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7 First Day of School Activities

Students Love
By: Kim Haynes

The first day of school will be here before

you know it. Most teachers face the big day with enthusiasm, but they dread the inevitable
challenge: what to do on the first day of school.
Every teachers approach is different. Whatever your goal, here are a few things to try to get
the school year off to a great start!

Goal: Getting to Know Your Students

How well will your incoming students know you? How well do you know them? How well do
they know each other? How well do they know the school? These are important questions to
consider as you start planning the first day.
If youre teaching kindergarteners (or high school freshmen, who often seem like
kindergarteners), you may need to spend the first day or the first several days getting
everyone comfortable. There are tons of icebreakers out there, but here are a few different
techniques to try:

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Plan a Scavenger Hunt

This could involve students searching the classroom to find things like the pencil sharpener
or the hall pass, or it could ask them to discover which of their classmates took a long trip
over the summer or who has a younger brother.
Assess Learning Styles or Multiple Intelligences
For older students, the first day of schoolcan be a great chance to find out more about how
they learn. There are many different learning style inventories available online. Find out the
many different ways your students are smart by having them complete a multiple
intelligencesassessment. Have students share these results.
It can encourage students who have typically struggled if they know you are aware of the
things they are good at, and it provides an opportunity to address some of those Im
dumb/shes dumb issues that inevitably crop up in a classroom.

Do a Self-Portrait
Whether its done with words or pictures, collage or drawn by hand, having students describe
themselves can be fun, informative, and occasionally surprising. Of course, the self-portrait
will be most effective if you do one of yourself, too.
Create a Time Capsule
Have students create a sample of their current work -- for example, have students take a pretest, write a paragraph or even video tape them reading aloud or speaking in a foreign
language. Bring the examples out in June and let students recognize how much theyve

Goal: Introducing Your Subject(s)

For some teachers, the first step is helping students to understand what they are going to
learn this year. But you dont always want to start right off with a lecture or worksheet, so try
one of these:
Get Them Guessing
Prediction activities can be a great way to activate students prior knowledge on a topic and
get them excited about what lies ahead in the course.
Guessing Game 1: Give them a series of true and false statements about the content of the
course and have them guess the right answers.
Guessing Game 2: Or do a demonstration experiment and have students guess about the
If you teach English, try this trick: get a movie of the first novel students will read and show
one brief, suspenseful or exciting scene. Make sure to stop the film so that students are left
hanging and tell them theyll have to read the book to find out what happens. You may get
kids begging to start the book!
Start with a Challenge
This is especially effective for older students or for classes in which you want to set a specific
tone. Since most teachers spend the first day of school distributing syllabi and lecturing
about class rules, you will really get the students attention if you make them work the first
day and get around to that business stuff on the second or third day of class. Give students
an assignment that will really challenge them.

One drama teacher actually starts her beginning drama class by making students do an
audition where they read a speech aloud in front of the class. Its not graded, but it gives her
valuable information about the students and it helps them get past their initial I cant act
If you teach an AP class, why not start the first day by giving the students part of a practice
AP exam? The students will see them soon enough just jump right in!
Begin with a Book
This approach is especially effective for non-language arts teachers. Find a book that puts a
different spin on your subject and share it (or part of it) on the first day.
Ways to Use Books to Introduce Subjects Outside Language Arts

- Maybe a childrens book on animals is a fun way to begin studying biology.

- A coffee table photo book might provide striking images for students to think about as

they begin studying history.

- For older history students, consider taking an excerpt from a book like Guns, Germs,
and Steel; Founding Brothers; or Citizen Soldiers. These books describe history in a
different way and may grab the attention of students inclined to tune out their textbook.

Whatever method you choose, the first day of school offers a great opportunity to learn about
your students and set the tone for a terrific school year!
What activities do you use on the first day of school? Share in the comments section!
From back to school games and activities to organizational tips and handy, turnkey lesson
plans, is a helpful resource that can help you identify back to school
themesto use in class, as well motivational articles and ways to educate your students.

Fun Activities
Get the School Year Of
To a Good Start
Every teacher has a different approach to the first few days of school. Whatever your
approach, Education World has an activity for you! Included: Thirteen activities to help
teachers get to know student strengths, set the classroom tone, observe student
interaction, or just provide a little fun!
What are your goals for the first days of school? Some teachers use the time for informal
activities designed to help students get to know one another. Other teachers introduce class rules

or establish new routines. Still others design activities that help them learn about student
strengths and needs. There are as many different approaches to the first days of school as there
are teachers!
Whatever your goals for the first days of school, the 13 activities in today's Education World
article will help get the year off to a great start! You're sure to find a new activity or two to use,
adapt, or share.
The 13 activities are divided into four categories:

Getting to Know Student Strengths and Skills

Setting the Tone

Discovering How They Work Together

Having Fun!
Following directions. How well do your students follow directions? Provide instructions for
folding a drinking cup from a piece of paper, and see how many students can make a cup. You
can use the printable template and instructions at the Origami Japanese Paper Folding Web
page. Fill each complete cup with apple juice to see how many students correctly followed the
directions! (You might want to conduct this particular assessment on the playground, however!)
Learning styles survey. How do the students in your class learn best? Do they learn by seeing,
hearing, or doing? Invite students to discover their most successful learning strategies by taking
the Modality Questionnaire provided by the Center for the Advancement of Learning at Ohio's
Muskingum College.
A world of change. On the first day of school, provide students with an 11-inch by 17-inch piece
of drawing paper. Challenge students to draw a map of the world and label as many countries and
bodies of water as they can. Collect the maps and put them away. At the end of the school year,
repeat the activity. Has a year of lessons focused on world geography and current events
increased your students' knowledge of the world? (If this activity isn't appropriate for you, why not
share it with a social studies or history teacher in your school?)
Time capsule. Turn empty Pringles cans or paper towel tubes into miniature time capsules. Ask
each child to create a time capsule that includes such items as a handwriting sample, a hand
tracing, a self portrait, and so on. At the end of the school year, compare samples from the
beginning of the year with new samples.
A video keepsake. At the start of the school year, or before school starts, if possible, provide
parents with a list of supplies to send to school with their children. Include on the list a blank
videotape for each student. At least once a month, invite a parent volunteer to come in and
videotape each student reading aloud from a favorite book. Send the videotapes home at the end
of the year as a memento and as a reminder of the reading growth that happened during the
course of the year.
Sticks and stones ... This simple activity has been making the rounds of mailing lists recently:
Provide each student with a small paper cutout in the shape of a human, or have students cut out
their own paper figures. Ask each student to write his or her name on the cutout. Have students

form a circle. Then tell students to pass the cutouts to the person on their right. As the cutouts are
passed around the circle, have each person make a small crumple or tear in the cutout or add a
pencil mark. When the cutouts have made their way around the entire circle, have students try to
repair their own cutouts by flattening, erasing, or taping. After the cutouts are repaired, discuss
the activity. Talk about the effects of unkind words and hurt feelings. You might display the cutouts
on a classroom bulletin board as a constant reminder of the effects of hurtful actions.
Illustrated student reflections. Students in middle school and above can reflect on their dreams
and accomplishments with this First Day of School activity provided by an Indiana teacher. A
simple illustration provides a backdrop students can use to share their dreams, their interests,
and the high and low points in their lives. The activity can provide teachers with important
information about students' interests, concerns, and goals; teachers can use the information to
determine how best to direct students and provide for their individual needs.
I Wish I Were a Butterfly. Students across the grades will enjoy this book, written by James
Howe and illustrated by Ed Young. A cricket longs to be a pretty butterfly until a spider teaches
her that all friends are beautiful. Read the book aloud, and then discuss the story's message.
Surveys and graphs. Start the year with a survey activity in which students get to know one
another as they create simple bar or picture graphs. Students work in pairs or small groups to
collect responses to a class survey, and then they graph the results. Older students can develop
their own survey questions; younger students might collect data in response to questions
provided by the teacher. Questions might include the following:

When you bring lunch to school, how do you carry it?

If you were to carry a thermos bottle to school, what would be in it?

What is your favorite sandwich?

How do you get to school most days?

What is your best subject in school?

How many miles do you live from school?

What is your favorite snack?

What was your favorite summer movie?

After students collect the data, they create a simple graph to display the results of their survey.
One student in each pair or group can then report the findings while another explains the graph.
Display the graphs on a bulletin board for all to see!
An average day. Challenge students to compute class "averages." Have students work in pairs
or small groups to collect, calculate, and report on the average age, shoe size, height, family size
(and so on!) of the students in your class.
Personalized classroom calendar. Every classroom has a calendar. Why not personalize your
classroom calendar with photographs of your students? First, make a calendar pocket chart with
seven columns (one for each day of the week) and five rows (so the chart can handle months with
five weeks). Then have students make signs with the numbers 1 to 31 on them. The numbers
should be large enough to be clearly seen from a distance. Use a disposable camera to take a

picture of each student holding one of the numbered signs. Slip the photographs into the pockets
on the calendar. Change the calendar each month!
Back-to-school ABC book. This is an activity that can be done across the grades! Share with
students some ABC books from the school or town library and tell them that they will be working
together to create a Back-to-School ABC Book. Assign a letter of the alphabet to each student.
Brainstorm with students possible words for each letter or allow each student to choose his or her
own word. Explain that the words must be related to activities associated with school. Of course,
the difficulty of the words will vary, depending on the grade level of the students. For
example, A might be represented by the words art, abacus, attendance, algebra, addition,
advisor, athletics, auditorium, alphabet, answer key, apple, arithmetic, announcement, award, AV, aide, or assistant principal. Finally, have each student illustrate his or her word. Combine the
pictures to create a book. Display the book in the classroom or school library. As an extra
challenge, you might limit older students to choosing adjectives; no nouns allowed!
Back-to-school word search. Print a Back-to-School word search and challenge students to find
the school-related words hidden in the puzzle. Or create your own word search puzzle containing
the first names of all the students in your class. Go to's Word Search
Puzzlemaker to create your puzzle.
- See more at:

