First Day Activities

I recently left a comment online answering someone’s question about what they should do on the first day of school. I thought I’d post it here, in case it might help someone.

  • I usually stand at the door to greet the kids. Oftentimes parents will walk the kids to the classroom and want a picture of the kid with the teacher, or will just want to chat with you, and it’s easier to keep the parent out of the classroom (by the time they’re in fifth grade, that is; I know parents of younger kids want to come in and visit…) so that the student can begin to get settled. Help them find their seats.

  • Have name tags on the desks (or just write directly on the desks with a Sharpie paint pen) along with something for the students to work on. I usually have some sort of “about me” or “getting to know you” thing.

  • At our school, the kids come in lugging Wal-Mart bags bursting with supplies and the first thing the kids want to do is take everything out. However, certain items are kept in certain places in the room, so I tell the kids upfront not to unpack supplies yet. Just sit and get to work.

  • Unpack supplies with them as a class, and do it item by item, if possible. Like, “You all should have five composition notebooks. Grab one that’s going to be your reading journal, and let’s label it.” I always print out labels for EVERYTHING (item labels, such as reading notebook, and student name labels) so it’s easy to identify.

  • Once we actually begin, I try to give the kids a little heads-up about the great year we’re going to have and some of the awesome things we’re going to do. I’ll give a little intro like, “This year, you are going to read more than you’ve ever read before, and you’ll learn how to deal with a moose attack!” (We read “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen.) “We’ll also take a virtual trip to the beach” (science – landforms and oceans unit) “and by the end of the year, you’ll be learning algebra.” (That always gets them excited because they think of algebra as high school work!) Pump them up about what a great year it will be.

  • This is my ninth year, and I’ve found that it works best to go ahead and teach on the first day. Yes, you have to teach procedures, yes, you have to go over routines. But you can do this while introducing the students to the content. For example, during our reading time on the first day, I’ll read a book like “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes (about a little mouse’s first day of kindergarten, so it’s relevant). I use it to teach story structure or whatever, and as I’m teaching the lesson, I can explain procedures. For example, “Now that we’ve finished our mini-lesson, we’ll move to reading groups. This is what we’ll do every day. Let’s practice it now.” So you’re actually doing the things as you’re going over them. The students DO NOT want to sit and listen to explanations of procedures for 7 hours, but that’s what some teachers at my school do. Let them move around! You won’t have textbooks assigned yet, but it’s still a good idea to have a little beginning activity for each subject just so they get used to doing what they need to do. I love giving my kids a handful of social studies notes on the first day. Not much at all, but it gives you a minute to breathe while they’re copying notes, and it helps them see that fifth grade is no joke; they will have to work hard.

  • I always introduce my classroom library on the first day. We discuss how the books are organized and how to find the one you’re looking for. We also go over how to reshelve books you’ve read. I usually share some of my favorites, and let the kids go ahead and grab books they’re interested in reading.

  • Lining up – practice early and practice often. Decide if you want your kids to line up in a certain order. Mine are alphabetical, always. When they go through the lunch line or to the computer lab they have to be alphabetical, so in my opinion, it’s easier to do it all the time. Practice, though, because you’ll see that maybe the spot they line up in isn’t the best spot. Maybe they’re like my kids who try to squeeze so close to the front of the line that they’re basically all a big jumble. I have assigned spots – “you’re next to the edge of the bookshelf; you’re next to cubby number 17” to keep our line from getting squished. I know it seems like micromanaging, but it really helps the kids learn how to line up properly. If you don’t deal with it early you’ll be fighting that battle all year.

  • Early in the day, make sure you know how everyone is getting home. You don’t want a kid hopping on the bus if they’re supposed to be picked up in carline, or vice versa.

  • I’ve never felt that it was necessary to do the “find someone in the class who __” type of assignments because typically, the kids have gone to school together for five years, so they pretty much all know each other. Unless you just need a quick break, it’s usually unnecessary.

  • Also, be careful if you give them some sort of questionnaire to fill out about themselves. My “about me” things are pretty easy – “favorite book” and “favorite sport” and involves a lot of coloring. You don’t always know what level they’re on. I had a student who started out this year (in fifth grade) on a kindergarten level. You don’t want to crush their self esteem by giving them work they can’t do on the first day.

So there you go! That’s what works for me on the first day of school. Got anything to add?

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