If you haven’t started the new school year yet, opening day is just around the corner. To help you begin with a bang, we’d like to share a couple of infographics courtesy of the folks at BusyTeacher.org. Enjoy!
If you haven’t started the new school year yet, opening day is just around the corner. To help you begin with a bang, we’d like to share a couple of infographics courtesy of the folks at BusyTeacher.org. Enjoy!
There’s only one opening day, so like most teachers, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to welcome my students and start building a positive classroom culture right away. While my checklist is by no means exhaustive, it will ensure that I walk into the classroom fresh, organized, and ready to kick start a brand new school year with enthusiasm.
No more last-minute preparations
This year, I’m making it a point to have everything prepared for the first day of school a week in advance. I’ve been guilty of making final tweaks to the syllabus or my introductory lesson the night before the first class—which meant that I had to get to school early to print and make photocopies for my students. It always got done, but it was an unneeded distraction, another to-do that kept me from being relaxed and fully present.
This year, I am making a vow to skip all last-minute preparations.
Introduce the course syllabus in a new way
The syllabus is a critical document, but let’s be honest, reading it is about as exciting as reading the dictionary. While I need to know that students are familiar with my classroom policies and procedures, I’ve also seen how it zaps students’ enthusiasm.
There are all kinds of creative ways to introduce the syllabus, but here’s one I like:
Set up two rows of chairs that face each other. Students will sit across from each other, each with a copy of the syllabus that they’ve briefly reviewed. Now ask your students two questions: one about something in the syllabus and one that’s personal and just for fun. The pair has a short period of time to answer both questions. Once the allotted time is up, check to make sure the syllabus question has been answered correctly.
Now the students in one row move down one seat, sort of like you might do in “speed dating.” Repeat the process until you have covered the essentials of the syllabus. Not only will students learn about the classroom policies and procedures, they’ll also learn a lot about each other.
Set the tone; start the conversation
This year, I want to start a conversation that will continue throughout the rest of the school year. In addition to a few other activities, I plan on reading Dr. Suess’s book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. This book is perfect for younger students, but the message is ageless. In typical Dr. Suess fashion, students will rhyme their way through a series of playful, yet empowering pages reminding them that they are the masters of their ship; they have the “brains, the shoes and the feet” to take them where they want to go this year. This book is not only a great conversation starter, it’s also a way to set the tone for the rest of the school year.
Never be sabotaged by faulty equipment
Nothing stresses me out like having to fix a piece of cranky technology in front of a group. You know what I’m talking about: the video plays, but there’s no sound; the sound plays, but there’s no video. This is the worst, especially when the success of my lesson is contingent upon working technology.
If you are using technology on the first day of class, save yourself a headache: Get there at least an hour early to make sure it works!
Learn students’ names immediately
I’ve tried everything in the book to learn my students’ names as quickly as possible: sticker name tags, index cards that students fold in half and write their names on, name games, and so on. Eventually, I get them all, but I like to know every student’s name by the second class meeting.
How do I do it? I use a little app called Attendance2. This app was originally intended for teachers as a way to streamline the attendance-keeping process. But I use it for the built-in flashcard function, which allows me to snap a photo of my students, add their name and any other necessary details and file it away so I can quiz myself later on.
Please feel to share your favorite activities for the first day of school!
We’ve always believed that first impressions have a way of setting the tone and giving shape to our classroom culture. While there are always a million things to do on the first day of school, we like to ease students into the year by starting with one of our favorite icebreakers: read alouds. Narrowing down our favorite books to a list of five was difficult, but here they are in no particular order.
5 of Our Favorite Read-Alouds for the First Day of School
Miss Rumphius is the story of Alice Rumphius, who vowed as a young child to do three things in her life: travel to faraway lands, live by the sea, and make the world a more beautiful place. To fulfill her third vow, Alice scatters lupine seeds wherever she goes so that everyone can enjoy the beauty of these flowers long after she is gone.
Miss Rumphius is an ideal read for both the first and last days of school. The illustrations are beautiful and the message challenges students to consider what they can do to make the world a better place. To remind students of this challenge, we like sending them off with a packet of lupine seeds.
First Day Jitters
Regardless of whether you’re a first-year or veteran teacher, you probably experience that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach the night before your first day of the school.
