By Teachers, For Teachers
When a student walks into the class on the first day of school, there are many mixed emotions coming to class with him/her. Feelings of hope for a great new school year, nervousness of a new class and being accepted by the other students, and even some excitement, anxiousness, and feeling overwhelmed can accompany a student to class on the first day. Having icebreakers, rule-making activities, and team-building first day of school activities are different ways to have the students “get-to-know” one another.
Having clear expectations for behavior is an important part of having a successful school year. When you include students in the creation of the expectations, it gives them a feeling of ownership over them. Most districts and schools have a character education program they follow, whether it be something such as Responsive Classroom or Caring School Communities. You can incorporate “Rule-making” into your character education program (if it is not already built in), as one of the expectations will be most likely be to treat everyone with respect.
Keeping expectations short, sweet, and minimal are some of the keys to success. Too many expectations will overwhelm the students, and then value is lost. If each of the expectations is clearly defined and achievable for the students, they will understand that breaking the rule results in a consequence. An example of an expectation is to “Work hard and always try your best.” This means students need to use their class time wisely and work to the best of their abilities. When this is not occurring, it leads to a discussion point between teacher and student where the teacher can review what the expectation means. These clear expectations will help with classroom management, another key factor in the success of a school year.
The first day of school is nervewracking for teachers and students alike. Preparing activities to help students “Get-to-know each other” is really important. Class scavenger hunts where students learn information about one another and share it is a great way to break the ice.
Activities that get students up and moving around are also great conversation starters. Setting up timed stations around the room is another activity I like to use. I found this activity on Teachers Pay Teachers and tweaked it to work for my class. Each station is part subject-specific and part answering questions about the summer/themselves. The subject-specific activities are simple, such as measuring the mass of a rock, then students discuss prompted questions on cards such as favorite color, favorite hobby, most fun memory of the summer, etc.
I also love the game Two truths and a Lie. Students will write two truths and a lie about themselves on an index card. The other students have to determine what the lie is. This activity helps students to learn about one another while also giving everyone a good laugh because many times, the lies are quite hilarious. This can help students to form bonds with other students while making everyone laugh and become more comfortable in their new “Home.”
Minute-to-Win-It games are fantastic. Many of these games require minimal materials and setup. I create a flipchart of the various games and the rules for each and project on our Promethean Board. These games are all simple and take only a minute, so students are constantly on the move. I set up a few different games such as Cup Stacking, Oreo Madness, Noodling Around, Book Balance, and Roll It! These are all games that take one minute, and they address kinesthetic learners by having students move around the room and cheer for one another to successfully complete activities. Some are individual games, and some are group ones. All are very simple, for example, in “Cup Stacking,” students must take a 28-cup stack and stack them into a pyramid with seven on the base and so on, and then take down the pyramid and put it back into the stack in one minute. This is done in groups of three or four, and students go wild cheering and coaching each other.
Team-building activities are also a great idea. These types of activities rely on students working in groups to complete activities. I love using a “Numbers activity.” This is where students work together and must highlight as many numbers as possible from 1-100 in a three-minute time frame. There is a certain order to this, and students are able to coach each other through this, talk different strategies, and laugh when they know they should have done it differently. This activity promotes teamwork and also communication within the groups. It is interesting to watch the group work progression in such a short period of time.
I love to throw a STEM activity in as well. My go-to has been the “Marshmallow Challenge.” Students are put into groups of three or four and are given 20 spaghetti noodles, one yard of tape, one yard of string, and a marshmallow. Students have 18 minutes to work together to build the tallest free-standing structure possible. This requires a lot of thought, and it is a great way to promote teamwork. Students then are able to reflect on ways to make it more successful, and what I like to do is give this activity again about a month later so students can see how to make improvements and it teaches them to be “Engineers.”
Promoting teamwork and communication are both so important during the first days of school. This sets the tone for the entire year, and watching students progressively feel more comfortable within the class is amazing! There is so much anxiety out there in the world with forming relationships and public speaking and is great to develop these skills from a young age. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?