE.
In the library center is my writing table. I place family word cards and student name cards on the writing table the first two weeks. I have seen how much students enjoy seeing their names and how much it helps them get excited about writing, creating an authentic love for writing in my class!
Each week I add something new to each center and for back to school I use a school theme.
These fun, hands on Math and Literacy School Themed Centers are what I use for some of my table time activities too!
Go grab your FREE lesson plans:
EDITABLE Lesson Plans HERE (PowerPoint file)
Make sure you download the lesson plans, CLOSE OUT of the internet, and THEN open the lesson plans to print and/or edit. If you don’t, the formatting will be off and some of the squares will be filled with colors. You will need Powerpoint to edit lesson plans.
Anything in blue you can click thru to obtain your freebie, or you can go to my online store to purchase or download these items.
Are you excited to plan out your themes for the whole year? Grab my FREE Curriculum pacing map with themes by week HERE!
If you are wondering what my classroom looked like on the first day, I have a treat for you! I did a Facebook LIVE tour of my classroom after the first day of school this year. I’m showing you EVERYTHING… my classroom, my storage areas, my office, the bathroom, and even inside my cabinets. Oh, the camera is sideways for about two minutes then it flips back to normal. Sorry about that!
Loving this post? Pin this image.
Surviving the First Day
One year ago: “Classroom DIY – New Use for Your Old Chalkboard”
Two years ago: “Getting to Know My Students – My Most Important Research Project”
Three years ago: “What’s in a Name? A Back-to-School Literacy Unit”
Does anybody sleep well before the first day of school? Because now, eight years into teaching, the first day still feels like “the very first time.” I have these moments of panic when I’m sure I’ve forgotten everything about teaching. My new, derisively blank plan book mocks me — how will I fill the first six, long, unstructured hours?
Having gone through this many times before, my logical brain knows that once I get over the first-day hump, things will start to fall into place. Routines will carve order out of the chaos, eventually coalescing my new family of young learners. But that’s cold comfort as I’m frantically sucking in calming yoga breaths as the first day approaches.
What is comforting, though, is a plan — a survival plan — practical, expedient, and with back-up contingencies and lots of wiggle room. Some of the activities seem like filler-fluff, but for the very first day I simply need to establish order, put 32 names to faces, and survive, not win super-teacher-of-the-year.
I bet you have some first-day survival tricks up your sleeve too. Please share your tips in the comments section below — this is a hurdle we all have to jump, and we’re in this together!
The First Hour Plan
The first hour of the first day is the toughest for me. Students trickle in, parents linger at the door, and the kids haul in mountains of school supplies. So, I post a welcoming message on the board, with activities that will keep the students busy at their tables while I greet each student, check off incoming supplies, and kid-watch.
Creating beaded name tag necklaces is a low-stress kinesthetic activity for fidgety new students. You can download my template to make your own “Polka Dot Nametags.”
We store the name tags throughout the year hanging on sticky hooks on the side of a filing cabinet. Chloe shows off her Wikki Stick glasses creation while wearing her new nametag necklace.
The first-day folders at my students’ tables are filled with get-to-know-you activities, puzzles, and word searches. This low-stress busy work rarely makes an appearance during the year so it’s a novelty. The kids chat about their summer adventures while they “work,” and it buys me a much-needed organizational hour. Here’s some first-day folder fodder from Scholastic’s Printables: a Student Questionnaire, a word search, and a maze.
A table set up and ready to go for the first morning. Name tags are laid out on the folders of “morning work.”
Reading Workshop: Celebrating Divergent Thinking with Ish
After the first-hour activities and a class meeting with student introductions, I try to shape the day into somewhat standard “periods” that loosely sketch what our schedule will become. No, I’m not teaching real reading or math lessons on the first day of school! But I plug activities into the framework of a standard school day to give things some structure.
Ish is my favorite first-day read-aloud. It’s short, light-hearted, and sends the perfect message about embracing our individual differences and taking risks. After an open-ended discussion about the book, my students create “Ish” artworks using wax-covered Wikki Sticks. We do a “gallery walk” so students can ponder various interpretations of their creations. I wrap up the lesson by introducing the terms “divergent thinking,” and “convergent thinking,” complete with hand gestures. (We squeeze our hands together to converge, and open our arms wide into a bear hug to diverge.)
For more about my Ish lesson plan, as well as other great back-to-school read-alouds, check out my blog post about “Building the Classroom Community With Picture Books.” I also love fellow blogger Genia’s list of “Back-to-School Books that Teach Classroom Lessons.”
