Which day of the year will you have all eyes on you? The keenest students? The least amount of student misbehaviour? The first day of school. So, try thinking about how you can capitalize on that to engage your students in the deep thinking and exciting work you want them to do. Often we think, as teachers, that we have to set down all the expectations on the first day of school or the rest of the year will be chaos. You do have to live and model your expectations, but I’m not sure you need to talk about them. Maybe that class agreement is something to save until later in the first week. By then, I suspect your students will have already figured out your expectations and the activity will go a lot faster.
Let’s think about the first day of school from a student’s point of view. They are excited to be back and meet their new teacher and see their friends. they are excited to use their new and shiny pencil crayons. They actually WANT to do some work. But frequently it is a day of “sit and get”: one teacher after another going over the rules and expectations. Really, our rules aren’t any different than last year’s rules. And most rules are self-evident. We don’t really need to talk a lot about keeping your locker tidy since I doubt any of our students would think that our expectation was to do otherwise (although they may act that way over the course of the year!).
In some schools/classrooms, there is a feeling that we need to ease students into school with a week of fun activities. I don’t think so. First of all, they just had 10 weeks of fun activities or camps. Second, if you describe your first week as “fun”, then by default you are saying that real school is not “fun”. You may want to have a few team building activities, but I would urge you to have them be within the context of curriculum.
Why not have that first interaction with your students be challenging? Be engaging? Be creative? Set the tone for how learning will take place in your classroom. Pose a question, get them creating or writing or exploring or problem-solving. Hook your students in right away. Here are a few ideas:
- Read aloud the best short story you know, or the first chapter of the read aloud.
- Introduce writer’s workshop with idea generation activities so that they are itching to start writing. You could even start writing. Do a quick write about what you didn’t do this summer, or the best small moment, or what you wished you had done.
- Introduce a complex but open ended problem such as “How could you measure a puddle?” Or, “If all the students lay head to toe, how far would we reach?” Or, “What are all the different ways we could arrange the desks in this classroom? Why are the advantages and disadvantages?” Or, “If we all joined hands, in the whole school, could we encircle the school?”. Check out these sites for some great problems: http://learn.fi.edu/school/math2/ or www.estimation180.com or http://www.101qs.com/
- Get in teams and create an obstacle course that will challenge the rest of the students. Or, read the rules to Harry Potter’s Quidditch and figure out how to create your own version of the game (without the flying broomsticks).
- Have some equipment available and have students figure out how to move an object from point A to point B without carrying it. Or, review structures, movement and friction by having groups create a marble maze that goes the slowest. Or, provide students with a stack of newspapers and masking tape with the challenge of building a piece of furniture.
- Put out a variety of art supplies and have students begin to experiment with texture and line with mixed media. Have them create and critique a piece in the first week that can then be their jumping off point for the remainder of the year: what did they like? What would they want to do differently?
- In any subject present a problem to solve by the end of the week.
- Start the year with a week of genius hour where students can learn about and present about a passion of theirs.
- Have students create a class song on their instruments or in garage band. Show them a clip from “Stomp” and have students create their own number.
- If you teach kindergarten or grade one, you have to teach them to “read” on the first day–even if it is just a shared poem. Let me take a copy home to read to their parents.
- Just start your course–but not by lecturing, or reviewing, or a really big diagnostic test. Start by engaging your students in the kind of learning you want them to be doing all year.
I am sure for your subject area you have thousands of ideas. Often I hear teachers saying that we need to ease into school. Maybe that is not true. Maybe we should jump in with both feet and just start. When our students go home after the first day of school, we want them to go home full of excitement, joy and enthusiasm for learning. It is up to us to create those conditions. The first day of school could be the best day ever..until the second day of school.