Like Sarah Jane Hartwell, the character from First Day Jitters, many of our students feel anxious about beginning a new school year, too. With the encouragement of Mr. Hartwell, Sarah Jane conjures up the courage to go to school where things turn out not to be nearly as bad as she thought they would be—quite the opposite, actually!
Oh, the Places You’ll Go takes the form of a graduation speech, so it’s the perfect companion for the end of the school year. Like Miss Rumphius, though, Oh, the Places You’ll Go can pull double-duty and work just as well for the first day of school.
In typical Dr. Suess fashion, students will rhyme their way through a series of playful, yet empowering pages reminding them that are the masters of their ship; they have the “brains, the shoes and the feet” to take them where they want to go this year.
The Kissing Hand
Like Chester Raccoon, many of our younger students struggle with separation anxiety. To quell his first-day-of-school blues, Chester’s mother shares “the Kissing Hand,” a family secret that gives him a bit of reassurance he can tap into any time the world gets a little scary.
The Teacher From the Black Lagoon is the hilarious tale that takes readers into the mind of Hubie, a student who lets his imagination about his new teacher get the best of him. Surprise, surprise! when Hubie finally gets to school, things turn out a lot different than he imagined they would.
There are a million things to do on the first day of school, but in addition to breaking the ice and getting to know my students, I always make sure to prepare a number of handouts for my students. These worksheets help me not only learn more about my students and their parents, they also give me an opportunity to introduce myself and begin the process of nurturing meaningful relationships with them.
A personal letter to parents
Parents want to believe that their child is being left in capable and compassionate hands. Students want to believe that their teachers care about them and are happy to have them in class. A brief letter to each parent is one of the easiest ways to welcome and reassure parents and students. Below are the criteria I always use to draft my letter of introduction:
To see a sample letter I put together, click here.
Student information sheet for parents
This questionnaire will ensure that you get your hands on emergency contact information and learn more about each student. You might include some of the following questions in your form:
Student information sheet for students
It’s nice to know how parents see their children, but I also like to know how students see themselves. That’s why I take the same questions above, adapt them, and have students fill out a similar questionnaire on the first day of school.
A syllabus may explain your expectations and include your supply list, grading scale, and what you plan to cover in the class. To ensure that parents receive the syllabus, leave a space on the last page for them to sign and ask students to return it for a grade.
Most teachers include a list of pre-established rules in this handout. That works, but here’s an alternative way to approach classroom rules and procedures:
Instead of creating a set of rules on your own, make it a collaborative activity between you and your students. I’ve done this using a poster board, which we divide down the middle with a line. The left column is where I list my expectations of the students; the right is where the students list their expectations of me. Before writing anything down, make sure that there is dialogue and consensus between students. Of course, you have the right to intervene or refocus students when their expectations won’t do. Once you are satisfied with your list, type it up, then send it home for parents to review.
Tags: first day of school
The first day of school is still a ways off, but many teachers—especially those of us who just received our fall assignments—are already beginning to think about it. The day usually begins the same way: Our new students trickle in and find a desk where they can carefully guard their tongues for the next week. We feel for our students not only because we’ve been there before, but also because we always have some nervous energy ourselves. To ease the first-day jitters, we’ve started using a few icebreakers from LouAnne Johnson’s book, Kick-Start Your Class.
The Adjective Game (10-30 minutes)
Create a list of adjectives that might be used to describe students (happy, energetic, worried, musical, lovable, and so on). Post your list on the board or project it onto a screen so students can see it.
Place chairs or desks in a circle, semicircle, or some other arrangement where everybody will be able to see each other.
Instructions for students:
Collecting Autographs (10 minutes)
Create a template with 20 to 25 boxes. Inside each box, type a different statement. For example, “I have been to the Grand Canyon”; “I have eaten calamari”; “I have lived in another state,” and so on.
Make copies of your template, one for each student. Students now have 10 minutes to walk around the room and find a student who has experienced each statement and write down his or her name in the appropriate box.
I Have To & I Can’t (10-20 minutes)
This activity is especially effective for reluctant learners and at-risk groups, because it reminds them that they have the power to choose their own school experience. In a nonthreatening way, it places responsibility for their learning and behavior on their own shoulders.
Create a handout that includes the following two complete sentences:
I have to____________________________________________.
Place one copy of the handout on each desk.
Instructions for Students
Today we’re going to do a short exercise to help you take control of your experience in this classroom. This exercise is for you. It isn’t graded and you don’t have to put your name on it, hand it in, or share it with anyone else.