Library Limits — Magazines Only
While independent reading is sacrosanct in my classroom, I don’t begin it on the very first day. I need several days to fully introduce the privilege and responsibilities of independent reading and using our class library — plus I want to build the anticipation. So, my library stays closed until the second week of school.
What about students who are itching to read — and those times when I want everyone to be engaged with a text? During the first week, I set out five magazine boxes filled with categorized magazines. Each day of the first week, I rotate the boxes between my five tables. Students are welcome to read the magazines from their table’s box each day. This works perfectly — it provides engaging quick reads, introduces the kids to a range of magazines, and it’s easier to manage than a whole library of books.
Classroom Democracy at Work: Voting on Table Names
For the “social studies” period listed on my first day schedule, I plan two activities. First, I invite my students to brainstorm and then vote on names for the classroom tables. I sneak in a brief chat about democracy, student autonomy, and voter-privacy. Then I invite each student to suggest a category or main idea for table names. In the past, the suggestions have included dinosaurs, vehicles, time zones, colors, mythological creatures, and marine life. Some students struggle with the idea of coming up with a category rather than a specific table name, but after listening to several examples, most figure it out. (If a student says “jaguars” I will suggest big cats as the category.)
After we’ve narrowed it down to one category through a round or two of votes, we brainstorm another list, this time we look for names that fall within the category. It’s always interesting to observe the students’ creative fluency, as well as the group dynamics during this process. It actually gives me a lot of information about my new students! Last year my class decided on mythological creatures, so after voting, our five tables were named Hydras, Dragons, Unicorns, Merpeople, and Pegasi.
A Patriotic Start: Reviewing the Pledge of Allegiance
For the second half of my first day social studies period, we review the meaning and history of the Pledge of Allegiance. Even if my students have been reciting the Pledge for years, often they don’t know what all of the words and concepts mean. I use this Scholastic Printable about the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance. Then I have the students color this printable Pledge flag to keep as a reference in their folders. I also give the students this page about the Pledge in sign language and we watch this video. Many of them enjoy the kinesthetic challenge of learning to sign the pledge.
To be honest, I always massively over-plan the first day of school, but it makes me less nervous to know that I won’t run out of stuff to do. Whatever I don’t get to, I just push over to the next day. So, I write this basic math lesson into my carefully scripted plans, but I rarely get to this on the first day.
As a starter math activity, I prepare lots of Greg Tang’s Kakooma math puzzles printed into packets. The puzzles come in a range of levels, which makes for easy, self-paced differentiation. (Print the free Kakooma puzzles by clicking on “Puzzles and Games” on the left side of this page.)
I model how to solve the Kakooma puzzles on my whiteboard — there is an online demo. Then students have the choice to work independently or with a partner on the puzzles. This is a perfect first-day math activity because it has a low threshold (basic addition), but gets the students’ wheels turning as they try to visualize the solutions. Former Top Teaching blogger Angela Bunyi wrote about Kakooma and math fluency in an earlier blog post.
Teaching Classroom Routines
Of course, the first day isn’t just about icebreakers and read-alouds. There are a lot of routines and procedures to teach, too!
I keep a checklist of all of the classroom routines I need to teach during the first week of school, roughly prioritized by importance, and how long I can wait to teach a routine. Some I want to cover the very first morning, while others can wait a day or two. I keep this checklist close by on a clipboard, and I intersperse a routine “lesson” between each activity and period during the first few days.
I model each routine, even basic ones like walking to the rug area. Then I ask for student “actors” to demonstrate best practices. Finally, the whole class practices the routine until it’s squeaky clean. Responsive Classroom calls this “interactive modeling,” and I find it helpful to review their seven deliberate steps before school begins each year. Here are some helpful videos of teachers using interactive modeling with their students.
What is YOUR First-Day Plan?
I hope my first-day survival plan has some ideas that may help you. I’d also love to know what you have planned! Please use the comments section below to share your thoughts, questions, and ideas with our community. I am so excited to be back for another year of blogging with the incredible Top Teaching crew and to hear about what’s going on in all of your classrooms — so please share!
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A morning routine is a set of procedures that students follow each day as they enter the classroom. The procedures can be as simple as students knowing where to store their belongings, where to place completed homework assignments, or where to sit. Having a strong set of procedures that students can implement each morning is an extremely important component of a well-managed classroom. According to Doug Lemov of Teach Like a Champion, “it is about making a habit out of what’s efficient, productive, and scholarly after the greeting and as the students take their seats and class begins.”
