Tried and True First Day of School Activities in the Classroom

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Google the words ‘first day of school activities in the classroom’ and you will discover nearly two BILLION results. Thanks, but no thanks, Google - we don’t have time to weed through all that! Provided below are some tried and true activities your fellow educators have shared for all grade levels.
 

Play Games

Paul, a high school math teacher in Illinois, has six Jenga towers (modified to include get-to-know-you questions) placed throughout his classroom. When a student pulls out a block, he/she reads the question and everyone in the group answers. “It’s a great team-building exercise, plus kids get to know a little more about each other.” Paul also shops at garage sales for old-fashioned board games to play with his students at least once a month, which encourages students to read directions and to communicate with each other.

Below is a list of suggested questions/prompts to be included with your own get-to-know-you activities:

  • If you could have lunch with anyone from history, who would it be? Why?

  • Would you rather be super-fast or super strong? Why?

  • If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Why?

  • What is your favorite song?

  • What’s one thing that makes you happy?

  • What’s something that annoys you?

  • What problems of the world do you want to solve?


Write Letters

Amanda, a middle school special education teacher in Minnesota also devotes the first several days of school to building relationships. One way she gets to know her students is by asking them to write her a letter. She guides them with questions such as:

  • What are you looking forward to in this class?

  • What are you hoping to learn?

  • How do you learn best?

  • What is a goal I can help you accomplish this year?

  • What is something you would like me to know about you?

Amanda’s letter-writing activity reminded me of an article that was published by The New York Times a few years ago, “What Kids Wish Teachers Knew.” In the article, the 3rd grade teacher asks her students to finish the written prompt, I wish my teacher knew…. Some of the eye-opening responses included:

  • …that my family and I live in a shelter.

  • …that my mom and dad are divorced, and that I am the middle child of 7 kids.

  • ...that my mom might get diagnosed with cancer this week and I’ve been without a home three different times this year alone.

Having students privately share what they want their teachers to know about them is a powerful way to connect and empathize with them.


Complete Learning Styles Inventories

Are your students visual learners? Auditory? Tactile/kinesthetic? Shannon, a 3rd grade teacher in Wisconsin, finds out how her students learn best by having them complete a learning styles inventory. The results of the inventory guide Shannon as she plans and implements lessons and assessments throughout the year. Completing the inventory also empowers students with self-awareness about how they learn and what they need to maximize their success in the classroom. 

Provided below are links to free learning styles inventories to use with your own students on the first day of school:

Elementary: How do I Learn?
Middle/High School: Got Style? Understanding Your Own Way of Learning

Finally, please check out these past blog posts for a few more ideas on how to spend the first day of school with your students:


Heart Mapping: This is an ongoing prewriting activity that my students always began on the first day of school. It’s a wonderful way to get to know students on a deeper level while brainstorming meaningful writing topics.
Celebrating Students’ Names: Discover three different creative ways to learn and celebrate students’ names while building relationships with them.
 

How will you spend the first day of school with your students? Please share your own tried and true activities!


Here are a few classes related to this topic:

Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin.