Back to School Activities for a SUPER First Week of School

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The first week of school is hectic for new and veteran teachers alike! How can you make it less stressful? With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can get ready to have a super first week of school!

Raise your hand if your head starts spinning when you think about the first week of school! It's normal to feel that way, and I doubt you can ever fully get rid of those chicken-with-their-head-cut-off moments that happen as you are prepping for back to school. One thing I've found helpful is to break my to-do list up into different sections, and work on one section at a time. Here are some sections of my back-to-school to-do list that I like to prepare as far ahead of time as possible:

1. Simple, Quick Student Activities

If you've been teaching for any length of time, you know how important it is to overplan for the first week of school. Whether it's because you have an extra 10 minutes you weren't anticipating, or an administrative task comes up that must be completed right away, you want to have some quick activities prepped and ready to go. Since you probably haven't gotten around to introducing all of your procedures yet, you need activities that students can complete on their own.

Activities like word searches and secret codes are great for the first week of school because you can copy sets ahead of time and have them ready to go for whenever you need them. Since they are pretty self-explanatory, students can work on these activities with minimal help from you.

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These are also great activities for other students to do as you are completing initial one-on-one assessments. You can work with the student in front of you without worrying about what the rest of the class is doing.

2. Community Building Activities

It is important to start creating a sense of community in your classroom from day one. One of the first activities I always do on the first day of school is an interest inventory This activity helps me to get to know my students and make decisions about the types of lessons I need to plan and the books I need to add to my classroom library. 

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An inventory tracker helps me see all my students' responses in one place so that I can notice patterns. On the tracker I keep note of one "relationship builder" for each child. This is a fact about each student that I plan to use to show I value them as an individual. I may use it to start a conversation at recess, or to select a book with that student in mind for the class library. By including this information in the tracker, I can make sure that I've taken the time to connect with each student on an individual level.

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I also want my students to get to know each other and get used to working together, so I always include activities like a bingo icebreaker or interview. These activities are also a great way to practice procedures such as moving around the room, voice levels, staying on task, resolving conflicts, and many more. 

When students complete their interviews, I like to have them introduce their interview partner either to a small group or the class and share what they learned. This helps students get to know each other and make connections that they may not make on their own.

It's also fun to place their responses on a bulletin board so that students can read over them and continue to get to know each other during the first few weeks of school.

3. Back-to-School Night

I used to wait until the absolute last minute to put together my activities for Open House (or Back-to-School Night, or Meet the Teacher...whatever you want to call it!). However, I realized it's something I could check off the list ahead of time, freeing me up to work on other first week tasks. 

Our Open House occurs on the first week of school, so I don't need to get too elaborate with student work, etc. I focus on two areas- my slideshow and a fun bulletin board.

I like to prepare my slideshow as early as I can, because it helps ME to write everything down and have it in one spot. I also make copies of the slides for parents to take home and email them the presentation after Open House. This cuts down on a lot of confusion throughout the year!

Students love to show off their new class to their parents, so I want to include a cute display that they can contribute to. This low prep banner is colorful and fun, and students get to share more information about themselves. You can string the letters and student pennants together, or staple them to a bulletin board.

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4. Incentives

As you are explaining rules, routines, and procedures on the first week of school, you are going to need incentives to reinforce students who do the right things. However, if you choose monetary items, it's going to start adding up very fast- and you're going to end up with students who expect something every time they do something correctly.

I like to have a variety of no-cost, low-prep reward coupons prepared and ready to hand out as we practice procedures on the first week of school. These rewards are simple (for example, "write with a fancy pen!" or "bring a stuffed animal to class") cost me nothing, and can be redeemed immediately or at a later date. They also tie in well to a classroom economy. Set a price for each coupon and have students redeem at a specified time.

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5. Self-Assessment Rubric

One of the most important procedures I practice from day one is using Levels of Understanding posters to self-assess, so I like to have these prepped and ready to go. It's important for students to understand that this rubric is a tool to help them, not a way to judge them for not knowing something, so we do a lot of modeling of how to use it correctly.

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Students use the thinking stems to determine what level of understanding they are on after a lesson. When they share their levels, I am able to modify my lessons based on their understanding. I can also see who needs to be pulled into a small group for extra reinforcement.

This is one of the most valuable tools in my classroom, so I make sure to spend extra time going over it on the first week of school. After a while, students begin to use the posters independently to self-assess!

There are many, MANY things to deal with when prepping for back-to-school. However, taking care of the items on this list as early as possible helps me to have a super first week of school.



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