A strong morning routine ensures that the day starts off on a positive note and focuses students’ attention on the day’s tasks and agenda. When you establish an effective morning routine, it can strengthen classroom community, students’ self-esteem, and students’ attitudes and behavior toward school.
When you walk by my classroom each morning (before the bell rings!), you will see my students happily (and calmly) chatting with each other, turning in their homework, and sitting down to quietly begin their morning work. To an observer, my classroom looks like a well-oiled machine each morning. My students are happy, and they know exactly what’s expected of them. However, it’s important to remember it wasn’t always like this. It took me some time to realize the importance of these procedures and routines.
Now, unlike most teachers, the morning is my favorite time of the day. I get to enjoy my coffee and greet each of my students with a quick chat and sometimes a big hug. I don’t have to correct behaviors or nag them to get started on their morning work. They do these things automatically. How do students do these things automatically? Well, we spend time at the beginning of the year teaching, modeling, and practicing these specific morning expectations.
While every classroom is different, below is a list of the top 10 things you need to teach, model, and practice with your students in order to have a successful morning routine.
Notice that I wrote Teach, Model, and Practice in bold letters. This is extremely important because students have a lot of responsibilities in the morning. You must make those first few minutes of the day one seamless procedure. Your students need to know exactly what to do every single morning that they walk into your classroom. You have to teach your students the step-by-step procedures you want them to implement, you have to model how to do it correctly, and you have to let them practice these procedures until they can do them independently and with success.
For more information on how to explicitly teach, model, and practice procedures and routines, check out my blog post HERE:
Again, it’s important to remember that every classroom and school is different. You may have 20 things your students need to do each morning or 5. Below, I’m sharing my step-by-step morning routine that has worked for me with 100% success.
Students don’t have a lot of time for breakfast, so it’s important that they skip their lockers and go sit down for breakfast first.
After breakfast, students walk back to our hallway to drop their personal belongings off at their lockers. I don’t let students interrupt learning to constantly go out to the hallway and grab forgotten items out of their lockers. Instead, I explicitly teach them what needs to stay in their lockers and what needs to come in the class with them. All outside gear and backpacks stay in their lockers. Things like school supplies, books, water bottles, a snack, etc. must come in the classroom.
In the past, I left a sign outside my door each day to remind students what they need to bring in from their lockers, but this became too much work for me to manage. Now, I explicitly teach my students what they will need at the beginning of the school year and through practice, they remember their items each day.
With this step, I also teach students how to properly shut their locker doors. It’s not fun when your class is trying to take a test, and the class across the hall is slamming their locker doors. It’s important to be considerate to the other classrooms around you. I also teach my students the importance of quickly dropping their personal belongings off at their locker and coming into the class. Before I did this, I had girls looking in mirrors and brushing their hair at their lockers for ten full minutes!
To repeat what I wrote above…YES, you need to teach this! In my first year, before I knew I was supposed to teach this, I had a student hurl their belongings like a professional basketball player across the room in hopes they would land on their desk.
Again, to repeat above, you NEED to teach this. In the past, I have had students attempt sword fights with chair legs and almost poke an eye out. You’d be surprised what they can do with a chair.
Also, see those multi-colored chairs below? You bet that without proper procedures in place, students would argue over those five light blue chairs each day!
It’s important to keep a lunch menu near this area, so students always know the options that are available to them.
You can read more about my lunch choice station and set up in this blog post HERE.
I keep a morning message up on my projector screen each morning. On it, I write a simple good morning message, what is due that day, remind them what they need, and give them directions to start their morning work. It’s important to teach your students to read the entire morning message. I didn’t do that my first year and found that students were only reading the first sentence or two. Then, they were not prepared for the day!
You can watch a video about my homework management system HERE.
Before I did this, students would ask me all day long if we had gym or music and what we were doing next (even though the agenda was posted!). Now, I don’t get questions like this. Students know it is posted for them, and they can just look back to see what’s next.
The best thing I ever did was create my structured Morning Work resource that you can find HERE (I currently have 4th grade and 5th grade versions available).
These structured Morning Work resources are fun, engaging, and rigorous. I simply post which page students are to work on that day, and students eagerly get started each morning. I include games, puzzles, and other fun activities, so this is something students really look forward to. Throughout the years, I had never found anything that would not only hit all the standards and include review, but also be really fun. So last year, I decided to create these myself, and my kids love them.
