August 6, 2022
When do you go back to school? Whether you start in August or September, here are 12 amazing activities that you can get to know your students the first couple of weeks of school. After all, back to school is a great time for teachers and students to build relationships and a create a welcoming environment for all students.
Sharena from The Humble Bird Teacher enjoys giving students stories an opportunity to read short stories or passages about relatable situations that students could have found themselves in on the first day. For example, her students in the past enjoyed reading the short story titled “Maria’s First Day of Middle School.” In this story, Maria finds herself not having such a good morning after she decided not to bring an umbrella with her on her walk to school.
After students read the short story, they answer reading comprehension questions about it. They also complete activities that help them evaluate their first day. This assignment is an excellent way to get your middle school students talking about their first day of school experiences.
You can find “Maria’s First Day of Middle School” here. It’s FREE!
Samantha from Samantha in Secondary has a tried-and-true method for starting the school year off right: email etiquette.
At first glance, it doesn’t SOUND like the most exciting topic. However, when you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that taking this route to start your school year off serves quite a few purposes- all of them purposeful and even fun!
Wouldn’t it be nice to get pleasant, professional emails from your students all year long? Here is a little secret: you can! Starting off with an email etiquette lesson sets the expectation for your inbox, you’ll be surprised at the lovely emails you get all year long!
So, here is the strategy: start with just a few notes on professional email writing. (Do NOT overdo it.) Then, a student-favorite part, show examples and non-examples. (Take time to exaggerate the non-examples. Students eat this up!) Samantha uses emails from real former students for this which also adds another level of hilarity. Then, check for understanding in a no-stakes way. (A Google Forms quiz? A little thumbs up, thumbs down? Something very quick and easy!) Finally, practice! Have students write professional emails to a friend or family member and also YOU. Have them add tidbits about themselves so you can get to know them. Students are much more likely to share when it’s in writing. You can have students practice on paper if you’re limited on technology or you can have them send real emails. (Create a special folder for all of the ones that flood your inbox so you can read them all when you’re ready.)
Now, you’ve accomplished several first day tasks without even needing to read the syllabus. You’ve voiced expectations, taught routines and procedures, got to know a little bit about your students, AND got a sneaky writing sample. You rockstar teacher, you!
CANVA FOR EDUCATION
In her classroom, Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching likes to overlap as many “have to dos” and “want to dos” as possible. Students have to learn how to navigate their Chromebooks and create using Canva in her class, so why not overlap that into a fun get to know you activity at the same time?
Since technology is a huge part of her classroom, Amanda gets students creating early. Her new favorite lesson is “My 15 Second Life Story”. Using their Canva for Education accounts, students use this free template to create a 15 second video of their lives. From video to pictures to music, students have full creative control over designing and creating this first little story of their lives.
Once they’ve created, students can then share with just their teacher (and practice their routine of turning things in correctly) or they can share through a gallery walk or stations type of exercise. This one is a quick win and even gives teachers a chance to discuss and share that this class will be about so much more than just reading and writing.
50 OBJECTS TO REPRESENT ME
Who doesn’t love a list? And who doesn’t love an easy-to-implement first week of school activity??
Krista from @whimsyandrigor knows how important both of these things are in her middle school classroom, which is why she starts the year off with 50 Objects to Represent Me.
It sounds simple enough-students generate a list of 50 words/phrases that best represent who they are and what they are into. But then they have to narrow that list down to the 5 most important aspects. And then they have to narrow it down to 1 single word that best describes who they are. Talk about a challenge that gets kids to flex their analytical skills before they even crack open a book!
Krista created a handout you can print and use right away and you can snag it right here and give yourself a high five because you have a plan to set the tone for student-centered learning from the first days!
Plus, the handout can be used for ANY topic throughout the year. That means after they analyze themselves, they can apply the concept to a character from a novel to really dive deep into what makes that character tick.
Who doesn’t love an activity that can be used for multiple purposes??
ELA REVIEW GAMES AND BINGO
Molly from The Littlest Teacher knows those first few days back to school are filled with all sorts of preparation for the year to come. But she likes to include a bit about the previous year with a series of short review games. The games can ask students what they remember about different ELA terms and definitions, as well as about grammar, including parts of speech and punctuation.
Put together a list of all the terms and definitions you want to review, then pick a few easy-to-play review games (these are some student favorites). If you want to save time with a done-for-you ELA terms glossary plus a collection of games, check out this versatile resource.
Once your materials are ready, the fun begins for students as they play BINGO or balloon tennis, the unfair game, or even a simple game of matching. Students have some fun during, what can sometimes be, a stressful week. And it provides you with useful information to help students. Observe as they review to see what needs specific review and whether that’s for the whole class or smaller groups. The input from these games gives you options for added meaningful work beyond those first few days of class.
Adding some fun and play in those early days is a great way to build community in your classroom from day one! As a bonus these community-building games are filled with ELA-focused content that help students and you too!
INFERENCES WITH IMAGES
Lesa from SmithTeaches9to12 assesses students’ skills to establish a baseline to measure future growth in skills. A main skill that’s integral to English and particularly literary analysis is inferencing. To that end, Lesa provides a diagnostic – get that freebie here – and then incorporates more stories such as these to assess and to encourage the development of students’ inference skills.
To develop skills beyond the diagnostic, Lesa includes partially obscured images as bell ringers. Search for interesting and free images from sites such as Pixabay or Unsplash. Use terms such as mystery, action, or whatever subject your students might be interested in to find photos. Then add an image to a slide but cover part of it with a shape or, as a printable, print the image and cut it in half and only present one half. Students examine the image to infer the full picture. Lesa likes to have students write their observations, ‘guesses’ and rationale on a sticky note. Once students work through the process, reveal the full image.
