The Most Effective First Week Techniques and Activities
I still have a few days before the kiddos come back to school. Of course I have my stack of items I’m thinking of doing the first week. I never get to half the things I have in mind for the beginning of the year, but I have several essentials that I prioritize as “Must Do” items.
1. Make Learning FUN the first day
Put yourself in the students’ shoes. They’re just returning from vacation, from being active and on their own schedule. Devise a few show-stoppers to get kids excited about being back in school. I’m creating a scavenger hunt with some high-interest items for kids to look for, ponder, question, and discuss: a shark’s tooth, dinosaur fossils, a replica of a tooth from a sabertooth tiger, the longest word in the English language (enlarged to take up a lot of space), gummy mummies that are 15 years old, a replica of the sphinx and an Egyptian obelisk. I’ll have hieroglyphic and Mesopotamian alphabets out for students to figure out their names, and even intriguing pictures from National Geographic magazine to make kids go “Wow!”
Many of these items I’ve found at yard sales or borrowed from friends. Think about what you have around your classroom or house that’s interesting. You can also give them a virtual tour of some incredible place. I found a tour online from the top of and inside the Great Pyramid of Giza. How cool is that! If you have iPads, get a few great apps they can explore during your scavenger hunt. A free app called EarthViewer lets kids go back in time to see topographic maps of Earth during the Cretaceous, Triassic, Ordovician, etc. It’s 3-D, and they love it! Blow their minds. Get them talking about how much fun they had at school!
2. Create a positive interaction with families the first week
This is just as crucial as my #1. I call every family the first week. I introduce myself, tell them a positive observation about their student, and ask if they have questions, concerns, or things they’d like me to know about their child. It takes me about 2-3 minutes per call, but this time is an investment in the rest of my year. I’ve reached out, and this won’t go unnoticed. Later in the year when I might need to make a call discussing an issue, I have already established a relationship. Families are more open to hearing me when they know it’s not always going to be negative.
3. Make sure students learn something new the first day
Remind students that they are here to grow as learners. Teach academic content so students know there’s a lot to accomplish this year. You can make it a bit challenging. In fact, this is a good way to let them know how seriously you take your job and your responsibility to help them through their struggles and successes. Set the tone as being a teacher of rigorous content, but ensure your students that you will bend over backwards to help them.
4. Make time to interact with and observe students during the first week of school
I try to greet everyone, make eye contact, shake their hands, and say their names that first day. I like to have a name plate on each desk so students will have a place to call their own. Since I have three classes rotating in throughout the day, I code the name plate in some way. I often use 4 x 6 note cards, folded down the middle with the student’s name on both face sides, that stack and can be switched for the next class. Each class has a different color card so I know I’ve got the correct group and name. This also helps any adult that comes in during the day. After the first week, I don’t need the cards, but I save them for when I rearrange seats.
Additionally, if students are up and moving, move around with them. Task cards are perfect for getting the kids up and moving, which allows you time to interact.
Listen to their discussion, ask questions of them, laugh with them, show your curiosity. Let them see you as a human and they’ll engage with you in a more comfortable way.
5. Try not to talk too much
I know this seems like a silly thing to say, but be aware of how you use your voice. If it’s constantly going, there’s a greater chance that students are going to tune you out. Say what you need to say, then stop. Sure, you can tell a funny story about your life to help them learn about who you are or to make a point, but be aware of yourself. I have observed teachers droning on and on without looking at the students to see if they’re engaged. Notice your audience. Remember, you are a performer to a certain degree, but they are the stars. Let the students shine. Call them up to work out a problem. Step off to the side or the back of the classroom and let students see and hear something different. Get them up in front of the room as much as possible, whether it’s acting out character traits and plots (here’s a great unit for character trait), telling the class about their special artifact, practicing punctuation, etc.
6. Establish a positive, productive first week setting
Don’t need to live by the “Don’t smile the whole first month of school” rule. You can smile and be firm when needed. Keep it as upbeat as possible, but draw the line when necessary and follow through. Many students push the envelope the first few weeks of school until they see how strong the glue is. (Nice metaphor, eh?) Once there’s a consequence, it becomes apparent that your guidelines need following. Let them know that the teaching and learning process is the primary focus. Behavior cannot impede the valuable time you have together.
Of course, there is much more to impart about the first week, but these are my top eight. I’m curious to know what makes your list of first week essentials.
Here’s to a great first week.