The First Days of School

These discussion cards are GREAT to get students moving and talking.  They LOVE them.  Grab them HERE.
Back to school time (despite the inevitable stress) is honestly one of my very favorite times of year.  There is just so much newness and a clean slate for everyone.  I can't resist the back to school section at Target and I most definitely can't resist freshly sharpened pencils.

I love it all.

For the few weeks or so of school, I always try to plan activities that are engaging, promote collaboration, and give students the chance to understand and practice the expectations of our room.

I will say that I *always* follow the same structure, even the first few days of school.  We do morning meeting, ELA, recess, math, science or social studies, lunch, read to self, and writing (in that order) every single day.  I mix these activities in throughout and it's always been successful with us.

The following are some of my favorites each year!

Make Your Own Name Tags

I usually pick up some packs (I buy extra and use them throughout the year for new students or lost name tags) in the Target dollar spot.  Once I have my class list, I type their names in a font that allows them to color in or design the letters.

For the first ten days of school, I move these name tags to new seats every morning.  When they come in, they find their tag and try out that seating option for the day.

This is awesome because it gives them an opportunity to find what works best for them and gives ME a chance to emphasize that we pick PLACES and not PEOPLE.  You can read more about our flexible seating HERE.

After the ten days, I have them use these name tags as bookmarks.  When we have a substitute, they know to pull them out.  On back to school night (a parent-only night), I have parents write their students an encouraging note on the back.  If a parent can't come, I write it for them.  Then, I laminate and these really do last all year.

Student Interest Surveys

We do these on the first day of school and I LOVE it.  To prepare, I print out one page of each question.  You can grab the posters HERE.  Super easy to print and go.  Then, I cut strips of chart stickers so that each student receives a strip.  If you don't have stickers, students could use markers and do a star or a dot in the box they select.

I hang these posters around the room and students read and respond.  This is a secret win because it's also a GREAT way to practice moving around the room, staying focused, and carefully reading the question.

Plus, it gives me a quick visual of what my students are thinking, feeling, and coming into the year wanting.  I incorporate these into morning meetings so we can discuss or share out our thoughts, too.

Morning Meetings

You can read more about our daily morning meetings HERE but know that they start on day ONE of school for us.  For the first few weeks, we also do a status of the class.  This is a powerful way to share out what's working and what we, as a group, could still work on.

The morning meeting cards (HERE) are a GREAT way to break the ice and get students talking, too.  They're high interest but low stakes so students get excited to share out, encouraging more and more of that come the content areas.


We also start our kindness wreath!  You can grab that HERE and read more about it HERE.

Along with this comes the procedural practice of coming TO the rug for morning meeting, understanding the expectations of attentive listening and active participation, and respecting one another.  It has a huge impact on setting a positive tone not only for the day but for the whole year.

Create a Class Constitution

We use the resource available in HERE to write our own constitution.  I honestly look forward to this every single year because I LOVE to see what they find important and what they value.

Once we've learned about the constitution and written our own, everyone comes up and signs this.  I bring it home and my husband ages and burns it for me.  This is sweet of him because one year, I did it myself and lit the entire thing on fire.  In my backyard.  A whole blaze.  

He took over after that.

At the end of the year, we auction this off and it goes for BIG money.  It's a piece of OUR history, for sure.

Class Cash

Speaking of auctions, we start with class cash on day one.  Granted, they know we all use this system, as they participated in market day as fourth graders.  You can read more about market day HERE.

I manage the cash box for the first week of school before hiring for jobs, thus handing this job off to my teacher assistant(s).

They decorate their wallet and receive their first payment.  You can get everything you need HERE.  It really is the crux of our classroom and works so well for us.

Class Jobs

Like I said, I wait a week until have students apply for class jobs (you can get the application HERE).  I do this because I want to watch the students and begin to get an idea about their work habits.  I take these jobs seriously (possibly too much so!) and work hard to make sure that hiring for this position will be a positive experience for them and for the class.

