Is it just me or when you hear the words first day and/or first week of school you completely panic?! In my opinion, it’s one of the most stressful times of the year. However, it’s also one of the most crucial times of the year. It’s the time where you lay a solid foundation, learn 25+ new names while getting a glimpse of all those personalities, and then make sure they get home correctly every day. Talk about a total whirlwind. But you know I love to help make your life easier! In this post, you’ll learn some tips, tricks, and helpful ideas to help ease the stress and help make the first week of school a memorable experience for you and your students!
This seems like a really loaded word because there are SO many things to accomplish the first week of school with students. If you set a few really important goals for yourself though, it will help narrow down your focus this first week so you can spend time on the things that matter the most. While this list could probably go on forever, I’ve found what I believe are the top 5 goals to set for yourself that first week of school. These few easy objectives will help you feel accomplished and not so overwhelmed and stressed.
By the end of the first week, the most important goals to have met are:
- Learn everyone’s names
- Begin to build a strong classroom community through teamwork, values, and a safe welcoming environment
- Get to know each other
- Set up a strong foundation for classroom expectations and procedures
- Get everyone home safely
Not too many goals right? Now let’s discuss how to help meet those goals through different activities and lessons!
The First Day
This is the big anticipated day where you have your entire class together for the first time. It goes so quick from start to finish, but boy are there TONS of important things that need to take place. One trick I’ve learned over the years is to OVERPLAN. Why? My reason is simple- it’s better to have too much to do than not enough. Down time is definitely the enemy of behavior management, especially during those first few weeks of school together. So how do you have a successful first day of school with students?
Here a few of my favorite things to do on the first day:
Reading First Day Jitters with students and completing a feelings activity. This helps students feel comfortable and understand that they may not be the only one feeling nervous, excited, or scared. We do a graphing activity on how we feel, write a bit about our emotions, and create a cute house craft about our first day feelings. We end the day with this adorable poem from Mrs. Bishop and drink some Jitter Juice! They LOVE it!
You’re Finally Here is an amazing, engaging story that gets students to understand how excited you are to be their teacher this year. It’s a great way to start building that positive community and Aroundthekampfire has the BEST resource for this book! From the cutest bulletin board, to TONS of wonderful activities including a retelling activity, first day writing, and of course an ADORABLE craft!
Read-alouds and activities are like the theme of the first day. Another classic book is Brown Bear, What Do You See is a classic and we put a spin on it to learn everyone’s name. After reading, we play the Brown Bear Activity with the class on the carpet to start learning and memorizing our classmates with the prompt:
“Lindsay, Lindsay who do you see, I see _____________ looking at me!”
These are just SOME of my favorites for the first day of school. Grab the First Day/First Week Lesson Plans that includes activities, time estimates, as well as a completely editable version to make yours! You can grab that HERE!
Building a Solid Community
From the moment students step through your door, you begin to build that sense of community together. It’s important to start working on core values immediately so that students know they are going to be apart of a family that is safe, supportive, and welcoming. Check out some of my favorite back to school community building activities below!
Connection circles or class meetings from day one is a great way to begin to build that safe space for students and let them know that their voice is a valuable part of the classroom. Learn more about building in that time HERE.
Just Like Me Activity– This incorporates some much needed movement during this first week. Have students sit in a circle and go around having everyone share something they like. If there’s another person that likes that same thing, they jump up and say, “Just like me!”
Ball Roll Activity – This simple game has students take turns rolling a ball to others in the circle. When you roll the ball to someone you say, “Good morning John.” John says good morning back and rolls the ball to someone else. Great foundation for the manners we want to see in the classroom and helps to learn names as well!
All About Me Bags are another great way to get to know students while involving their families. Students collect a few small items from home and put them in their bag. Throughout the week, students take turns sharing the items from their bag so that the class can get to know each other a little better. This activity is also a great time filler during that down time you may have that first week. Grab your FREEBIE below!
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There are so many wonderful back to school read alouds to learn about important classroom values with students. You can learn about some of my favorites HERE.
Since we’re on the topic of more books, a great one for introducing team building activities is Teamwork Isn’t My Thing. Below you’ll find some favorite team building activities!
- The Cup Stacking Challenge – Practice BEING a good teammate in groups of 4 or 5. Each group is given a stack of cups and a rubber band with 4 or 5 paper clips (based on the number of students in the group). They are NOT allowed to touch the cups or rubber bands, ONLY their paperclip, and they have to work as a group to stack the cups into a pyramid! Students love the challenge and although some get super frustrated, it’s a great way for them to practice great teamwork skills!
- Worm and Lifesaver- This is prepped with a gummy worm, a gummy lifesaver, a plastic cup and 4 paper clips. The cup is flipped over and the lifesaver is inside it, with the gummy worm on top. The students have to get the cup off the lifesaver and the lifesaver around the gummy worm without touching either of them. Teamwork is key!
- Hula Hoop Challenge- Students are split into teams holding hands in a circle. Place a hula-hoop on one student’s arm before they close their circle and the challenge is to get the hula-hoop all the way around their circle without letting go of each other’s hands. The team to do it the fastest wins! If anyone lets go, then we will start over.
