You never get a second chance to make a first impression. We’ve heard that many times before, right? I believe that life is full of second chances, but it’s an adage that I do pay close attention to when I meet a new group of students. Starting off on the right foot can do wonders for classroom management, and I have some favorite first day of school activities that I use every year to get things rolling with my students.
One thing I know for sure is that the worst thing you can do on the first day is put kids in hard chairs and make them sit still and listen for hours at a time. Think about it: they have just come off summer break and have had quite a bit of freedom. Even at most jobs, they are up and moving and doing activities that require them to be active, rather than passive.
Then, on the first day back we subject students to class after class where they have to sit and listen to each teacher explain their syllabus and expectations. Don’t get me wrong – these things are important. But is there a better way to deliver it?
I think so.
An Ice-Breaker Activity with Multiple Purposes.
One of my go-to activities is perfect to use when you want to break up a class and get your students more actively engaged in the process.
There are two sides to this handout: the first one allows students to tell you a bit about who they are while showing you their knowledge of some basic English terminology. For example, they are asked to create a smilie and a metaphor. So, when you look over your students’ sheets, you’ll get a good idea of who understands these concepts and who doesn’t.
The back side of the sheet requires the students to go and talk to some of their classmates. I always encourage them to find people they don’t already know, but I don’t enforce that, as I want them to be comfortable on the first day. This also serves multiple purposes: you can start building classroom community, and it gives the students a chance to stand up and stretch their legs.
Finally, the handout asks students to write a letter of introduction. But this isn’t the typical one they are used to writing to teachers. Instead, we “pretend’ that there are so many seats in the class, and they have to write a letter that convinces me to keep them. Most of them enjoy this twist on the usual, and I get letters that are fun to read – and that help me get to know my new students.
👉🏻If you’d like a copy, one that you can edit to suit your own purposes, click here.
Use Stations to Deliver Information
As I said above, students are used to moving from class to class on the first day, listening to teachers drone on about their classes. Important info, yes, but what if we delivered it in a far more engaging way – one that will likely help students absorb it better?
My back-to-school stations do just that.
These stations allow students to get up and moving, and will give them some voice and choice, something all secondary students appreciate. Also, the activities require active participation in things like looking over your syllabus, rather than them passively tuning you out when you go over it.
Not sure how to implement stations? Read this post.
Other activities in the back to school stations include:
Getting to know you activities: this station allows you to tell the students a bit about yourself and them to introduce themselves to you.
Exploring your syllabus: tasks make sure students focus on the important information they need about your class.
Setting goals: students will reflect on their strengths and weakness and set goals for the course.
Classroom expectations: tasks at this station ask students to individually reflect on the expectations they have of you, and the expectations you can have of them. Then, they work together to suggest ideas for a classroom code of conduct.
Interviewing Classmates: here students talk to their station-mates, getting to know them better and practicing speaking skills.
Making suggestions: tasks ask students to individually reflect on things they have enjoyed-and learned from-in other classes. Then, they will work together to suggest ideas for your class. This is a win-win: you get inspiration and they feel like they have a voice.
Six word memoir: at this station, students will reflect on a significant memory or event from their lives and write a six word memoir.
Learning Styles: here the kids will explore their preferred learning style and temperament.
Do I use both of these? Yes. Our first day usually includes an assembly and activities organized by student council, so the getting-to-know you activity is perfect for the amount of time we have. Then, on the second day I use the stations to introduce the course and my expectations.
Interested in more activities for active learning?
Let me know if you have any questions, and be sure to grab the free activity: click here.