The beginning of the school year is generally filled with excitement and nervousness for what is to come, and this upcoming year will be one unlike any other. With every district going back in different ways, back-to-school activities might look different. The classroom community starts to be built from the first day on, so some fun and interesting activities are important to help build the relationships among the class.

Brown Baggin’ It

In this activity, students are given a brown paper bag. In the bag, students must fill it with five things about them. This encourages students to get very creative because of the size of the bag. For example, if a student loves basketball, he/she cannot place an actual basketball in the bag. Instead, a picture of a basketball, a mini-basketball, a drawing of a basketball, etc. can fit.

Students then present their bag to the class, and this is a great icebreaker, as it allows students to see the interests of their classmates, as well as find classmates that have similar interests and hobbies as they do. This activity can also be done virtually, as the class can go on a Google Meet/Zoom call and present their bags in that way. This activity is particularly great for elementary school, but can also be modified to fit older students, such as addiing qualfiers to each item (e.g. one item must relate to a hobby, one must relate to a family tradition, etc.).

Math About Me

In this activity, students will describe themself using math! Students will describe various numerical statistics about themselves in this project such as their age, how many people are in their family, the number of letters in their name, and their shoe size. There are also some choice slides where students can choose the category.The only constraint is the answer must be a number. Students must provide the answers, and you can even include a slide where students can include three non-numerical facts about themself.

This is a ‘beginning of the school year’ project that you can complete in school or virtually. It is best targeted for 3-8 grades (modifications can be made to it as needed). A Google Slideshow is a great way to introduce yourself using this project, and you can find a template here.

Class Scavenger Hunt

In this activity, students are tasked with learning about new classmates. The scavenger hunt can be a simple worksheet with anywhere from 25-50 items on it. Some options can include: blue eyes, left-handed, traveled to another country, has a brother, etc. The teacher will put a timer on the board for around fifteen minutes, and students will walk around the room and search for other students that fit into the categories. The goal is to socialize with new classmates, find out different facts about them, and, if you wish to make it competitive, see who can fill out the most spots on their paper! At the end of the activity, you can ask students to share and have a class discussion.

Two Truths and a Lie

This is a simple activity for any grade level. On an index card, students will write three statements about themselves. Two of the statements are facts about themselves and one is a lie. Student names will go on the top of the card and the teacher will collect the cards. The teacher will spotlight each student and read the statements. The class will have to guess which statement is the lie, and believe me, this activity can get a lot of laughs. This activity can be completed virtually as well; students can create index cards at home and read them over a class meeting, or students can email/message the teacher the information so the teacher can present it at a meeting.

Cup Stacking

This is a great activity to get students going! Students are given a single stack of twenty-eight plastic cups. A timer is set for one minute. The students must stack the cups up into a pyramid with seven cups in the base, then six, five, etc., until the pyramid is built to one at the top. That is not all, though; students must then take down the pyramid and put it into the original single stack before time is up. This is a challenging and exciting activity.

Marshmallow Challenge

In this activity, students are broken up into groups of two to four students. Each group is given a paper bag with one yard of tape, one yard of string, twenty spaghetti noodles, and one marshmallow. The timer is set for eighteen minutes and groups must build the tallest freestanding tower with the marshmallow on the top. At the end of the eighteen minutes, the teacher will walk around and measure each structure to see which group met the most success.

This can lead to a great discussion, and students can talk about ways to engineer a more successful and taller tower next time. As a follow-up activity, it is interesting to complete this same activity about a month later in the same groups to see the changes in the towers built.

Minute-to-Win It Activities

These types of activities are great ice breakers. One activity I like to use is a Pasta Madness one. Students are given a spaghetti noodle which they must hold with their mouth. Penne pasta noodles are laid on a paper plate on the desk and students must use the spaghetti noodle to scoop up as many penne noodles as possible in one minute.

Another game my class enjoys is the “Skittle Scoop”. Students are each given a plastic spoon in order to scoop as many skittles out of a bowl that they can. That might sound easy, but the students must put the spoon in their mouth to scoop the skittles out of one bowl and then place into another bowl. The “Balloon Game” is also fun! You must blow up balloons, and students must keep the balloon in the air for one minute straight by tapping it with their less dominant hand.

The beginning of each new school year presents many opportunities, as well as many challenges. It is important to create a safe, inviting classroom environment for your students to enjoy. Back-to-school activities are important for social-emotional reasons, as character education is just as important as academics. As Samuel Smiles once said, “Good character is property. It is the noblest of all possessions.” The beginning of the school year sets the tone for the character you wish your students to possess.