I know many teachers have already had their first day (or week) of school and I’m sure you had lots of wonderful activities, read alouds, get to know yous, and interactions planned. I am planning for my first day of school next week and reflecting on some of the activities I’ve used in the past that I know I want to use again. Here are some of my favorites:
Name related activities: Name activities are the best. They provide an opportunity for you to learn about your students and ask them how they would like to be addressed in class. They also create a chance for you to share something about yourself while learning about students’ identities. Here are some of my favorites:
Create your Name: this activity was inspired by SEED. Have your students create their name in a way that feels good to them, using whatever materials you have on hand. Then, take students’ photos holding their “name masterpieces” and get students’ photos up in your classroom or school!
Name Stories: these are always fascinating, validating, and so much fun! I always introduce name stories with a read aloud (see name related read aloud ideas below), and then give students prompts to interview each other and ask about the story of their name. Students can share as much as they like or choose to focus on one aspect of their name that feels good to them.
What’s Your Name Worth? This is a great Math activity that helped me start the year by seeing how my 3rd grade mathematicians approached a puzzle. For 3rd graders, we gave them a chart showing all of the letters in the alphabet and a corresponding value in cents (for example, a is worth one cent, b is worth 2 cents, etc), but you can create your own chart with negative and positive values, Math problems, or really whatever works for you and your students. Once students found the value of their name, they could choose a teacher’s or family member’s name and then had to try and find names worth exactly twenty five cents or a dollar.
Name related read alouds (for the chapter books, you can read an excerpt of the relevant part): A House on Mango Street, Brown Girl Dreaming, Thundercloud Jr., The Name Jar, The Favorite Daughter, My Name is Yoon, My Name is Maria Isabel - and there are so many more!
Once you’ve learned everyone’s names and what they would like to be called, here are some other first week(s) of school activities that build community, rapport, engagement, and help you best support your students.
Start a read aloud: We start a chapter book on the first day of school and it engages students in a shared reading experience from the very beginning of our time together. We read Save Me a Seat for our first read aloud last year and it was a perfect back to school book that fit into so many of the things we talked about (our needs as learners, our classroom contract, goal setting, appropriate challenge, and more)
I Wish My Teachers Knew: give your students the opportunity to share their thoughts and concerns with you.
Numbers Important to Me: we use this activity to introduce our Math binders. The cover of your Math binder is your “Numbers Important to Me” page. Students choose a paper color and then write (and decorate) numbers and why they are important to them. For example, “5 - because I have 5 people in my family.” Make sure you make an example so your students can learn about you as well.
Top Ten Lists: read The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School for inspiration and then make a “Top Ten Things to Know About [insert your name]” list. Again, make an example to share!
Letter to Yourself: this can be a wonderful first day or week homework assignment (for older students) or an in class activity. Have students write letters to themselves making predictions about the school year. Seal them in individual envelopes, put them away, and then give to them on the last day of school. This can also be a great tool for goal setting!
Hopes & Dreams: set hopes and dreams for this school year. I always model with one of my own and try to have one that is social emotional focused and one that is about learning or trying something new. Then, use your students’ hopes and dreams to move into creating classroom rules and goal setting (more ideas and details are available from Responsive Classroom).
Happy Teachers' New Year everyone!