Once the back to school advertisements begin airing every other commercial break, and the clothing stores put their summer collection on sale, you know it is only a matter of time before that one morning coffee turns into two or three and you are back in front of two dozen children. Instead of losing sleep over the anxiety of making sure that first day back goes as smoothly as possible, here are five things to do on the first day of school.
- “The Name Game” – This game is appropriate for any age; I actually first learned of it while I was in college, as a participant – and it has stuck with me since. It will obviously take a few days (or weeks in my case) to learn all of your students’ names. But the name game is a fun way to start the year off with some camaraderie and laughs. Use the chairs to create a circle in the middle of the classroom and have each student tell the class their name and their favourite food. Start with the student to your right or left and go around the circle. Each person must repeat all the names and favourite foods of the students who went before them, plus their own. You should be the last to go. I usually like to make a “bet”. If I can’t remember all their names there will be no homework for the day. I obviously never remember everyone’s name on the first go around and the students get a good smile and laugh knowing they’re not getting any homework – which they wouldn’t have gotten anyway.
- Let your students pick their own seats – I have read many blogs and sat through a few lessons during my time in teacher’s college in which educators would echo the exact opposite. They would talk about assigned seating being beneficial because it establishes order and it helps you remember your students’ names more efficiently. To me, that all sounds selfish. We shouldn’t be looking to make our jobs easier at the detriment of our students. I like to let my students pick their own seats because it allows me to see who is comfortable with whom and pick up on personality traits very early on. By letting your students pick their own seats, you will quickly notice the shy, anti-social ones that may require a little character building as well as the confident ones who are comfortable in any environment. Plus, allowing students to pick their own seats implicitly denotes a greater sense of maturity and responsibility. Make sure to make a point of this on the first day as well.
- Get your students up and moving around the room – Your students are going to be spending the vast amount of time in your classroom sitting at their desks engaged in learning, they will become familiar with that thing. Spend time during that first day providing your students with opportunities to get familiar with the classroom and their peers. A strong classroom community is extremely integral to teaching effectively. And it is very tough to build a vibrant environment if having fun and interacting with peers in a playful manner inside the classroom is foreign to your students. Scavenger hunts, “people bingo”, and other camp-like games are perfect for setting that foundation of positive and productive group interaction and classroom culture.
- Share stories, orally! – “Okay kids, take out a piece of paper. You are going to write about what you did this summer!” This statement is the most commonly shared nightmare among students worldwide. Okay, I don’t have the facts to back that up, but I would bet on it. Encourage students to share stories of summer vacation. It allows you to get an early glimpse at the potential classroom leaders as well as the wallflowers. But please, do not force them to write their what-I-did-this-summer out. It is boring, a waste of time and an ineffective diagnostic tool. Talk, communicate and grow as a class on the first day. Save the recount lessons for mid-September.
- Your Core Rules – Every classroom teacher has their own procedures and policies. I don’t think the first day of school is really the time to belabor over them. I am more of the school of addressing instances as they arise but I do understand folks who prefer to “lay down the law” early. I think every school needs balance anyway, especially if we want to provide students a true reflection of the society they will one day enter into. But if you have any “core rules” – things that just itch at your soul – today is probably a good day to share them. I have only one – when I am talking to the class, nobody else is talking. Of course I have other small rules, but my core “rule” (I look at it as more of an expectation) is the one I make sure my students consistently oblige to. It probably won’t be the last day you share your core rules, but it is good to establish them. That way, you can always pull the “what is the one rule I’ve been saying since the very first day of school?” line to bring your students back to their senses on days where things just get a little too loose.
The possibilities are really endless for things to do on the first day back to school. But the activities you will decide upon depend on what you are really trying to establish within your classroom for the school year. For me, I think a classroom works most effectively when students are comfortable in their environment and authentic around their peers. That is why these five things work effectively for me – they help establish accountability, community, and communication. The first day will fly by and, hopefully, these things will make it a little less challenging.
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