When I was in school, I knew the first few days of school would always be reading from the syllabus. It was mind-numbingly dull, did nothing to keep me awake, and was serious motivation to doodle and daydream. Years later, as a teacher, I would figure out that the first day of school didn’t have to be boring.
What to do on the first day of school
Don’t lecture, or preach, to start with. The first few days of school should be dedicated to getting to know your students and what interests them. It also lays the groundwork for all the meaningful conversations surrounding English language arts, like the power of voice, justice, identity, and storytelling. This trust-building stage is invaluable and a crucial step in classroom management. Some experts call this step relational capacity building.
Attendance can be your first opportunity to do an interesting activity. It can be as simple as asking students questions as you go down the roster. Or, you can instruct students to alphabetize themselves into their seats as their first participation grade.
Icebreaker bingo is just what it sounds like. You hand out bingo cards to your students, fill in the categories, and then get “bingo” you call out categories, and they find a classmate who fits it and writes their name down. I have a class version of this I do and a social media edition. It’s tons of fun and like a round-robin of introductions.
Scavenger hunts are a great option to get students moving around the room and learning about their new environment. Maybe you have a classroom library you want them to explore or a really cool calm down corner. Maybe you just want them to review the syllabus memorably! Scavenger hunts have you covered. You can hand out task cards, give out a list, or do it station style. I prefer to give out a list of items that students need to find, share with a partner or group, and then go over it as a class.
The Gift is an activity where students partner up, interview their partner, and then introduce their partner to the class creatively and present them with a small gift. I have had great success with this activity. Sometimes students make collages, sometimes they create a quick rap. Either way, it is a fantastic way to embrace who your students are and get them to learn about each other. Quick tip for this one, establish classroom norms to prevent students from embarrassing each other by accident.
This is a quick and simple activity that is suitable for distance learning. It’s also great because you will have a quick Rolodex of who your students are and what they like to scroll through. I like to use these templates so that students have an idea of what kind of information I want and how it should be presented.
The first day of school stations is a mish-mash of all the activities above. Students rotate in groups through various stations, like syllabus, class norms, and reading interests. This lets them get oriented to the idea of collaborative learning and gives them a quick crash course in your class.
Icebreaker Hot Potato Q and A
This is a fun one that is equal parts entertaining to everyone. You’ll need a stuffed animal or a small hacky sack. Students toss it around. The person who catches answers the previous question and then poses a new one. Tip: pose the first question, and make sure students know to gently throw the object and not chuck it across the room. It should be fun, not dangerous!
All in all, there are a bunch of ways to make the first days of school fun.