On your handout, you will see two incomplete sentences. Fill in the blanks with the first thing that comes to mind. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar.
When you are done, go back to your first sentence. Cross off the word, “have.” Replace it with, “choose.” Now go to your second sentence. Replace “can’t” with “don’t want.” Now read your two sentences and see if they are true.
We often tell ourselves that we can’t do things, but there are actually very few things in life that we can’t accomplish if we are willing to commit ourselves to the goal. And most of the things we think we have to do are really choices—because we don’t want to face the consequences of not doing them. There are only five things we truly have to do to stay alive: breathe, drink water, eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom. Everything else is optional.
Me In A Bag (5-10 minutes for first session; 10-20 for the second)
Collect enough paper bags to offer one bag to each student. Write your own name on the outside of your bag and draw a simple design. Inside the bag, place three small objects that have meaning for you. When students are seated, show them your bag. Then show each item and tell them why you placed it in your bag: “I brought this photo of my dog because he’s my best friend. I brought this blossom because it comes from an apple tree in my backyard; every year, I use the apples to make apple butter and homemade pie,” and so on. Distribute the paper bags to students.
Instructions for Students
After I pass out the markers, I’d like you to print your first and last names on the outside of your bag in large letters. You have 10 minutes to decorate your bags.
Tomorrow, I’d like for you to bring your bag back with three items in it that mean something to you. We will share our bags with the class so we can learn a little about each other.
On the second day, students take turns showing their bags and the items they choose. This can be done as a class, or in small groups.
Photo credit: stevendepolo / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
It’s hard to believe, but summer is coming to a close. Some of you have already started a new school year, but we anticipate that most of you will begin this Monday. If you’ve got the first-day jitters, we promise that you’re not alone. Students have them and so do your colleagues—even the battle-scarred veterans who have been in the classroom for years. There’s only one first day of school and we want you to walk into your classroom with confidence.
First Day of School Jitters and 4 Ways to Conquer Them
No last minute preparations
We have a habit of scolding students who procrastinate. Truth be told, we’re some of the finest (and most covert) procrastinators in the nation—and our peace of mind has paid for it. Putting things off, even the small stuff just isn’t worth it.
Before you go to bed on Sunday evening, everything—I mean everything!—should be ready for the first day of class. No last-minute photo copies before first hour. No last-minute tweaks to the syllabus and seating charts. Set the timer on your coffee maker, make your lunch, and iron your outfit the night before. When you wake up, the only thing you should concern yourself with is getting both legs inside your pants.
Do you really want to improvise your introductory speech?
First impressions are important, so is the way teachers introduce themselves. Some teachers are brilliant orators and can deliver on the fly, but we always feel better when we know exactly what we want to say. Write down your opening remarks; even practice them if you think it would ease your mind.
If you’re using technology, make sure it works
Nothing stresses us out like having to fix a piece of cranky technology in front of a group. You know what we’re talking about: the video plays, but there’s no sound; the sound plays, but there’s no video. In that moment, it feels as if a spotlight parted the heavens just to illuminate our embarrassment and frustration.
If you are using technology on the first day of class, get there at least an hour early to make sure it works. If you’re using YouTube videos, make sure they’re still there. If you have a slow network, get these videos loaded up so that they play instantly.
Take a moment…then begin
Most of us have a set routine when we get to school. Routine is good, but do these activities have a clear beginning and end? In other words, do you end up typing three or four concluding sentences or reading one final paragraph while your students trickle in?
It’s tempting to squeeze the marrow out of every moment before “it” really begins, but there’s a costly tradeoff. Sure, you may have gotten through one more email, but did you notice the energy, demeanor, attitude, vibe of your students as they trickled in? Did you greet each student and say hello?
The first day of school is always filled with a clamor of activity. The day begins with the customary getting-to-know-you session, but once that wraps, we’re on to serious business: textbooks, rules, expectations, and syllabus review.
Suddenly it’s three-o’clock, the bell is chiming us out of the classroom, and our students are gone. We don’t know them any better than they know us.
Of course, we have nine months to connect with our students, but we’ve always believed that first impressions have a way of setting the tone and giving shape to our classroom culture. Because of that, we like to begin the first day of school with introductory activities or icebreakers.
