Friday, July 31, 2015

Try This! 6 Fun and Informative Activities to Use the First Day of School

Currently,the blog world is full of posts of "what to do on the first day of school" as well as "what NOT to do on the first day of school".  After 25 years in education, I have learned that your plans for the first day have a lot to do with your personal teaching style, your personality, and your teaching philosophy.  When I first started teaching in the late '80's, it seemed like standard procedure to set the tone for the year by lecturing about the class, team's, grade level's, or school's rules.  And from there, I would give an overview of what we would study that year.  Pretty boring and it didn't exactly set the tone that I wanted.  Yes, students need to learn procedures, expectations, and routines from day one, but we too need to learn all we can about our brand new students!  

I want to share with you 6 strategies and activities that I have used on the first day(s) of school to help me learn as much as possible about my students.  These are fun, active learning strategies that you can use to help build a classroom community, observe collaboration skills, and to learn a little more about your littles!

Just a little disclaimer:  Most of these are geared toward upper/intermediate elementary and middle school students.  However, you may be able to tweak and use them in the lower grades too!

1.  M&M~ All About Me- I have used this ice breaker for years, but do not remember where I found it.  Here's how I have used this:  On the first day of school, I greet students as they enter the room.  Before they search for their seats, I ask them how many M&M's they would like.  They can have between 1 to 5.  I place them in a little paper cup and give a reminder that they are not to eat them! Once students have all been seated I tell them that we are going to introduce ourselves by sharing our name and interesting facts about ourselves.  Here's where the M&M's come in.  They have to share one fact for every piece of candy they have!  So, if I have three pieces, I share three things about me.  Then, at the end, as we transition, they can eat their candy.  Kids love this and it helps me to learn a little about them personally and their public speaking skills!

2.  Group Collage-  I first used this fun and creative activity with a group of 8th graders!  My room was arranged in groups (we had tables which I loved!).  Prior to students entering the room on the first day of school, I placed a large piece of construction paper at each table along with old magazines, colored pencils, markers, crayons, scissors, and glue sticks. After my introduction and ice breaker, I gave the groups their directions.  They were to create one collage that represented each person in the group.  We talked about what a collage is and how they were to look for pictures that showed something about their hobbies, personality, likes, dislikes, etc.  For example, I would look for pictures of dogs since I have 4 dogs and adore them.  

This activity is fun for the kids, but it also gives me an opportunity to observe the collaborative skills of each group.  Who are the leaders?  Does the group divide up the work? Are there any students who are shy and not participating? Are all members on-task?  Do I see any indications that the group may need some conflict-resolution or time management interventions?  Five minutes before the end of the activity, I tell the class that they need a spokesperson who can share the collage with the rest of the class. 

Afterwards, we hung the collages around the room.  I adore this activity and the kids did too!  They had an opportunity to share a little about themselves, to learn about their classmates, and to express their creativity.

3. The Perfect Gift-   This is an all-time favorite of mine!  I have used it with 4th to 8th graders and the kids really enjoy it and learn a little about themselves as well as set goals for the school year. This is a week long writing activity that allows me to assess students' writing skills and to learn even more about them!   This is a deep thinking and abstract activity with a little grammar thrown in!  Click the picture below to read a blog post that I wrote about this unique writing lesson!
The Perfect Gift Beginning of Year Writing Activity Write

4.  Chalk Talk-  This is a fun strategy to use anytime during the year.  I like to use it after kids have had a group activity or a task where they had ample opportunities to talk.  Here's the gist of this activity.  On your chalkboard, white board, or on a large piece of bulletin board or butcher paper, write a question that you want students to answer.  On the first day of school I have used "What do you want to learn/do this year?" I briefly explain to students that I am curious about the Titanic, so I will write that down on the paper along with my name.  Here's the important part:  this entire activity is silent!  Students take turns writing their answer to the question on the board or on the paper.  

As they are waiting their turn, they are to think about possible answers to the question. I don't have students go up one at a time unless I have a small class.  If my paper or board is large enough, I can have several go up to write their answers.  Then they pass the "chalk" to a student who has not gone yet.

I have also done this activity with sticky notes.  Students write their answers on the sticky note and then place on the board or paper.

It is interesting to see how long the class can be quiet!  BUT, this activity also gives me useful information about my students that I can refer to when planning lessons and activities as well as ideas for book recommendations I can make for students.

You can read more about the Chalk Talk strategy here.

5.  Multiple Intelligences- For the last few years, I have used Laura Candler's Multiple Intelligence survey to learn valuable information about students' gifts and learning style preferences.   I introduce the survey and have the students complete it.  Then, at the end after students have found their dominant intelligence, I have them write their name on a sticky note and place on the correct chart paper that I have hanging around the room.  For example, I will have Visual/Spatial at the top of one of the papers.  If this is my dominant intelligence, I place the sticky note with my name on this paper.  At the end, it gives me a quick assessment of the intelligences in our classroom.  Students keep the survey in their writing portfolios, as we will use these for future discussions and activities.

Be sure to check out this FREE resource over at Laura Candler's site.  She has a detailed explanation of how to use the survey and many suggestions.  Visiting her website is WELL worth your time!

6.  Exit Ticket- At the end of the day or class, I have students reflect on their first day and complete an exit ticket.  Now, you can get all fancy and have a cute ticket that you create, or you can just use an index card or sticky note.  Think of a question that has students reflecting on themselves or on the day/class.  For example, you could ask  "What did you learn about yourself today?", or just "What did you learn today?" or "What do you hope to learn/study this year?" or "What questions do you have?".  On their way out the door, students hand you their ticket.  It gives you great insight into the students interests and thinking.  I used this strategy frequently throughout the year, as well as using Entrance Tickets.

And there you have it!  Six strategies/activities that you can do the first day (well, in reality more like the first week) of school that not only taps your students' creativity, group skills, and reflective skills, but more importantly helps you to learn about your new students.  Where do I go from here?  I use the observation notes and students' verbal and written responses to inform my literacy instruction, as well as to help plan my lessons and mini-lessons.

Have you used any of these strategies?  Which are your favorites?  Do you have a fun and meaningful activity that you use on the first day of school?  Please share in comments!

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