Back to School!

Whew…the whirlwind of back to school has come and, well frankly, not gone. What a wild start to the year. So many things to do, so much normalcy to get back to, so many meetings to be had, and yet, so much fun to be had in the first days!

The district I teach in starts half way through the week so that everyone can get acclimated again without too much shock. For the first three days of school this year I focused solely on kids getting to know me, themselves, and each other. You can’t have classroom community when you don’t have communication and connections!

Here are some of the activities I did in my room for anyone looking for ways to get kids up, moving, and talking to each other!

Syllabus Sticky Notes
We’ve all been there. The teacher that just reads from the syllabus. Hey, if this works for you and the kids are engaged, you do you, boo boo! I would be lying if I said I never did this. I definitely was a syllabus reader the first two years of my teaching career. These kids weren’t listening. SO instead, they ask me questions! I give each student a sticky note. They are to ask at least one question about class. I even let them ask questions about me (the wildest this got this year was, “Do you have any pets?”). Most questions come out as, “What are we going to learn in class?”, “What kind of work do we do in here?”, “What is the cell phone policy?”, “What is your policy on late/missing work?”
I have students come stick the notes on the board and I start going through them. More times than not, this sparks conversation and more questions for the kids to ask me about the course. I then hand them their syllabus and tell them to have their parents to sign it and return it. This way I am answering their most interested questions.

Get To Know You Answers
This is a tried and true exercise. I have students go around the room one-by-one and say their name, grade, and an interesting/cool/unusual fact about themselves. Some might see this as boring, I see it as safe for Day 1. It helps the kids to get comfortable sharing out. Sometimes I even use their interesting/cool/unusual facts in lessons later on.

About Me and Marketing Playlist
I have students fill out a small half sheet of “About Me” topics. This way I can be sure to have their favorite candies on hand when I give out treats for winning Kahoots, competitions, answering questions when it’s a tough day in class and no one seems to be awake…can I get a pulse check?! Also, if someone is having a bad day, I might pull out their form and find something to talk to them about that I know they like.
On the back of this page, I have students write 2-3 of their favorite SCHOOL APPROPRIATE songs…they’re high schoolers, things can get weird quick. I put together the playlist and when they’re working on projects or independent work throughout the year I’ll play the playlist. That way they’re getting to hear songs and artists they enjoy, and I MIGHHHTTT throw in a few songs of my own liking as well! This helps keep the mood light and fun. Most times, kids will start guessing who put what song on the playlist or call out, “HEY! This is a song I chose!” It gives a sense of ownership and makes them feel a small warm, fuzzy for the day!

Think Outside the Box Drawing
I gave students a piece of copy paper. They folded it in half then in half again, giving themselves 4-squares. (This cut back on paper usage for the next two days.) I drew part of a drawing on the board and told them to finish the drawing in one of the squares on their paper. I wish I had remembered to take a picture of the board! I had drawn the top half of a bunny head, the ears and the top of the head connecting them. The first thought is it is a bunny, hands down! That’s the goal. I told them it was not a bunny (or a rabbit for those kids that think they’re slick) and that they could turn the drawing however they wanted to complete their drawing! I turned on a 4-minute timer and said, “GO!”
I turned mine upside down and drew Mr. Krabs from Spongebob. I had one kid make theirs into a windmill, another into a city skyline, another turned theirs into tombstones in a graveyard. The imaginations were FLOWING! BINGO! GOAL ACHIEVED!

Plane Crash and Life Boats – Who Will Save You Now?!
After students found their personality directions, they had to work with the students just like themselves!
I give students this hypothetical scenario that they have survived a plane crash and are now in a life boat trying to get home. I give them a list of 9 people…celebrities, random people, and staff from school. They are to list and rank their top 7 choices for their life boat to help them return home to safety. They have to have a reason why they chose these people, and why they chose to leave of the 2 people they left off. I usually give them 6 minutes to complete their list. Once done, each group shares out. It is hilarious to hear who they put first or last, or why they leave a specific person off the boat. Sometimes their reasoning is GENIUS. Other times, it leaves me speechless. No two groups answer the exact same. This is definitely a HUGE talking activity and gets them to know each other in the problem-solving sense.
*They put their list in another square on their 4-square paper from the beginning of class.*

Name Pictionary
Students had to pick another square on their paper and draw their name, but not with letters! They had to choose objects that begin with the same letter as the respective letter in their name and draw it. For example: BREANNE – boat, raindrop, ear, apple, nose, nest, elephant
Hearing them help each other was the highlight of this activity. Someone might call out, “What is an object that starts with Y?!” Others would start giving ideas and help. If students didn’t already somewhat know each other’s names, I would have students do a gallery walk or post them for others to guess names based on drawings!

Tattoo Parlor
When I assured them I would not be tattooing them in class, there were a few letdown groans. I’m no artist, nor do I own a tattoo. In the 3rd square of their 4-square paper, students had 12 minutes to draw a tattoo that best represented them. Again, if classmates were to look at this without knowing who had drawn it, they would be able to make very educated guesses based on what they saw drawn, and knowing their classmates. Instead, when time was up, I had students hold up their drawings for me to see. I was able to see some extreme imagination in these drawings, and I was able to learn a little more about my students and what they like! It was a really cool exercise. Most of them were super excited to share theirs!

Classmate Bingo
I created a bingo board with random statements that could be found about kids all over the classroom. Some examples are “is left handed”, “went on vacation this summer”, “has a birthday in July”, etc. I try to choose things I know or learned from their About Me sheets they fill out day one. I have two winners. The first to get a traditional bingo and the first to fill up their board. They can fill in one square themselves and can only use a classmate to fill in two squares before they have to keep looking. They get to know each other better. I always tell them, “I can’t stand when you guys have been in class with each other for years and don’t know names!” So this helps with that!

I feel like these games and activities help to break the ice and the nerves of the first days. Especially as kids are moved in and out of classes as schedules get fixed and rearranged. It also gives me a chance to get a fill for the year ahead! HAPPY BACK TO SCHOOL!


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