The first day of school. Do you still get the tingles when you think of it? I bet your students do. You want to set just the right tone for the fresh new school year. You want to keep that excitement alive in your students. You want to let them know yours is a classroom that will be fun—but still values learning above all. So what do you plan? You probably want to start with an ice-breaker to get to know each other, then find an interactive way to get into the curriculum as soon as possible. In this post I will give some tried and tested ideas to do both in the first few days.
Sponge Activities to Get to Know Each Other:
Most of the time you have a certain amount of administrivia to deal with that prevents you from spending the important first moments of class interacting directly with your new students. If this is the case, make sure you greet each one warmly at the door and then set up a sponge activity while you take care of the enrollment procedures. Join them as soon as possible.
Partner interview: Find a fun way to pair students. For U.S. History, I use states and capitol cards that I make myself. Students have to find the person who has the capitol that matches his state. Have the pair interview each other and take notes. You may want to list a series of possible questions on the board for them to ask. Following the interview have each student introduce his partner to the class and tell some things about him. You might ask the partner to create a web about the person he interviewed or something else to show during his introduction.
Scavenger Hunt: Prepare BINGO-like cards with a description in each square. Include things like: has visited another country, hates their middle name, plays an instrument, etc. Give each student a card. They will mingle with each other and find people that match one of the descriptors. Once they find a match, they write the person’s name in the appropriate square and go on to find another match. They can write each person’s name only in one square. Play until they have a BINGO or black-out, depending on how much time you want to spend.
Concentric Conversation Circles: Have students form an inner and outer circle that faces each other. Explain that the outer circle will rotate around the inner circle at the signal. Demonstrate the half-time and time to move signal. Present a question that will be discussed by the two students facing each other. Allow 20 seconds or so for the first person to respond to it then sound the half-time signal indicating that it is the other person’s turn to answer. The half-time signal can be left out if you prefer a less formal conversation. After about 45 seconds sound the signal to move and have the outer circle rotate so they are talking with a different inner circle person. Provide a new question or discussion starter. Continue rotating as long as you wish.
Take Off/Touch Down: The teacher makes a statement such as, “I took a vacation this summer”. All students to whom the statement applies stand up (take off). Those to whom it does not apply remain seated (touch down). When teacher makes next statement, such as, “I love social studies” those to whom it applies take off and those to whom it doesn’t touch down. Hopefully no one will touch down for this question.
Learning Style Inventory: If students need to do something quietly at their desks a good first day activity is to have them take a learning style inventory. This can help you know how to better plan for them and help them gain insight into themselves. There are many available on line.
KWL About theTeacher or Class Chart: Another activity that works well while you are taking care of the administrivia is to have students complete a chart about what they already know about you or your class and what they would like to know. This can be a springboard for you to introduce yourself and your class to them.
Getting into the content:
If you are like me, you want to get into the content as soon as possible. We all know there is never enough time, so I like to introduce procedures with the content as much as possible. Here are some ideas to get started.
Group Brainstorm: You can introduce your group work procedure and have small groups work together to brainstorm answers to a series of introductory curriculum-based questions. Here are some that work well for upper grade history classes. What is history? What do we study when we study history? How do we find out about what happened in the past? What do you think were the 5 (or 10) most important events in U.S. (or world) history? Rank them in order of importance and discuss why you chose them. Who were the 5 (or 10) most important people in U.S. (or world) history? Why did you choose them? List as many reasons as you can think of as to why it is important to study history. You can make that last one a contest to see which group comes up with the most reasons. The debriefing for this activity provides a good springboard to introduce your course.
Seating Chart Map Grid: By the second day you probably have your seating chart made. Why not put it on a grid and make it like a map of the room? Tape off and label longitude and latitude lines on the floor. You can post the map, or hand it to the students when they arrive and have them find their own seats using the coordinates. Of course this only works as a review if students have been taught the grid in an earlier grade. If you want to wait until you have had a chance to teach it first, you can do this later in the year w,ith a new seating chart. Then you can do a lot more guided practice with directions and coordinates. Kids love maps that they can move into.
Class Preamble: My favorite way to introduce the class rules is to have the students write a Class Preamble. I begin with a short discussion on the purpose of a government and why society makes laws (rules). Then we read the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, clarifying the vocabulary and discussing its meaning. Next I explain that we will write our own Preamble for our Class Constitution. I then put students into groups to write a version. I provide the following template for them to complete in their own words:
We the students of Ms. Collett’s U.S. History Class, in order to__________________________________, establish________________________________, Insure_______________________________, Provide_________________________________, Promote_____________________________, and secure_______________________________,
Do ordain and establish this Constitution for the class in room 216.
You may also have them write class rules if you like. It is amazing how well they can do at that. After the groups have finished their versions, I have them write them on their Preamble on the board, or overhead. After the class has looked over each version, I allow them to vote on the one they prefer. If you have more than one class, simply write the version chosen by each class and then have an election among all your classes to choose the final version that will hang in your room. I write it in calligraphy on parchment colored paper in the shape of an old document.
If you have them also write rules, you can have them list their rules on the board, too. Many will be similar, so vote on the best wording, while erasing the rest. This activity opens the door for a quick discussion on democracy and representative government. Explain that you will have the final veto power over the rules, and that they are subject to being overturned by the school administration, thus introducing the 3 branches.
Thinking Like a Historian:
This activity comes from the Introductory Unit of the Reading like a Historian curriculum developed by the Stanford Education Group. I love this curriculum for U.S. History! It turns students into historical investigators and critical thinkers using primary source materials. Best of all it is free! There are 13 Units with several activities for each. This one is called Snapshot Autobiography. More details, worksheets and posters can be found at their website.
Students begin by creating a pamphlet about themselves. They write about 3 or 4 key events in their life and illustrate them. For homework, they choose one of their snapshot events and interview another person who was a witness to the event. The student takes notes of the interview and identifies similarities and discrepancies. Debrief the activity with a discussion of historical perspective.
What are your favorite first week activities? Please share in the comments section.