It's almost time for me to head back to school, and I'm starting to plan my first day activities. The first day sets the tone for the rest of your year, so it's important to do three main things.
1. Choose your first activity wisely.If the first day sets the tone for the year, the first 5 minutes sets the tone for the first day. Think about how you want your class to run throughout the year... Then start your year with an activity that reflects your goals. Sorting school supplies, while it seems like a natural first activity, is usually pretty chaotic. I like to have students come in, keep their backpacks at their desks, and work on something quietly at their seats. I provide all of the supplies needed for this first activity, so students have no reason to start digging through their backpacks. Here are a couple of activities I really like for first thing in the morning:
Art with Jenny K has a really great All About Me selfie activity. Students draw a selfie on the smartphone template, and write their answer to one of several included writing prompts. #yourethecoolteachernow
Another way to incorporate some creativity first thing is to give students a small can of play-doh, and have them create anything they want. You can then have students write a description of their "sculpture." This is a great first activity because it requires zero supplies and zero instruction from you, so you're free to greet students and parents at the door. If you'd like a printable play-doh mat and writing prompt, you can find them in this Back to School pack from Teaching in the Tongass.
2. Teach your classroom procedures.I know procedures aren't the most fun thing to do on the first day, but they are necessary. If you accept behavior outside your procedures and expectations for the year on day one, students will expect you to accept it on day 37, 128, and 179 too.
I suggest teaching procedures as they come up, rather than all at one time. I create a Procedures PowerPoint each year, with all of my classroom procedures typed out, but I don't (do not) go through the entire presentation, slide by slide, until their eyes glaze over. Instead, as a procedure comes up naturally throughout our day, I pause what we're doing, display the correct slide, and go over the proper procedure for that activity.
My friend Cassie, from Cassie Dahl: Teaching & Technology, wrote a great post on the ten procedures you MUST teach at the start of each new school year. Read her post, and be sure you have your plans in order for those ten procedures, because they are vital!
3. Do something academic.In upper elementary, especially, it's important for students to know on the first day that we will have fun, but that we will also work hard this year. One of my favorite academic activities for the first day is to read a picture book and do some sort of written response.
For our writing prompt, I have students write about their own summer vacation, but with an exaggerated twist. This gives me a chance to get a feel for my students' writing abilities, and gives students the chance to tell a little about their summer. My favorite thing about this activity is that it keeps from singling out those students who may not have had such a fun summer, because everyone is exaggerating and coming up with outlandish tales. You can grab the brainstorming sheet and writing paper free in my TPT store!
How do you like to start off your school year? I'd love to hear your ideas and favorite first day activities! I've also written a companion post on my blog about my must-haves for Back to School. There are four things I just wouldn't start a school year without!