Back to School Activities to Get to Know Your Students as Readers

July 18, 2020

I’ve done a variety of activities on the first days of school, but I keep coming back to stations. Each year I choose activities based on the message I want to send to students about what is important in my classroom, mixed with the first day/week business that needs to be accomplished. This year my focus was on getting to know my students as readers and kickstarting my independent reading routine.
I’ve done a variety of activities on the first days of school. Each year I consider what to do on the first day based on the message I want to send to students about what is important in my classroom, mixed with the first day/week business that needs to be accomplished.

This year my school had some changes in leadership and did an overhaul of our school wide systems and procedures, so our first day was spent exclusively with our homerooms with much of the time spent on introducing and reviewing these systems and procedures. We also did some get to know you activities and took first day of school pictures, but students didn’t begin attending all of their classes until day two.

Because students spent too much of day one being talked at, I knew I wanted my actual first day with students to be hands on. The previous year, I had used a reader’s survey to help get to know students and students sorted the books in our classroom library into genres as a way of previewing the books. I liked getting books into students’ hands right away, but it seemed silly to resort my nicely organized library, so I decided to do something a little different.

After giving students a quick visual tour of our classroom library and discussing the genres in it, I gave each students a book to categorize. I mostly used books that I had acquired over the summer that I had not shelved yet, but also pulled out some books that I knew were high interest. I put my genre signs out around the classroom and then students got up and placed their book with the genre sign they thought it matched. When students returned to their seat, I reviewed each stack of genres, making adjustments as needed and explaining why books didn’t fit or belonged elsewhere.

At this point some genre signs had several books next to them while others had few. While I evened out the stacks by pulling additional titles from the shelves in my classroom library, students worked on completing their reader’s survey. On the opposite side of their reader’s survey was a book dating activity. During the book dating activity, students would take a look at six different books. They would first record the title and author, rate the front cover, and give a brief explanation for their rating. Then students would read for a minute or two and record their first reaction. Finally, students would indicate their interest in reading more of the book.

Students began the book dating activity at their seats where stacks of books within one or two genres were in arms reach. Then after each speed date (I set a four minute timer), students could move to a new seat and try out another genre. I didn’t require students to move in any particular order because I wanted to make sure students got to the genres that they enjoyed, but did require students to keep things moving. At the end of the activity, I had students circle the book title they were most interested in. I set aside these books so that students in another class period would not also select them.

On day three, I wanted to continue hands-on learning in my classroom, so I set up six stations for students to rotate through during my 80 minute period. Some station activities, like my syllabus scavenger hunt, classmate quiz, and letter to your teacher, are ones I've used in the past (you can read about my first time using stations on the first day of school here), but I added in a few new additions to emphasize how important reading would be this year.

One new station was designing or decorating a bookmark. Students put their names on these and I laminated them so they would last all year. Another was setting up their ELA notebooks, including a bookshelf where students would record the titles of all of the books they'd read throughout the year. The final addition was to make sure each student had an independent reading book ready to go for the next day. Some students had already been paired with a book from the previous day's book dating activity, and could hang on to that book or peruse our classroom library. Other students needed more help so I reviewed their reader's survey with them and pulled possibilities from our classroom library for them to take a look at.
You can find all of my first day station activities, both print and digital versions, here.

I’ve done a variety of activities on the first days of school, but I keep coming back to stations. Each year I choose activities based on the message I want to send to students about what is important in my classroom, mixed with the first day/week business that needs to be accomplished. This year my focus was on getting to know my students as readers and kickstarting my independent reading routine.

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