We’ve all heard it, “Set expectations early” and “Build relationships from the beginning.” But that’s often easier said than done. When you are getting to know a brand new group of students, how can you really set the school year up for success? And what back to school activities are productive vs. just silly fluff? (PS. Silly fluff is great sometimes, but not all the time.)
I wanted to give you some actionable ways to make your first few weeks of school productive, so you can start your year on the right foot. Here are my favorite back to school activities that make an impact:
You may not consider this a classroom activity, but I do because I love to have some fun with it! When I introduce classroom jobs to my students, I have my students reenact the right and the wrong way to complete the job. This is a lot more interesting to my students than me standing there explaining the job.
Then, I have my students fill out a job application for a classroom job. This doesn’t need to be crazy. I have them select one or two jobs that interest them, and explain why they want the job. Then I randomly select a student who asked for the job.
I change out the classroom jobs every week or two. I like to display them in my classroom using these Editable Whiteboard Themed Classroom Jobs. You write students’ names on the clipart whiteboard marker. It looks cute, and it’s easy to change out (I use velcro dots for quick changes).
STEM Bag Challenges
Having a successful start to the year includes building a relationship with your students’ parents. I incorporate this into my classroom with STEM bag challenges. These are really low-prep activities with simple instructions that students can do at home with their family.
I recommend sending these home during the first week of each month. This gives families plenty of time to complete it. Additionally, encourage families to take pictures of their STEM challenges and send it via email or on your class page.
This has helped me build rapport and relationships with families, and also provide a simple way for them to get involved in their child’s learning. I have ten simple STEM challenges ready. All you need to do is print the instructions and create the bag (which your students can help with!).
Book Review Bulletin Boards
Encouraging reading from the beginning of the school year? Yes, please! As a back to school activity, I introduce students to the Book Review bulletin board. This is a place where students will share a review about a recent book they read.
This bulletin board is great because it creates a collaborative classroom environment where students can share, and they have a voice. It also offers book suggestions to students who may struggle with reading.
Each month, I clean off the board and a new book review template is used. For example, back to school is clipboard shaped and fall is pumpkin shaped. I use these Book Review Templates. It has a different shape for each month of the school year, so my bulletin boards are always fresh and filled with new student reviews each month.
Science Back to School Activities
I shared a blog recently with five back to school science activities. I had to share about it again here because my students really enjoy these each year. These aren’t just any science experiments, they all center around school supplies!
I have found these to be a great way to talk about expectations around supplies in class, and about the expectations during science experiments. These are back to school activities I use every year because it helps reinforce the rules of the classroom and science content (win-win).
I present my students with questions like, “Which glue stick brand works best?” or “Which keeps your hands the cleanest?” There are five experiments in total, and each comes with a procedure, materials list, and recording sheet.
Back to School Activity Photo Booth
This photo booth is a fun way to get to know your students. During the first week of school, take a photo of each student on a fun background or with a cute sign. I use these fun photo booth signs with my students (they are editable, too!). You can take these on your phone, or if you have one of those polaroid cameras, this is the perfect time to use it!
After students take their photo, have them complete a get to know you sheet. This can have questions about their favorite activities, family, nickname, etc. It’s a simple way to get to know students. Leave a space on the paper for the student’s photo, and attach it later.
At the end of the year, repeat this process and have students look at how much they have grown! What has changed in just one school year?
Alright, we are talking about back to school activities that kick off a successful school year, and this one might take the cake! Accountable talk is a big topic in my classroom every year, and I’m going to guess it is for you, too.
Essentially, accountable talk is the ability to have classroom discussions in a respectful manner. We want students to feel heard, practice active listening, and show respect for others – even if we don’t agree with them. Those are big skills!
That’s why at the start of the year, I put these accountable talk mini-anchor charts on my students’ tables. I also print them in a larger version for my front bulletin board. We refer to these throughout the year, but I like to start some silly conversations to practice. I ask students things like, “Is water wet?” or “Is a hotdog a sandwich?” It’s pretty funny and good practice.
Joke of the Day
Speaking of silliness, nothing quite says a successful school year like letting your students know laughter is a part of learning. Whether it’s simply enjoying the process, or laughing off little mistakes, I like to bring laughter into the classroom. I like to kick off each Monday with a joke of the day that is kid appropriate!
It sets the tone of the week as a place where we can focus, and also have a good time. Which, I think, is the best part about being a teacher.