If you’re like me, you like to keep the first week of school reserved for community building, teaching your procedures and routines, and having FUN! We are normally required to begin district assessments, the first week or two, so I usually wait to start our curriculum and actual instruction until later in week two or even week three. There’s all year for that, and you can’t get your first week of school back! Here are some lessons and activities that start my year off right.
First things first, our classroom is a safe and fun community.
It’s extremely important to me that I foster a strong sense of community right away. I want my students to leave my classroom at the end of the year loving learning and feeling safe and confident in themselves. This is more important, in my opinion, than any subject matter that they learn throughout the year. Over the years, I’ve found the perfect activities that reinforce this goal.
How Full is your Bucket?
This is one of my favorite books to read to my students. You can find it here. It’s great for the first day of school and for pulling out from time to time when the teacher doctor prescribes it. It’s all about how when we not only receive compliments, but when we GIVE compliments and spread kindness, our buckets are filled. I teach the students that our imaginary buckets are like our hearts and that we need to spread kindness so that our hearts may be full.
After reading, I put the kids in groups of five. I then encourage them to talk amongst themselves, organically, for a set amount of time. This is important if they have never met each other or if you have any new students. Afterwards, I give each student 4 “drops” to write on. You can download my template for FREE! Students have to write a compliment or some kind words on each drop – one for each of the kids in their group. Finally, they exchange drops and fill each other’s buckets. You can choose to have them keep their drops in their desks for little personal reminders when they need them, or, cut out construction paper buckets for each student and glue the drops onto them for a cute bulletin board display at Back to School Night.
Springboard: Ultimately, I use this activity as a springboard to introduce our classroom bucket. I made a cutout of a large bucket with 30 little velcro pieces and 30 little water droplet cutouts with velcro affixed to them as well. Each time my class shows kindness as a whole, or receives a compliment from someone else, they earn a drop. I stick a drop onto the bucket posterboard, starting at the bottom and then working towards the top of the bucket. This really helps promote good behavior on the playground, in the hallways, and in other teachers’ classes (PE, music, etc.). When they fill their bucket with all 30 drops, they get to choose a prize like movie day, pajama day, fort-building day, etc.
Give the students a voice when it comes to rules and procedures.
Our Ideal Classroom
I love this activity for the first day because it brings the students together and gives them the opportunity to collaboratively provide input into how our classroom will run for the year. First, I read Miss Nelson is Missing. After, we brainstorm about what a good classmate looks like and sounds like, and what a good classmate does NOT do, while writing responses on an anchor chart. From there, I talk about the importance of being a good classmate. After, I create a circle map anchor chart with the words “Our Ideal Classroom” written in the middle. I have the students talk amongst one another about what, in their opinion, makes an ideal (or perfect) classroom. They share and I add to our map.
Springboard: This is a springboard for creating a list of classroom rules. After the circle map is completed, kids work together to narrow down the top 3 or top 5 most important pieces needed in order to have an ideal classroom. We then work together to turn those into positive classroom rules on a new chart. We starts the rules with “Be” or “Always” instead of “Never” or “Do not”. Once the rules are completed, have the kids sign the chart and hang it where the kids can reference it all year long. I think this is far more beneficial than just telling them what your classroom rules are.
Introducing Growth Mindset
My class is huge on growth mindset. I’ve been incorporating growth mindset into my teaching for a few years now, and it’s amazing to see and hear the difference it makes in a child’s learning. I like to emphasize on the first day of school that mistakes are valuable and that everybody makes them. They are learning opportunities. I also like to teach about long and short term goals and how to use a growth mindset to achieve them.
There are a ton of great books to read to teach about growth mindset. I love the story Giraffes Can’t Dance. After reading to the kids, we talk about all the things we can’t do…YET. I make an anchor chart with two columns: “Instead of thinking” and “Try thinking” and model positive self-talk. We then brainstorm and work together to come up with class goals for the year (long term). Afterwards, they write personal goals for themselves for something they can’t do YET. I like to have them write short term goals, so they can be updated throughout the year. In my class, the kids write them on post-it notes and stick them on our interactive anchor chart, which hangs in our classroom next to our positive talk anchor chart and some motivational posters I made.
Grab this Growth Mindset Bulletin Board and Interactive Anchor Chart here.
Get them working together and having FUN!
Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice Month Poems
I love poetry. We have a weekly poetry challenge where the kids can choose to memorize a poem and recite it on Friday for some class dollars. On the first day of school, I like to use Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice poems to teach group collaboration procedures. There is a short, quirky poem for each month of the year. I have them all printed and laminated. For the activity, I group the kids by their birthday month. If a group is too small, I merge them with another month, or I might break up groups that are too large. I then give them the poem and give them the task of presenting it using their words and bodies. They can decide how to present it. After about ten minutes or so, I call each group up to recite their poem. Some groups read from the card, some memorize, some groups all say the poem together, while others nominate one or two kids to recite. Some groups have all the kids acting it out, and some have just a few. Some groups take turns and have different roles.
Springboard: I use this activity to teach effective strategies used while working in a group. Strategies they’ll use all year long. We talk about successes and challenges while working together, and about how people bring different strengths to the table and that it’s important to facilitate those. For example, some kids are good at speaking, some are good at using their bodies, some are good at leading, while some are good at following directions. All are important when working together!
Weekly Social & Emotional Challenges
In the beginning of the year, I like to introduce something I call “Home Challenges.” They are social and emotional tasks for children to complete at home, instead of homework. (I don’t give regular homework). They are quick, fun, and easy. The challenges are things like, “write a grocery shopping list with a family member,” and “go on a nature walk and write about something you saw that was interesting.” I like to encourage kids to be kids. To get outside. To interact with their family members and communities. To have a role in their households.
Home Challenge: Read to a Shelter Pet
I hope this gives you some ideas and inspiration for the first day of school! If you know of any new teachers or teachers who may want to mix things up a bit, feel free to share this post with them!