August 7, 2023

9 No Prep, No Stress Ideas For Your First Day Of School

The first day of school is not the day to do something complicated or important. Instead I plan a series of no prep getting to know you activities.

The pressure to do just the right activity on the first day of school is overrated. You’ll likely have some first day jitters whether it is your first year of teaching or your twenty first. There will be some hiccup with the schedule or new students being processed. It’s not the day to do something complicated or introduce anything that will matter.

Instead I plan a series of no prep getting to know you activities. It doesn’t matter if one period is shorter or longer than another and I don’t get through all of the activities (my school often does an extended homeroom on the first day which means that first class has less time with me than classes later in the day). I also don’t end up prepping any materials or make copies of anything I might not get to use. I want day one to be all about getting to know students and helping them feel comfortable in the classroom without me feeling rushed or stressed out.

Break The Ice With A Snowball Fight

On the first day, I have students’ desks numbered and ask students to fill them in starting with number one. I like to put off making seating charts as long as possible, but also don’t want students to feel awkward or uncomfortable choosing a seat.

The first activity I do is a “snowball fight.” Each student is given a piece of scrap paper to write two questions on, silly or serious, but of course school appropriate. At my signal all of the students toss their snowball somewhere around the room and then, again at my signal, they get up out of their seat to retrieve a snowball.

Students turn to the student closest to them, and then I give them 3-5 minutes to ask and answer each other’s questions (you could repeat the throw, partner up, and ask and answer the questions as many times as you’d like) and then countdown for them to return to their seats. This is a great time to discuss your expectations for transitions and introduce your method(s) for getting students’ attention.

Fingers Up For Rank It

The next activity is individual and students are back at their seats. Throughout the first day I try to balance individual versus group activities, and seated activities versus ones where students are moving around the room. In “Rank It” students hold up a number of fingers to show how much they like or dislike something. I read off a list of items like the color blue, the Philadelphia Eagles, Reese’s peanut butter cups, running, wearing shoes, TikTok, riding the bus, winter, Legos, our school.

I use this as an opportunity to share a little about myself and I’ll ask 1-2 students a follow up question based on their ranking. If your students already know each other, you could also have them look around the room and name someone with the same ranking.

Four Corners For More Movement

The next activity could be done as a “Stand Up, Sit Down “ activity if you want students to remain at their seats and just show whether they agree or disagree, but I do it as a “Four Corners” activity with students able to choose agree, disagree, strongly agree, or strongly disagree. I find that movement helps a lot with first day jitters. As I read each statement, students stand up to show that they agree, remain seated to disagree, or move to the corner that best indicates their opinion. My statements include things like: The night is better than the day, cinnamon smells good, playing a game is fun only when you win, and summer is the best season of the year.

You’ll notice that the previous activities didn’t require any materials except for scrap paper in the first activity and maybe signs to label the four corners of your room. The next two activities will require index cards and that is it. The rest won’t require anything.

A Tower Of Things In Common

The first activity using index cards is a group activity. Students write down things they have in common as a group, one commonality per index card, and then use those index cards to build the tallest tower possible in a set amount of time. I try not to interfere much during this activity, but will start prompting groups to begin building their tower if the time is getting close to the end. This is a great activity for observing students’ personalities: who takes the lead and who hangs back as well as who the out of the box thinkers are.

Observe The Teacher & Classroom

The second activity using index cards allows students to get to know you and you classroom. First each student gets an index card and divides it into inferences and questions. I give students about five minutes to observe the room, either from their seat or by walking around looking at things (I set parameters about whether they can open cabinets and closets, touch things on my desk, etc.). I also emphasize that this is a silent, independent observation time and they’ll have time to share their thoughts afterward.

When the five minutes is up and students have returned to their group, each group gets one new index card and must come to a consensus of their top three inferences and top three questions. I collect those cards and depending on time, I’ll confirm or deny their inferences and answer their questions then or save them for down time later in the week.

Smile For The Camera

At this point ideally I like to take students outside to take first day photos and do some activities that can get a little rowdy for the indoors. If there’s not an outdoor space available you, you could use your gymnasium or multi-purpose area. If you stay in your classroom, you may want to move the furniture around to clear some space.

I print the pictures I take on the first day to give to parents at back to school night along with a poem students write at the start of the year. I include those same photos in our end of year slideshow so students can see how much they've grown and changed. Along with an individual shot of each student, I also take some group shots and hang those in the classroom at the beginning of the year.

Battle It Out

The first activity we do outdoors is a rock, paper, scissors battle. Students pair off and do a best of three to determine the winner. The loser then becomes the winner's cheerleader and the pair finds another pair to face off against. This continues until there is just one winner. As you can imagine, this can get quite noisy with all of the cheering, but if you are doing it indoors, you can instruct students to whisper.

Circle Up

The second activity we do outdoors is called "All My Friends." One student stands at the center of a circle made up of the other students and calls out "all of my friends like" followed by something the like. A food: pizza, a color: blue, an activity: ice skating, anything! Any student that likes that same thing must step out of the circle and find a new spot. The last student to find a new spot is the new caller at the center of the circle. If you are doing this in the classroom, students could make a circle with chairs or on the floor.

Get Together

The third and final activity we do outdoors is called "Eye to Eye." A caller calls out a number and a body part, such as "four toe to toe." This means that four students must get together in a group with their toes touching each other. Anyone who does not make it into a group of four can be eliminated of those students can give the caller their idea for the next round and then join back in. If it is a hot day, as students are eliminated I give them a cool treat and a chance to sit in the shade to relax.

You can find a slideshow outlining all of these activities here. Go to "File," "Make a Copy" to add a copy to your own Google Drive that you can edit to fit the needs of your classroom.

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