- Lily Pads Game- Students are split into 4 Groups of 6 (or the closest you can get to this with your class size). Each student in their group will get ONE piece of paper so that each team will have 6 pieces of paper. As a group they will have to make it from one side of the carpet to the next by only stepping on their paper. Their entire team has to make it across the carpet to win. This activity always challenges students to determine how to work together to get everyone across the carpet!
- Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship- Students pair off to play a game of rock, paper, scissors. When they lose, they become a cheerleader to the person they lost to. The winner will then find another opponent. By the end, there should only be two players left, but they each have a TON of cheerleaders! It’s such a fun way to cheer each other on and have fun with a little competition!
If you love these, you’ll love the complete Team Building Pack complete with activity directions, materials, and slide displays! These are just some of the great community and team building activities found in the First Week of School Bundle! Check it out HERE!!
Incorporate Movement and Take Breaks
During the first few weeks of school together, it’s important to provide ample brain breaks and movement activities for students as they get used to their new routines coming back from a long break. Throughout the first day and first week of school, I make sure to build in specific break and movement activity time. It can be really challenging for students to sit for extended periods of time during the first week. These are the types of activities that help break up all that time of reading books together, discussing routines/procedures, and completing other activities that require students to be stationary for a while.
- Let’s start with an absolute go to for brain breaks no matter the time, season, or reason. Go Noodle is a MUST USE for students. They have SO many different types of brain breaks from upbeat songs to calm breathing for relaxation. We start using this resource on day one to get students used to moving and of course to talk about our expectations for these break times.
- Some activities we do that first week incorporate moving around and one favorite is Find a Friend Bingo! It’s a great way for students to connect by getting to know each other better while also getting some wiggles out! Have them walk around the classroom or take them outside. Either way, it’s a great first day/week activity that they absolutely love.
- Another great way to build in some movement is by taking a scavenger hunt. This can be done around the classroom or around the school! This is a great way for students to become familiar with their space while moving around.
- Playing a few rounds of ‘Would You Rather’ is a fun way to get students up and moving while getting to know each other better. Pose a scenario and have students run to a side of the room for a certain choice or have them sit and stand up depending on their decision. It’s a quick, easy way to build in some movement while still getting to know one another.
- Build in some STEM time by having students celebrate their name by building it out of different materials, such as legos, straws, or unifix cubes. Have them make their own magnificent creations with this great freebie from Buzzing for Books!
All of these activities and more are apart of the First Week of School Bundle! Learn more HERE!
Structure and Expectations
While meeting the goals of building a community, helping students feel safe, and of course learning everyone’s names, it’s also important to spend A LOT of time setting up expectations, creating rules/commitments together, and practicing routines and procedures with students. This sets up your foundation for the ENTIRE school year together. Just like we want students to know they are part of a family that cares, they also need to know about boundaries and expectations so that we can all get our needs met.
Throughout the first few weeks together, we read different stories that match our class values and complete activities with a central theme for the book. Students hear a rich and diverse story that helps us to build our class promise, learning about the things that are an important part of our classroom and community. They get opportunities to complete an aligned activity to incorporate literacy, math, or movement activity. You can check out a list of my favorite back to school read-alouds HERE!
After we’ve established what’s important to how we’d like our classroom to feel and run, we must dive deep into different procedures and expectations. Here again we incorporate different literature for students to scaffold and support. There is a lot of thinking and planning that goes into teaching expectations to students. One of the most helpful tips I’ve learned when teaching is to teach students exactly what it looks like and sounds like for EVERY procedure. This lets them know exactly what is expected. Then when you practice, you make sure that EVERY SINGLE STUDENT is following the expectation. This is where you set high expectations for ALL students. That way your year is a BREEZE with students because they know EXACTLY what is expected of them.
Spending time creating rules WITH students, teaching ALL those routines and procedures, and of course setting high expectations for EVERY student to follow, is a recipe for success. With my Back to School Guide, I will help you make a solid plan for the first 6 weeks of school and help you work through all those really tough, but crucial pieces to have a great foundation with students. If you like a more interactive version, you can check out the Building a Student Centered Classroom course! Below you’ll find slides to help students learn about those procedures and of course practice, practice, practice! Creating anchor charts with student images is another great tool that helps students see exactly what they should be doing.
All this and more is part of the First Week of School Bundle! You’ll be OVER planned for the first week with TONS of activities that your students will love. The best part is it takes the stress off YOU so that you can also enjoy this momentous time that only happens once a year. Looking for more back to school tips and tricks? Check out some great back to school blogs below to help kickstart other important topics during this time such as SEL and Flexible Seating!
I really hope you enjoyed learning more about tips, tricks, ideas for totally rocking the first week with students! Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list! Not only will you get the most up to date tips, tricks, and classroom projects… and of course more fun FREEBIES including the All About Me Bag FREEBIE! You will also have exclusive access to tons of digital how to videos! If you would like to learn about this and other things happening in my classroom follow me @sweetnsauerfirsties on Instagram.
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