In our guide you will find 15 of our favorite getting-to-know-you games, projects and icebreakers. Some of them simply aim to amuse and diffuse the first-day jitters; others—like the Blackout Art project and The Time Capsule—give students the opportunity to create something and document their first experience in your classroom. We wish you and your students the best in the forthcoming school year!
Every year we anticipate the first day of school with a healthy mix of nerves and excitement. Our students’ first impressions of us give shape to our classroom culture—and that is never far from our minds. We want to help you start the new academic year off on the right foot, so we’re offering three steps you can take to help create a positive classroom culture right away.
Learn your students’ names immediately
We all learn our students’ names—eventually. But the sooner you learn them the better. You may have your own trick to remembering, but we’re going to share two of our own:
If you want something tangible to help you learn names, snap a quick photo of each student with a Polaroid camera. Now hand out the developing picture (and a Sharpie) and ask each student to write his/her name at the bottom. When you get home that night, flip through the photos like flashcards. You’ll have their names down in no time.
If you’d rather skip the Polaroid, try an app called Attendance2 and you’ll receive similar results. For $4.99 you get not only a digital attendance log, but a built-in flashcard function that allows you to photograph each student and quiz yourself.
Start studying pop-culture now
Our students are pop-culture connoisseurs. They know the latest celebrity gossip; they know which hip hop artists are passé and which aren’t; they’ll have an opinion about the name of Kim and Kanye’s baby; they know the hottest video games and fashion trends. Do you though?
You’ll have plenty of time to expose students to your own collection of music, books and films, but allow yourself to learn from them too. Surprise your students by incorporating elements of pop culture into your lessons. Use YouTube videos and pop-culture analogies to help you illustrate ideas. Your students will love it.
Make your introduction memorable
You have all kinds of free technology resources at your fingertips. Why not use them to shake up that run-of-the-mill introduction you give every year? Here’s one idea:
Introduce yourself with Voki, a free service that allows users to create animated audio avatars that speak. First you’ll need to create your own personalized, speaking avatar. Choose from a variety of characters (some human, some not) and customize the mouth, eyes, make-up, skin color and hair. After that, you’ll need to give your avatar a voice: upload a text document, call via phone or use a microphone and then publish it to any site that accepts html. Now you’re ready to share it with your new students.
There’s still plenty of time before the new school year begins, but we know that many of you have already started preparing! As you start to prep your minds, classrooms and curriculum for the fall, we thought we’d share 5 first day of school activities to get you started off on the right foot.
5 first day of school activities you can swear by
Write a letter of introduction and send it before school begins
This is something you should do before the first day of school, but we're throwing it on the list anyway.
Imagine opening your mailbox sometime in early August and finding a letter from your son or daughter’s prospective teacher. In the letter—addressed to both you and your child—the teacher tells you all about herself, who she is, what she likes to do, how long she has been teaching, what she wants for your child and how you can contact her if you have any questions. You’d feel pretty good about this new teacher, wouldn’t you?
Parents want to believe that their child is being left in capable and compassionate hands. Students want to believe that their teachers care about them and are happy to have them in class. A brief (and thoroughly unexpected) letter to each student is one of the easiest ways to welcome and reassure parents and students.
Make a big deal out of greeting students on the first day—and every day thereafter
Call us vain, but whenever we fly, we always appreciate the fact that the pilot and flight attendants stand in a row at the entrance, smile and say hello in a tone that suggests we are all long-lost friends. When we exit, we also appreciate the fact that they thank us for flying with them and wait to exit until the passengers have made their exit first. Sure, it’s their job to do this, but we appreciate the gesture: it shows class and makes us feel like we’re in good hands and appreciated.
Think of yourselves as pilots. It’s your job to help students reach their destination and keep them safe through the turbulence. But it’s also your job to make them feel appreciated. Greet your students every day—show them that you’re ready to and eager to explore a day of learning with them. Help them to feel that they are in a safe, fun environment.
For example, say “hello, how are you?” to every student. If someone was absent the day before, say, “Hi, Johnny. I’m glad to have you back. We missed having you yesterday. I like that tie, I like that new haircut…” It won’t take long for you to notice how this simple gesture impacts your relationship with students.
Ask your students to write a letter of introduction
One of our favorite first assignments is to have students submit a letter of introduction. We don’t evaluate the letter for spelling or punctuation and we make that clear when we assign it. If you teach a specific course, English for example, you might want your students to tell you about their experience with writing. Do they like it, loathe it? Why? Who was their favorite writing teacher and why? Where would they like to improve this year? How can you (the teacher) help them accomplish their goals?
