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 teacher’s 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 you’re 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:
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
The first day of school can be a great chance to find out more about how students learn. There are many different learning styles. Find out the many different ways your students are smart by having them complete a multiple intelligences assessment. 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 confidence issues that inevitably crop up in a classroom.
Do a Self-Portrait
Whether it’s 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 pre-test, write a paragraph, or even video tape them reading aloud or speaking in a foreign language. Bring the examples out at the end of the school year and let students recognize how much they’ve grown.
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 don’t 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 students a series of true and false statements about the content of the course and have them guess the right answers.
Guessing Game 2: Conduct a demonstration experiment and have students guess about the results.
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 they’ll 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 engage and challenge them. It doesn’t have to be graded, but it should break the ice and get students excited.
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:
- A children’s book on animals can be 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!