Welcome back teachers! One of my favorite teaching partners once told me, “Teachers don’t steal ideas, they honor them.” Well, these back to school activities are some of the best I have honored over the years. Feel free to honor them in your own classroom! Everything can, and should, be adapted to meet your specific grade level so feel free to adjust as needed!
First Five Minutes
One of the most stressful moments for a teacher is thinking about what on earth your students might do when they first walk in the room on the very first day of school. As a kindergarten teacher, the old “write your favorite part of summer” assignment doesn’t really work. In fact, I don’t think it really works for older students either. One thing that I do now is I have students find a seat that has a white cardstock name tag with their name on it. I don’t assign seats for all activities but that first day might be stressful or anxiety-ridden for some students. This helps alleviate some worry. Once there, students are allowed to decorate their nametag however they want. I leave crayons, colored pencils, or markers on the table so students don’t have to know where anything is. While students are working, I walk around and get to know students, students have a chance to be creative, and it is a nice concrete task. Use the name tags when you hang up work or if you assign seats.
First Two Days
In the first two days, you have the opportunity to teach many new routines and expectations. Here are a few things I make sure to hit in the first two days of school:
- How a teacher gets your attention (I use three methods: call/response, rainstick, raising a silent hand)
- What the listening rules are for the classroom (listen with eyes, heart, mouth, body)
- Rules for using the bathroom or getting water
- Moving around the classroom with a safe body
- Finding and using supplies
- Establishing our hopes and dreams for the year
- Routines for fire drills
- Routines for lunch and snack
- Routines for entering the room and packing up at the end of the day
Despite the fact that not all my kindergarten students are able to write yet, I still like to do a “drafting” project over the first week of school. In kindergarten, this is typically something they illustrate, adding on a little every day. I might have students free draw or assign a prompt such as, “Draw the most important thing to you.” In the following days I will ask them to add to it, saying, “Today, look at your drawing. Try to add a new color you haven’t used yet.” When I taught 4th grade, students were assigned a partner to interview. Over the course of a week, students learned how to write good interview questions, interviewed a partner, then turned the answers to questions into a paragraph. A project that takes more than a day is a great way to learn about students, how they approach long projects, where they might need support, etc. When you make it collaborative, there is the added bonus that it helps students get to know each other.
Make it Special
Whenever I welcome a new class, I always make sure to connect with them. I read my favorite book when I was in kindergarten and ask them to share their favorite books. I have photographs of my family, and cats, framed around the room and ask them to bring in photos of their family. They design the borders for our bulletin boards, make labels for baskets, and create an alphabet to hang in the room. We play team building games that help create a strong community.
We sing, we play, we dance, we read, we write, we share. We do all of this in the first week… and every week after. Getting to know your class, and your class getting to know you and the routines, is not just for the first week. Be sure to revisit expectations all year. Laugh. Smile. Take deep breaths. You can do this!
Meg Howe is an elementary school teacher at a charter school in Boston, MA. She has been a teacher for 14 years spanning grades K – 5. Meg has spent time teaching in public, private, and charter schools in Bellingham, WA, Rome, Italy, Los Angeles, CA, Buffalo, NY, and Boston, MA. Meg also runs her own blog at AliceEverAfter.com that features her thoughts on children’s literature. She has a passion for picture books and middle grade books and hopes one day Kate DiCamillo can be her new best friend.