I consciously overplan the first few days. The worst possible first-day scenario is to arrive unprepared. Over the years, I’ve collected a number of first-day activity ideas – far too many to use.
I’ve pared down the activities based on the following considerations:
- My first goal is to build classroom community, making all students feel comfortable and successful.
- My second goal is to establish routine.
- My third goal is to formatively assess students’ current levels in all subject areas.
- It’s never too early to begin thinking about parent night.
I choose activities that accomplish at least two of the goals stated above.
Going to the Moon: A Name Game
Students sit in a circle. In turn, students use the phrase, “My name is [name]. I’m going to the moon and I’m going to bring [name something].” I then tell students whether or not they can bring that thing. I have a secret rule that determines whether or not they can bring that particular thing.
Goal: All students figure out the secret rule.
Rules of play: If students figure out the secret rule, they must keep it a secret. We want to give each student a chance to figure out the rule on their own.
The game ends when we go all the way around the circle and all student know what they can bring to the Moon.
I play this game for these reasons:
- We learn names.
- We laugh (you should hear the giggles when students find out that only Oliver can bring oxygen and only Paul can bring pants! Simon can bring a space suit but not ahelmet. Kylee can bring a kangaroo!).
- The game demonstrates that some of the best learning happens when we listen carefully, think deeply, and don’t immediately shout out what we know.
- The game sets the tone for some of my classroom routine. I sometimes have students share by going around a circle, I sometimes call on students randomly, I rarely ask students to raise their hands, and I never call on students who have noisy hands.
Writing: I Want a Classroom Where…
Each morning begins with writing. Therefore, I want to have a writing activity right away. Students get their writing journals and free write beginning with “I want a classroom where…” I don’t usually give students prompts, but I want to see which students can take a prompts and write for at least five minutes. Who writes with fluency? Who is stuck? Who has difficulty getting comfortable?
Students then share their ideas in small groups and write their “big ideas” on chart paper. From this, I get to see small group interaction. Who talks easily in small groups? Who shies away? Who are the natural leaders? Does anyone try and lead the others off task?
I collate their ideas and will soon put them on a class blog. They will be used as an introductory lesson about online commenting. How do we share our ideas? Establish credibility as a commenter? Respond constructively?
My reasons for this activity:
- Formatively assess student writing fluency.
- Formatively assess student listening skills.
- Observe pair, small group, and large group interactions.
- Give students input into the establishment of classroom culture.
This year, I placed their ideas on a class blog – as our first entry. In subsequent days, I teach students the etiquette of writing comments.
Reading: Library Orientation, Independent Reading, and Learning about Readers
My colleagues are amazing. I work with them as much as possible, often sharing lessons or rotating students from place to place so that students can experience the expertise of multiple educators. Also, when teachers rotate students, prep time decreases.
My teaching partner and I divide our 44 (total) students into three groups. Each group is sent to a station.
Station 1: Independent Classroom Reading
I spend the first few minutes “spying” on my students. Which students are able to get a book quickly? Which can attend to a book for 20-30 minutes? Are there any students who laugh out loud at books? While students are reading, I conference with individuals, specifically noting the books they read and noting their fluency with those books.
Station 2: Students’ Histories as Readers
My teaching partner led a lesson based on the Lucy Calkins reading series. In this lesson, students identify their best and worst reading times. By discussion those best and worst experiences, students learn about themselves as readers.
Station 3: Library Orientation
Our librarian sends students on a “treasure hunt”, identifying important parts of the school library and reviewing procedures. Thanks to the great teachers in the lower grades, students who enter my classroom already love reading. They are excited to get their library cards and check out books.
My reasons for this activity and format:
- Reading is highly valued in our classroom.
- Formative assessment: Some students will need special lessons on picking “just right” books.
- I expect 5th graders can read independently for 30 minutes while I conference with individual students or with small groups.
- Students will be working with other teachers. I expect that their behaviors for the other teachers will be the same as their behaviors in my classroom.
Personalizing the Classroom
I do only one “art-sy” type project the first couple of days. I use tissue paper to make “stained-glass” silhouettes of students’ profiles.
This project takes a bit of time. First, you have to hunt down projectors (our school doesn’t have many left!). Next, you have to pull students individually – and each tracing takes 1-2 minutes.
After tracing the silhouettes, students can trace a 1-inch “frame” and cut out the frame. This helps me pre-assess which students can effectively and efficiently measure with rulers. I need to help students with pony tails – it can be difficult to visualize the “frame.”
Finally, students cut out silhouettes and glue the frames on a tissue-paper color of their choice. I put these on the windows because the tissue papers allows colored light to filter through.
The black interiors are used as backgrounds for student work later in the year.