Teaching the First Day of

A successful first day can be a key component of a successful quarter.
You should envision the first day as more than just a time to review your
syllabus. It is an opportunity for you to establish expectations, set the
tone, and to get to know your students. When the students come to the
first class, they are eager to know what will be taught in the course, what
the instructor will be like, what will be required of them, and how they will
be evaluated. In addition to providing detailed logistical information,
begin the quarter by getting students involved. On the first day consider
ways to involve your students in a discussion of course content. Try
modeling or practicing strategies and methods you plan to use
throughout the quarter. By planning a focused and dynamic first day you
will give students a better sense of the course overall.

Ideas for your First Day

Introductions: Introduce yourself and ask students to introduce

themselves. To mix things up a bit you could take some class time
for students to interview and introduce each other, or try
another icebreaker activity. You might also use the first day as an
opportunity to start learning students names: For helpful strategies
on learning students names click HERE.

Collect information about your students: Have students write

down their names, contact information, majors, and the last course
taken in the subject area. This information will provide valuable
background and help you calibrate your teaching and course
content to your students levels and interests. On the logistical side
of things, make sure to invite students who may need
accommodations (students with disabilities or student athletes for
example) to provide any documentation or to make necessary

Read through the syllabus: Review the syllabus as a group;

highlight the course requirements and policies. Discuss the
objectives of the course and your approach to the subject. Discuss
the readings, assignments, and forms of evaluation.

Establish a comfortable atmosphere and professional

rapport: Establishing an atmosphere in which students will feel
comfortable asking questions and contributing to discussion, in a
respectful manor, will increase everyones potential for success. For
more on inclusive teaching click HERE.

Five Things to Do on the

First Day of Class

By: Maryellen Weimer, PhD

Add Comment

I dont know if the first day of class is the most important day of the course, but I
dont think many of us would disregard its significance. What we do and how we
do it matters. There are lots of good first-day activitiesweve shared some in this
blog over the years. In this post Id like to move our thinking in a different
direction and suggest five first-day essentials that go beyond the activities. These
are the goals for the first day that we can use the activities to accomplish.
1. Showcase course content. The first day of class is the time for
introductions, and the content should be among those things introduced. I
recommend a bit of content show-and-tell that features a surprising fact, a
question the content answers, some current issue that relates to the
content, or something that illustrates, better yet, demonstrates why the
content in this course matters. Establishing relevance and promoting
intrigue can help motivate student learning right from the start.
2. Get students talking. Expectations for an interactive course should be
set from day one and telling students that you want them talking isnt
nearly as effective as getting them talking. They should be talking to you
and talking with each other. Maybe its a getting-to-know you ice-breaker,
or some initial exploration of a content issue of interest to students, or a
student discussion of whats on the syllabus. The goal is hearing multiple
voices in the classroom or online on the first day.
3. Be personable. Yes, you are the professor, but you are also a person.
Students know that youre the one in charge and that youre the one who
enforces the rules. I dont agree with the idea that teachers have to come
across as the big heavy who lightens up only if students understand and

accept who has the authority. Its much more effective to begin the course
letting students know that this is a course youwant to teach (fingers
crossed that it is) with content you love, and that you are there
to help them learn. Students want to be taught by a professor but one who
acts like a person.
4. Give students a reason to read the syllabus. In most courses
teachers cover syllabus content so completely students dont have to read
it. Talking at length about the syllabus also sends the message that
students can ask you rather than look up course information. How about
this, distribute the syllabus and give students five minutes to review it.
Then put them into groups and give the groups five minutes to answer 10
questions about the syllabus. The first group to answer all the questions
correctly wins stickers that say Were #1, high fives from the teacher,
applause from the class, or whatever suits your style and conveys the
message that the things students need to know about this course are in the
syllabus and they should look there before asking you. The goal is teaching
in ways that make students responsible learners.
5. Be authentic. Yes, this relates to being personable but its not the same.
Since the students probably dont know you, maybe you can fool them on
the first day, but they will find out and they will feel cheated. Its about
being true to your personal style right from the start. That doesnt mean
doing what youve always done on the first day. Its good to change
things up, make improvements, and step outside our comfort zones a bit. I
have a good friend who is forever after me to try current fashion trends.
Try this wrap, itll look good on you. I try it, it feels strange, but maybe it
does look good. Then I wear it for cocktails on the neighbors dock and get
compliments from all sides. And Im making a fashion statement I never
thought I could make. Teaching can be about discovering who you are and
sharing those discoveries with students.