Developing inference skills is a topic that’s near and dear to Lesa’s (academic skills) heart so head over to this post to read more.
Building a strong classroom community begins on Day One and requires dedication and consistency. Katie from Mochas and Markbooks likes to set the tone at the beginning of a new semester by engaging her students through challenges and games that foster teamwork, and interpersonal skills. By gamifying aspects of your lesson, you can help students feel more comfortable to interact and be a part of a team or pairing.
Another benefit of including games in your classroom is that they act as a low-risk vehicle to help students get to know one another and view different topics from each other’s perspectives.
Some effective ways to break the ice at the beginning of the school year could include:
- Two Truths and a Lie
- Would You Rather?
- 21 Questions
- Get To Know You Bingo
- Who Am I?
If you’d like to use “Would You Rather” questions on the first day, or throughout the semester, check out Katie’s slides here.
THE READING JOURNEY
How do you quickly get to know your students as readers? Carolyn from Middle School Cafe knows as a secondary ELA teacher you’ve got to quickly and accurately get to know your students as readers.
There is so much curriculum to get through, but Carolyn knows that if she doesn’t start the year slow and understand how her students feel about reading, she may never get to make the impact she desires on her students’ love of reading.
Carolyn uses a variety of activities in the first weeks of school to help her students think about their own reading Journey. These activities give her valuable information about how her new group of students feel about reading, what they like/dislike about reading and gives her a writing sample which will help inform her writing instruction
Carolyn includes activities such as surveys, one-pagers and prompts for a written response. Each activity asks the student to share a little bit about their reading history and gives Carolyn a starting point as she launches Reader’s Workshop each fall.
You can learn more about these activities here.
COMBINE CONTENT AND GET TO KNOW YOU ACTIVITIES
There are lots of meaningful ways to get to know your students and their skills, plus ways for them to get to know your classroom routines and structures. Staci from Donut Lovin’ Teacher thinks it is important to model these practices while also easing right into content!
Want to review figurative language? Have students create similes and metaphors that describe their personality traits. Starting with a narrative unit? Focus on characterization and the difference between a dynamic and a flat character. Ask students to show evidence about themselves that proves they are dynamic or flat. Need to assess students’ comprehension skills? Write a biography about yourself and have students respond to literal and inferential questions about you! Symbolism? No problem, have students try out this Free Meet Me in Emojis Activity to practice and create symbols that represent them or grab all 5 Digital Back To School Activities to help you and your students connect.
DISCOVERING WHO YOUR STUDENTS ARE WITH A POEM
When it comes to getting to know her students, Dr. Yaddy Walantas from Yaddy’s Room likes to give students a glimpse into the expected rigor of class and learn about who they are through poetry. A great way to do this is by using Clint Smith’s poem “Meteor Shower” to learn about who students are, where they come from, and where they think they want to go in life.
Smith’s poem offers a great opportunity for students to connect to the poem while also beginning to learn how to analyze poems for imagery and diction. Yaddy loves to do this by reading the poem with students then completing a SMILE (structure, meaning, imagery, language, and effect) graphic organizer. Then students create a one pager using a scaffolded template. And finally, students get a chance to sum up their learning, and maybe even show off those dance skills they learned over summer, by creating a TikTok.
You can check out Yaddy’s lesson here.
READING YANKEE SWAP
Yankee Swap isn’t just for Christmas time! Olivia from Distinguished English actually breaks out this classic during the first week of school! Also known as White Elephant or Dirty Santa, Yankee Swap can actually be a fun game to introduce your students to your classroom library.
First, wrap a bunch of books in your classroom library like presents (or put them in brown paper bags). Then have your students take turns choosing wrapped books OR stealing an unwrapped book from a classmate. You’ll notice it quickly becomes clear which types of books are already popular with your students and which ones might need a little extra love with Book Talk Tuesdays or First Chapter Fridays.
If you’d like to take the activity a step further, you can even have your students use these handouts to keep track of the books that they might like to read in your classroom this year.
This game is a great way to get your students excited about reading and introduce them to the different types of books in your classroom library.
Sometimes, the classics is where it’s at! Simply Ana P loves to come up with some new resources each year that keep up with the trends, but she also is a diehard fan of the ever-relevant activities, like six-word stories 🙂
Starting off the year talking to students about word currency, the power of carefully constructed lines, and vivid imagery is a great way to get them thinking about the art of writing very early on. Many teachers use the “About Me” narrative essay to get things started, and while that is a great assignment, Ana first likes to allow her students to dip their toes in the water with only six words. It’s also a great place to stick in a quick lesson on punctuation.
You can grab the instructions she gives to her students HERE. She recommends spending extra time reviewing the difference between a 6-word sentence and the art of a 6-word story. For instance, one of the example slides says, “Sandy toes, crashing waves, soul full” instead of something like, “The beach is my happy place.” Both hold the same meaning, but there is a clear difference in artistic description.
Having students run a couple of edits and re-writes or allowing them to peer-edit these before final submissions is also a fantastic idea. Lastly, you can have them do a gallery walk, physically or digitally, and give anonymous feedback to each other and/or vote on favorites, etc. You can even print them out and hang them as classroom decor 🙂
Later in the school year, you can revisit this lesson and have students write 6-word stories to describe characters, recap texts, or do something related to a holiday season.