Not only is this a useful way for students to assess their own goals for the year, it’s also an easy way to earn their first A+ of the year.
Dare to ask your students what they expect of you
On the first day of class, we spend a lot of time telling students what we expect of them and very little asking them what they expect of us. What if that changed this year?
Instead of creating a set of rules on your own, why not make it a collaborative activity between you and your students? We’ve done this using a poster board which we divide down the middle with a line. The left column is where we list our expectations of the students; the right is where the students list their expectations of us. Before writing anything down, make sure that there is dialogue and consensus between students. Of course, you have the right to intervene or refocus students when their expectations won’t do.
Join in on the fun
When it's your turn for recess duty, consider participating in a game rather than standing on the sidelines. If you're teaching at the secondary level, try running to grab a ball that has been thrown out of bounds on the lunchtime basketball courts, or visit a colleague's P.E. class during your prep. Playing with students is a great way to honor them and nurture relationships with them.
The playground is also a perfect location to have a conversation with students you’re worried about. Don’t take recess away from students who have misbehaved; use the change of scenery to your advantage. It’s much easier to talk to a student about what was going on inside the classroom when you are outside of it.
If you’re looking for a few more first day of school activities, check out one of our recent blogs, Preparing for Opening Day: 5 of the best icebreakers for teachers.
The first day of school is still a ways off, but many teachers—especially those of us who just received our fall assignments—are already beginning to think about it. The day usually begins the same way: Our new students trickle in and find a desk where they can carefully guard their tongues for the next week. We feel for our students not only because we’ve been there before, but also because we always have some nervous energy ourselves. To ease the first-day jitters, we started using icebreakers. Below you will find five of our favorites.
Preparing for Opening Day: 5 of the best icebreakers for teachers
The only thing you’ll need for this activity is a big ball of string. Here’s how it works: The teacher stands at the door with two handfuls of string ends. As you welcome your new students give each student an end. Alternate hands as you pass them out: The first student gets a string-end from your right hand; the second from your left; the third from your right and so on.
Once everyone has arrived and has a string-end, they must start to follow the course of the string they hold (you got to class early and created a trail for each piece of string). Some pieces wrap around chairs, run through the coat closet, under and over desks and around your podium, or become tangled with other pieces of string. Your students will have to follow this trail—wherever it may lead them.
Eventually your students will be startled to discover that they are face-to-face with another student who is holding the other end of the same piece of string! Once each student has found his or her partner, it’s time for them to make their introductions.
Put on a new jacket
The covers of our most-popular books often become torn and dirty. Direct your students to the classroom library and have them select books with damaged jackets or book covers. If you don’t have enough damaged books, allow them to choose a book with their favorite cover they’d like to protect.
Offer a variety of craft materials (paint, pens, random ephemera and fabric) so that students can create their own covers and book jackets. If you’d like instruction books or kits for slipcases, stop by Hollanders.
This idea comes courtesy of Bonnie Kunzel’s and Constance Hardesty’s book, The Teen-Centered Book Club: Readers into Leaders.
Start a time capsule
Type up a handout that includes questions like:
Feel free to get as crazy and creative as you like with these questions. Once your students are finished, collect the handouts and put them in a secure place.
When I was in third grade, my teacher received permission from the principal to dig a hole and bury our class time capsule (which also included an item belonging to each student) in the playground! At the end of the year, we dug up our time capsule and discussed how much our interest, tastes and height had changed over the course of a year.
Know your orange
We got this idea from Christopher Willard’s book, Child’s Mind: Mindfulness Practices to Help Our Children Be More Focused, Calm and Relaxed.
If you’d like to take this activity a few steps further, you might have your students journal about mindful tasting. Try giving them the following prompts:
Spill the Skittles, not the beans
Pass out five or ten Skittles (M&Ms work too) to each student and explain that for each piece of candy the student has, s/he must tell the class something about him/herself. Here’s the tricky part: each color corresponds to a category. An orange Skittle represents a scary memory; green ones represent a favorite outdoor place; blue ones represent their favorite place to swim and so on. This is an easy way to get students talking—and when was the last time kids turned down free sweets?
There are a number of variations on this activity. For a slightly different spin, check out Katie’s idea on her blog, live.craft.eat