As we all know, first impressions are everything, and the first day of school is no exception. In the upper grades, it’s especially important to leave a positive impression on your students. You want them to be both comfortable and excited for a year full of growth and learning!
Here are some tips for a memorable and smooth first day of school!
1. Scrap the Typical “Icebreaker” - Engage them with a Unique Activity
Some kids dread icebreaker activities. I was one of them! Instead of an ice breaker that may push some of your students too far out of their comfort zones, consider trying a fun and simple get to know you activity!
I put together this free activity that is not focused on the students themselves. There is no spotlight on anyone! Kids work in small teams to try to complete a number puzzle. They feel like they are getting stuck until they think outside of the box! You can lead them after a while to reach out to another group. It turns out that it is only possible to complete the number puzzle when they combine forces! With two sets of cards, suddenly it becomes easier.
This can be followed up with a discussion about how the principle they learned relates to math class, or teamwork, etc.
If you do want more of a get-to-know-someone option, my friend, Kate, from Kate’s Classroom Cafe shared a great post on Fun Back to School Activities. She provided a free downloadable Get to Know You True/False Activity that sounds perfect for this.
Students create their own T/F quizzes, and then quiz each other to get to know one another. This allows them to talk about themselves, open up and relax, and builds classroom community. You may even bring out the competitive spirit in some of your kids!
2. Go Over Rules and Procedures in a Fun Way
“Fun” is the keyword. Make this engaging, or they will forget it all! They’ll be hearing many versions of classrooms rules and procedures throughout the first day of school, and not only do you want them to enjoy themselves, but you want them to commit the information to memory.
Consider making a fun powerpoint presentation filled with hilarious memes. Find the best teacher memes here. Humor has many benefits to learning, so why not start from Day 1? Create slides with your usual rules and procedures, but add a few memes to complement the information.
For going over your syllabus and expectations, try the doodle-style syllabus to spice it up (free download here).
3. Let Them Get to Know their Teacher
Just as the students should get to know each other, getting to know their teacher is an awesome way to build classroom rapport!
You can join the students in their Get to Know You Activity, like creating your own T/F quiz mentioned above. Or, you can choose to go a different route.
A big favorite is “Ask Me Anything”. In this game, the students are able to write down any questions they may have for you on an index card; they can ask you absolutely anything, no matter how random (staying school appropriate, of course.) Then, you mix up all the index cards, and read each one aloud and give the answer. They’ll have so much fun hearing their questions answered aloud, while learning a little more about you!
I’ve also put together a little “Meet the Teacher” doodle note set that you can use for introducing yourself to the students. You can also use this at parent night!
Click here to purchase this set.
Without taking up too much time (you don’t want to bore or overwhelm them), summarize what the class will cover throughout the year. You can create a few powerpoint slides. Include the topics and subtopics within the subject your teaching, as well as any unique side topics that might peak their interest.
This is also when you should briefly explain any major tests or project, so they are well aware of what’s coming!
5. Teach Doodle Note Skills
If time permits and you plan to incorporate doodle notes throughout the year, consider introducing the doodle note concept with this free Engage Your Brain Doodle Note Page! It’s a great way to spend the first day of class when you are not ready to jump into lesson content, but want to set the stage.
Doodle Notes are filled with awesome brain benefits, like increased focus and retention through activating the right hemisphere of the brain.
With this page, students will discover these benefits and give concrete examples of activities they do daily that are associated with each hemisphere. Then, they can practice combining these to cross the corpus callosum and activate their brain for learning! Later, they'll notice that extra focus and increased retention kicking in once they try it!
6. Provide a Special Treat (OR Better Yet, Structure a Way to Earn One in the Future)
This one is completely optional, but providing a special treat is a sure-fire way to win over your students! Students are almost always down for a sweet treat; you can’t go wrong with anything sugary!
If you’re concerned about allergies or your school has a no-food policy, don’t sweat it; there are plenty of inexpensive thoughtful gift ideas. Consider giving each student a fun pencil, or assembling a back to school Welcome Kit.
I don’t always prefer to start out this way, so I’m a proponent for option 2: Show how the class can work TOWARD a treat in the future. Set up a structure where they can slowly earn some kind of reward.
A simple way to do this is by coloring one item in the letters “MATH” each time you determine they have earned one. You can set this up however you want. You may want an item to get colored only on each day that ALL students submit completed homework. Or you can use it as a reward when a student gets caught doing something great. Say “I love the way you just ___. Go ahead up and color one math tool on our “MATH” board.”
Once the full word “MATH” is all colored in, the class can earn a reward. I’ve also included a mini version for a desk-sized individual option. Each student can work to earn their own reward by coloring it with a special glitter marker you only hand them as you walk around to check daily homework. If they have it complete, you offer the special pen to color one math symbol as you authorize it.
Click here for the free download if you want to give it a try.
Do you have any favorite Back to School Activities? Let us know in a comment how you’re planning to make this year’s First Day the best one yet!
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