The first few days of the new school year is about getting to know your students. This is the time where we discover who we have in our class. It is important time and begins to establish the relationships we will build on for the rest of the year.
Not only are you learning about your students, but they should be learning about you as well. This will set the tone for your class.
Every teacher has some favorite Ice-breakers or get to know you activities and I have some as well. Note: teacher should play along with these as well when possible. You are building community and the teacher is part of that community.
1. Find Someone Who
There are multiple variations of this everywhere. Here is one of my older versions as well as a new version that I created for this year to celebrate our experience with virtual learning.
2. Four Corners
Pose some questions on PowerPoint slides and as they are displayed ask students to go to the corner that represents their answer. You can ask about any area that kids might be interested in. Label the corners with A, B, C or D and ask multiple choice questions.
This is a good place for trivia questions. Example: Which planet would you prefer to live on ? A. PLUTO B. THE MOON C. MARS D. JUPITER. Or How much do parents spend on back to school shopping per child? A. $100 B. $900 C. $ 275 D. $500
3. 2 Truths and a Lie
I like to do this on Google slides where each student completes a slide and we take turns trying to figure out which is the lie. You can use the same format as four corners to see which statement students believe is the lie. Just show the completed slides, ask the students to go to the corner that they think represents the lie.
4. Name Plate
Instead of writing a name on a card, give students a piece of cardstock, some colored pencils and ask them to create their name using pictures only. Here is mine:
It’s fun to collect them, post them around the room and then have students try to figure out the names of the students.
This activity was very popular in middle school and continues to be popular in high school. Pass out half sheet of paper asking students for something that they have in common with at last 20 other people in the room, then something they have in common with 10 other people and finally something that they share with only one other person (at most).
For instance: 1. I like to play video games. 2. I play baseball on a league. 3. I won the spelling BEE in 5th grade.
Collect the papers then select one at random. Ask the students to stand up if they love tacos. Remain standing if they play soccer. Finally remain standing if they have a pet goat. Students enjoy learning about each other as well as sharing.
We used this the first week and did a few each day until every student was introduced. If new students were added during the year, they completed the introduction activity as well.
6. Goal Setting
Have students set goals for the school year. I do not use this the first day, it is typically used day 3 after we have discovered something about each other.
7. Time Capsule
Kids love this idea. I take a box for each class that can be sealed. Each student writes something about what the school year will be like and what they will experience by the end of the school year. I play along as well. I put a picture of myself on the first day, and compare it to the last day of school.
Students either put their notes in an envelope or fold the paper and staple it shut. Sometimes students put pictures of themselves in the note. I collect them, seal them in a box and store them. They are given back to students at the end of the school year and we laugh about our predictions.
8. Would You Rather Cards
These silly questions are fun and spark great conversations. Making the class safe to speak up is the goal. There is a set of cards in my August Sampler Freebie, the link is below.
9. Line Ups
One way to get students talking to each other quickly is to have then line up according to some plan. Line up according to your birthday is fun, and identifies who is having a birthday soon. Students need to talk to people to decide where to stand. Or, have them line up according to age in days (for a math class, lol).
As the year progresses, you can use the line up idea to check work. When teaching different concepts (solving equations, converting from scientific notation, etc), hand each student a card as they enter class and when class begins have them line up in order. Students can check their work as they line up and we can check the work as we go thru the line.
10. World’s Worst
Pick a profession and ask students to tell what the world’s worst would say. For example, if we pick surgeon, the world’s worst surgeon might say “I know you need your tonsils out, but can’t really remember where they are”. Note: Don’t pick teacher as a profession–you can’t unhear those comments about colleagues.
11. Pow and Wow
Students take turns in groups sharing the best thing that has happened that day (wow) as well as the worst (pow). You could vary this to have students share something that was a Pow and Wow about virtual learning, or being back to school in person. This is something we do often during the year, not just at the beginning.
12. Team Challenge
Any team building activity would be great on day 2 or 3. The marshmallow-toothpick challenge to build the highest structure is very popular. There are so many variations. In one challenge you use 1 marshmallow and 20 spaghetti and the marshmallow cannot be cut up, while in other variations you have 5 marshmallows and unlimited toothpicks. Read more about these stem challenges here: https://creativefamilyfun.net/marshmallow-stem-activities/
You can provide straws and tape and have students build a boat, or tower is fun as well. These team building challenges should have a time limit to encourage urgency (just like future classroom tasks will have urgency to complete).
As students are working on activities, take note of who works well together, who hangs back, who does not participate, etc. This will help when you form groups later as well as pairing up students.
After the first two days, you can focus on teaching those routines and procedures that are important in an efficient classroom. Students may have questions the first two days about something they notice or are concerned about but try not to have those conversations right away.
As important as these things are to do the first few days, there are some things we should not be doing (IMHO).
What NOT to do the first few days:
Read the syllabus.
Explain the consequences of not following rules.
Read the student handbook.
Even if students are breaking some classroom rule of yours, the first two days are NOT the time to announce and explain that rule. That time will come later and rules are much easier to follow and understand when you like the classroom and the teacher.
The first few days should be about building relationships and having some fun interactively. In my classroom, students move around, talk to each other and participate. You can get a feel for who is going to need extra help as well as noticing if the classroom is set up in a way that helps student interaction. Is it easy for students to move around? For gallery walks, is there enough room for students to walk around the perimeter of the room?
If you are looking for some activities for those early finishers, I have updated my monthly Sampler Freebies. They have a calendar to color. a word search with a secret message, a coloring page and August has some “Would You Rather” cards.
I hope you get off to a great new school year. I know many of you will not start until September and at this time of year, I wish I were with you. If you have any questions, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.