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Fun Activities
Get the School Year Off
To a Good Start

Every teacher has a different approach to the first few days of school. Whatever your approach, Education World has an activity for you! Included: Thirteen activities to help teachers get to know student strengths, set the classroom tone, observe student interaction, or just provide a little fun!

What are your goals for the first days of school? Some teachers use the time for informal activities designed to help students get to know one another. Other teachers introduce class rules or establish new routines. Still others design activities that help them learn about student strengths and needs. There are as many different approaches to the first days of school as there are teachers!

Whatever your goals for the first days of school, the 13 activities in today's Education World article will help get the year off to a great start! You're sure to find a new activity or two to use, adapt, or share.

The 13 activities are divided into four categories:

  • Getting to Know Student Strengths and Skills
  • Setting the Tone
  • Discovering How They Work Together
  • Having Fun!

GETTING TO KNOW STUDENT STRENGTHS AND SKILLS

Following directions. How well do your students follow directions? Provide instructions for folding a drinking cup from a piece of paper, and see how many students can make a cup. You can use the printable template and instructions at the Origami Japanese Paper Folding Web page. Fill each complete cup with apple juice to see how many students correctly followed the directions! (You might want to conduct this particular assessment on the playground, however!)

Learning styles survey. How do the students in your class learn best? Do they learn by seeing, hearing, or doing? Invite students to discover their most successful learning strategies by taking the Modality Questionnaire provided by the Center for the Advancement of Learning at Ohio's Muskingum College.

A world of change. On the first day of school, provide students with an 11-inch by 17-inch piece of drawing paper. Challenge students to draw a map of the world and label as many countries and bodies of water as they can. Collect the maps and put them away. At the end of the school year, repeat the activity. Has a year of lessons focused on world geography and current events increased your students' knowledge of the world? (If this activity isn't appropriate for you, why not share it with a social studies or history teacher in your school?)

Time capsule. Turn empty Pringles cans or paper towel tubes into miniature time capsules. Ask each child to create a time capsule that includes such items as a handwriting sample, a hand tracing, a self portrait, and so on. At the end of the school year, compare samples from the beginning of the year with new samples.

A video keepsake. At the start of the school year, or before school starts, if possible, provide parents with a list of supplies to send to school with their children. Include on the list a blank videotape for each student. At least once a month, invite a parent volunteer to come in and videotape each student reading aloud from a favorite book. Send the videotapes home at the end of the year as a memento and as a reminder of the reading growth that happened during the course of the year.

SETTING THE TONE

Sticks and stones ... This simple activity has been making the rounds of mailing lists recently: Provide each student with a small paper cutout in the shape of a human, or have students cut out their own paper figures. Ask each student to write his or her name on the cutout. Have students form a circle. Then tell students to pass the cutouts to the person on their right. As the cutouts are passed around the circle, have each person make a small crumple or tear in the cutout or add a pencil mark. When the cutouts have made their way around the entire circle, have students try to repair their own cutouts by flattening, erasing, or taping. After the cutouts are repaired, discuss the activity. Talk about the effects of unkind words and hurt feelings. You might display the cutouts on a classroom bulletin board as a constant reminder of the effects of hurtful actions.

Illustrated student reflections. Students in middle school and above can reflect on their dreams and accomplishments with this First Day of School activity provided by an Indiana teacher. A simple illustration provides a backdrop students can use to share their dreams, their interests, and the high and low points in their lives. The activity can provide teachers with important information about students' interests, concerns, and goals; teachers can use the information to determine how best to direct students and provide for their individual needs.

I Wish I Were a Butterfly. Students across the grades will enjoy this book, written by James Howe and illustrated by Ed Young. A cricket longs to be a pretty butterfly until a spider teaches her that all friends are beautiful. Read the book aloud, and then discuss the story's message.

DISCOVERING HOW THEY WORK TOGETHER

Surveys and graphs. Start the year with a survey activity in which students get to know one another as they create simple bar or picture graphs. Students work in pairs or small groups to collect responses to a class survey, and then they graph the results. Older students can develop their own survey questions; younger students might collect data in response to questions provided by the teacher. Questions might include the following:

  • When you bring lunch to school, how do you carry it?
  • If you were to carry a thermos bottle to school, what would be in it?
  • What is your favorite sandwich?
  • How do you get to school most days?
  • What is your best subject in school?
  • How many miles do you live from school?
  • What is your favorite snack?
  • What was your favorite summer movie?

After students collect the data, they create a simple graph to display the results of their survey. One student in each pair or group can then report the findings while another explains the graph. Display the graphs on a bulletin board for all to see!

An average day. Challenge students to compute class "averages." Have students work in pairs or small groups to collect, calculate, and report on the average age, shoe size, height, family size (and so on!) of the students in your class.

HAVING FUN!

Personalized classroom calendar. Every classroom has a calendar. Why not personalize your classroom calendar with photographs of your students? First, make a calendar pocket chart with seven columns (one for each day of the week) and five rows (so the chart can handle months with five weeks). Then have students make signs with the numbers 1 to 31 on them. The numbers should be large enough to be clearly seen from a distance. Use a disposable camera to take a picture of each student holding one of the numbered signs. Slip the photographs into the pockets on the calendar. Change the calendar each month!

Back-to-school ABC book. This is an activity that can be done across the grades! Share with students some ABC books from the school or town library and tell them that they will be working together to create a Back-to-School ABC Book. Assign a letter of the alphabet to each student. Brainstorm with students possible words for each letter or allow each student to choose his or her own word. Explain that the words must be related to activities associated with school. Of course, the difficulty of the words will vary, depending on the grade level of the students. For example, A might be represented by the words art, abacus, attendance, algebra, addition, advisor, athletics, auditorium, alphabet, answer key, apple, arithmetic, announcement, award, A-V, aide, or assistant principal. Finally, have each student illustrate his or her word. Combine the pictures to create a book. Display the book in the classroom or school library. As an extra challenge, you might limit older students to choosing adjectives; no nouns allowed!

Back-to-school word search. Print a Back-to-School word search and challenge students to find the school-related words hidden in the puzzle. Or create your own word search puzzle containing the first names of all the students in your class. Go to Puzzlemaker.com's Word Search Puzzlemaker to create your puzzle.

 

Updated 7/16/12

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