Like many teachers, you may feel like a basket case at the beginning of the school year. Because, contrary to popular belief, you weren’t kicking up your feet at the beach all summer and sleeping until nine. You were preparing for that first day, that first week, that first month … Sorry, you’re getting a headache just thinking about it!
Instead of resting, you were brainstorming beginning-of-the-year activities. Because whether you’re a new or seasoned teacher, you know that first impressions are important.
The back-to-school archives over at the U.S. Department of Education acknowledge the hard work that goes into preparing for a new school year. They encourage educators, parents, and students to focus on the following main topics: bullying, homework, and differentiated instruction.
To save valuable teacher time, we’ve put together eight reusable activities for kicking off the school year. Trust us — next summer, you can go to the beach and sleep more instead of preparing for the start of the next term.
1. Role-play bullying scenarios
The National Education Association (NEA) found that 160,000 students stay home from school each day because of bullying! It’s not a happy topic, but it’s one you need to nip in the bud as soon as you can. How? By jumpstarting your year with a bullying curriculum.
Don’t know where to begin? Take a look at our anti-bullying guide.
Here’s how it works:
- You provide students with common bullying scenarios (found here).
- Your students act them out in front of the class (appropriately, of course).
- You and the audience offer options on how to deal with the situation.
- Your students act out the solutions.
The kids eat up this activity and break it down in an engaging but powerful way. By spreading bullying awareness, you’ll start the year off right.
2. Organize a parent meeting
You’re a rock star with kids, but the parents are a different story. Sound familiar?
Some teachers find parents intimidating. But think about it this way: You’re in charge of their world, and that’s a huge job. That’s why you need to let parents know that you’re on their team from the get-go. But how do you remind them it takes a collaborative effort to produce successful students?
Sounds like you need a parent meeting. Many schools have these a day or two before the first day of school; others have it an evening or two before. It doesn’t matter when the meeting occurs, but you should schedule a time for one. Trust me — your organizational efforts will not go to waste.
During this activity, allow parents to ask questions within a set time frame, discuss your philosophy, go over your major policies, and offer suggestions for homework help.
Setting up a parent meeting is a win-win for all. The parents receive a crash course on how to help their kids in your class, while students benefit from increased parent awareness. And you set the foundation for a collaborative year!
3. Differentiate instruction with student interviews
Searching for activities to differentiate your instruction and promote a positive classroom experience for all? According to “The International Journal of Instruction,” differentiating instruction incorporates “interactive strategies on understanding the knowledge based on the abilities and the needs of each learner.”
But how do you figure out how your students learn best, especially when they first trickle into your classroom? The answer is simpler than you think: Ask them!
Student interviews offer a sweet way to create a tight-knit community and also help you learn about new students. Just pair up students and observe.
You can use a preset of questions like the following:
- How do you learn best? (e.g., moving, writing, listening, etc.)
- What activities do you enjoy the most?
- What was the most successful project you’ve ever done, and why?
- What’s your favorite book genre?
- What topics interest you the most?
- What’s your most productive time of day?
- What’s your favorite school subject, and why? Lunch doesn’t count 🙂
The list goes on!
You’ll learn a lot by conducting student interviews this way at the beginning of the year.
4. A meet-and-greet trip (with no academics)
We’ve talked about parent meetings already, but another activity to jumpstart the school year is a meet and greet trip with no academics.
What? No academics, you say? Bear with me. One of the most successful outings I experienced was the annual back-to-school camping trip. That’s right — before even picking up a book with the kids, teachers, students, and parents packed up their CamelBaks, tents, and kayaks and headed for the woods.
You’re shaking in your boots — I was too! But these camping trips broke the ice in many ways. Think about how real you’ll appear at six in the morning after sleeping on the ground and using a fire to brew your first cup of joe. Kids and parents appreciate a teacher’s humanity, and camping brings out that genuine nature.
Sure, all schools are different, and you may not be able to schedule an annual camping trip, so another option is a cookout. Either way, the kids will see you as a person (not just their teacher), and you will all have an opportunity to get to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere.
A camping trip or cookout accomplishes this, and you may learn that the most hyper kid in your class is a wiz when it comes to finding firewood, or perhaps your introverted bookworm goes all out when rattling off ghost stories!
5. Introduce kids to Classcraft
Imagine if you could assign kids video games for homework. With Classcraft, you can! This educational platform allows students and teachers to make learning fun with custom avatars. Teachers set up quests based on their curriculum, and students dive into an educational world reminiscent of classic role-playing games (RPGs) — magic, questing, and all.
A library of teacher-created quests for a range of K-12 subjects can be found in the Marketplace. Curious about what goes into creating choose-your-own-adventure style lesson? Classcraft’s Quest of the Month celebrates teacher lessons and offers insight into quest creation.
Classcraft can help you organize your lesson plans and goals, too. It’s a kickoff activity that promotes organizational, technological, collaboration skills, and more. Plus, since most of the game happens in the way students interact, you’ll want to use it throughout the year to boost your classroom climate and help students care about their learning community. When your students have fun, they’re motivated to keep on learning.
6. Create a QR code scavenger hunt
When you started a new job, were you nervous? Probably — because change and unfamiliar territories are scary for everyone! And you’re an adult! So imagine how bad it can get for kids when they enter a different classroom and meet a new teacher. The panic really sets in for some students.
That’s why a QR scavenger hunt activity can break the ice by familiarizing students with your classroom. We’ve explained this activity in one of our previous posts, but it deserves recognition again.
Here’s how it works:
- Download a free QR generator. There are many, but here’s one we like.
- Put links into the generator that relate to your classroom. For example, let’s say you want kids to find and learn about your SmartBoard. Paste in a link to a picture of one. This will generate a QR code of a Smartboard that you then print and tape to a starting point in your classroom. Your desk is an excellent option.
- Then, students scan the code, see the image, and saunter on over to your SmartBoard.
- There, they see another QR code that they scan for yet another picture. The cubby station could be next!
- Each time students arrive at a new QR code, you explain how it relates to classroom procedures.
You can do this as a class with one phone or in small groups with a few phones. Yes, the kids use devices for it. Depending on your school’s policy, this could also segue into a discussion about phone use in your school.
Some schools allow kids to use phones for academic purposes. They can sign them out as needed. But consider how you’ll handle the school phone policy before taking on this activity.
7. Rotate team quests
The National Library of Medicine cites compelling evidence about group learning. It turns out that working together positively affects student understanding in a variety of ways. Team-based activities promote inquiry, sharing ideas, and problem-solving.
That’s why you should try rotating team activities. Check out this list for inspiration.
Here’s how it goes:
- Set up three to five quest stations around your classroom
- Explain that each station has a team-building activity
- Split students into groups and assign them a station
- Join in on the fun and witness the team-building extravaganza
As a teacher, you’re walking a fine line between parents, students, and regulations. You want to create positive first impressions and get everyone in a productive mind frame. We know it’s a lot to juggle, but with a back-to-school plan and activities like these, you’ll kick off the year right.