In the first few days of school, we use morning meeting time to go over the jobs and the description of each.  When they complete their first application, I stress the importance of spelling, punctuation, and neatness, linking it to real world experiences.  They take it seriously and I love it.  By the time they do their applications, they are SO excited to see if they'll get hired.

You can read more about our class jobs HERE.

Getting to Know You

It is SO important for me to get to know my students!  The best way is through authentic conversations but I also incorporate writing assignments.  I always model with my OWN ideas, so they can get to know me, too.

I use all the activities in THIS resource.  The visual syllabus is a fun one to do on either day one or day two of school, too!


THESE published I Am poems are the first thing to go up on our writing wall each year.  We LOVE to look back on these at the end of the year, too!

STEM and the 4Cs

It's no secret that kids love hands-on activities so I lean in heavily the first few weeks of school, finding STEM activities that promote the 4 Cs (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity).

We love this one, where they are given string, a rubber band, and plastic cups.  They have to design a machine that will stack the cups in a tower because the constraint of the task is that they canNOT touch the cups with their hands.


Another great one is to give groups (I almost always do groups of four) a piece of construction paper, a pair of scissors, and a stick of glue.  The task is to make the longest paper chain.  You will hear SO many ideas and it's a great time to remind students about grit and growth mindset!

We take the chains (delicately) outside and line them up, giving groups an opportunity to talk about strengths and weaknesses.  It's a powerful activity!

Signals and Call Backs 

This really deserves to be a the top because it's kind of incredibly crucial.  Ha!

On day one, we begin learning the different ways I use to get the attention of students.  Some of my favorites I use year after year:

Wireless doorbell: I hang mine in a hand sanitizer case, right on the arm of my document camera.  I switch up the song every so often but they know when they hear the chime, they stop and give me their eyes.  They have until the end of the chime to do so, or they pay a fine. 

Hotel bell: Similar to the chime, I ring it (I always tap it three times; it's my own weird thing, I guess) and they are expected to give me their eyes.

Call backs: I say, "Red Robin!" and they say, in unison, "Yummmm!"  There are lists and lists of these online and sometimes, we make up our own.  The easiest is, "Class, class!" and they reply, "Yes, yes!" in the same tone/intonation I used.

Chime: I love my chime.  When they hear the chime, they drop what they're doing and take a deep breath in.  They breathe in and slowly breathe out as the noise of the chime fades.  I found mine on Amazon (it's similar to THIS one).

With ALL of these, we practice like crazy people the first couple weeks of school.  Literally: practice, practice, practice.

Language Wall!

I have the first sentence of the year ready on the first day of school.  I have all the pieces displayed but we don't dig in until day 2.  Again, this shows me SO much about their prior knowledge and gives me an idea of where to start.

You can get everything you need HERE.


We also dig in to sharing out!  To get them comfortable with speaking in front of others, we start early on.  Again, this is a great opportunity to practice expectations of speaking: eye contact, loud voice, ect.

Plus, they love coming up to write on the board.

Routines, Procedures, Expectations

Honestly, I use my first few days to practice what I expect.  We practice getting our book boxes, we practice putting them back, we practice swapping out dull pencils, we practice EVERYTHING.

I stop constantly to highlight what I see, like, "Wow, I love how Grayson has all of his folders and books stacked neatly in his book box."  

Here's the thing: I truly believe that an organized, streamlined space encourages clear, productive work and thinking.  

We have anywhere from 32-34 students.  We can't be a hot mess.  So we practice and practice makes progress.  And progress makes me so happy.

You can read more about our organizational systems HERE.

If you're looking for a great print and go resource that will help your first few days of school go smoothly, grab THIS.  It gets students up, moving, talking, and thinking.

And through all of that, there's a layer of practice that helps set a positive tone and also high expectations that will be such an asset to your school year!


6 comments

  1. Do you sell these on TpT?
    kathy.gann69@gmail.com
    @crazy_grandma_teacher

    ReplyDelete
  2. You are so awesome! I’m going back to teacher after ten years off and I’m freaking out. Your easy to follow and wonderful ideas have me so excited and have calmed me! Thank you for sharing!!! ��❤️

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