It’s also important to remember that depending on your students, you may need to model and practice more that just what I’ve listed. I’ve had years when I needed to model and practice how to walk in the classroom during our morning routine. I’ve had years when I needed to teach my students how to appropriately say the entire Pledge of Allegiance. Other things I’ve taught in the past include how to greet friends and other teachers in the hallways (it’s important to ask for a hug before just giving one). I’ve even had to teach students how to take off their winter gear in an appropriate manner! Trust me, nothing is off limits!
Most importantly, remember to start each day by greeting each one of your students with a smile (and sometimes a hug!). “Prime time in school is the first few moments in a class. If you blow these moments, you blow the impression, the sale, and the success of a class.”- The First Day of School by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong
It’s back to school season! That means teachers everywhere are planning their schedules and their routines, right down to the moment that kids enter the room. Have you considered starting your day with a “soft start” instead of traditional morning work? Below are some things to think about as you make your decision. (When you finish, check out answers to frequently asked questions about soft starts in this blog post.)
Why do a “soft start?”
Think of your own work life. Do you like to settle in first or rush straight to a meeting? You probably like the chance to greet co-workers, take off your coat, and use the bathroom before digging in to the intense work of your day. In other words, you prefer a soft start to your work day.
A soft start for students mimics the way you likely prefer to start your day – with a chance to settle in before beginning work. Even with a soft start, kids still complete morning routines (emptying backpacks, etc.) But when they finish, they have a handful of activities to choose from, rather than a worksheet. Kids are able to chat with friends during all of the activities. This strengthens the sense of community in your room and empowers your students with making their own choices.
What can a “soft start” include?
The activities you choose can match the materials in your room and the personalities of your students. The important thing is that students are able to start the day with a choice of quiet activities. This gentle start allows students to interact with peers as they get ready for the day.
Possible soft start activities can include:
- books (reading alone or with a friend)
- play dough (I use Magic Play Dough on the first day for a soft star)
- games (sometimes favorite math games like Subitizing War (see below); sometimes quick commercial games, like Hi Ho Cherry-O)
- coloring pages
- water color paints
- Legos or other blocks
- paper and tape for creating “stuff”
Subitizing War is a popular morning choice. Click the photo to see this game in my store.
Kids love to write in the mornings – and I love reading their work!
As you start the year, you may provide only 2-3 choices. As the year goes on, your may add or change the choices. You might swap activities for variety. Or you may chance to activities that reflect your students’ preferences. For instance, with a class that loves to draw, you might add markers, colored pencils and water color paints to the soft start choices.
How does a “soft start” work?
First, you will want to decide which morning tasks will still be expected of students. You always put your purse and jacket away, then check your e-mail in the morning. Students will also need to be responsible for getting themselves ready for the day. You can see an example of what this might include in this post.
Next, choose 2-3 activities to initially include in your soft start. You will want to spend a bit of time teaching students how to carefully use these activities. Model how to use the materials and allow students to practice. Then students can choose an activity when their morning routines are finished.
As an example, you might start with Magic Play Dough as your students arrive on the first day of school. Later that day you demonstrate how to use crayons and paper, then allow students to practice drawing.
On day 2, students will complete their morning routines, then they choose either playing with the play dough or drawing a picture.
In the coming days, you will also demonstrate and practice how to use books from the classroom library – and how to put them back correctly. Once your students understand how to use the classroom library, you can make that a third choice for your soft start.
How does a soft start help the teacher?
Of course you want to make choices based on what’s best for your students, but there are also benefits to the teacher with a soft start.
Unlike morning work pages, the activities for a soft start can be completed independently by all students. (You will, of course, have to monitor behavior and intervene as issues arise from time to time, but students will be mostly independent during this time.) This independence will allow you to personally check in with children as they arrive, or talk to a parent who needs to share some urgent information with you.
Also, the materials for a soft start are already part of your classroom. You won’t need to spend time at the copy machine getting morning work ready each day. Less time at the copier is always a good thing!
Finally, your students will have natural opportunities to build independence and problem-solving skills (ex: what to do when there aren’t enough sets of watercolor paints). They will also begin their day feeling less rushed and stressed. That will impact the overall tone of your room, which will make teaching more enjoyable and rewarding!
Give it a try!
If you have not already tried a soft start to your school day, think about how you could make it work in your school. There are so many benefits to both students and teachers.
Want to know more about soft starts? Check out answers to frequently asked questions about this morning routine in this blog post.
If you do use a soft start, pleas shares of your favorite activities in the comments below. Don’t forget to pin this post to refer to later!
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