6 Of My Favorite Activity Ideas for the First Day of School

The first day of school is probably my least favorite day of the whole year. There, I said it! No matter what, there’s just a lot of administrative stuff, procedures, routines, and “boring” classroom stuff to do at the beginning of the year. I dread the boring stuff so much that one year I jumped right into science content on the first day. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t the best and I had to play “catch-up” on rules and expectations for an extra month or two. You have to go slow to go fast.

Going over the syllabus and class rules are important on the first day. Icebreakers are another standard activity for the first day of school. “Get to know you Bingo,” is a well known icebreaker. Nothing against Bingo, but there’s a good chance my students will do Bingo in one of their other classes. I want to make an impression in my classroom with an activity that is fresh and unique. I’ve tried lots of things over the years on the first day of school. I still haven’t found the perfect activity, but I have some favorite first day of school activities that I can go back to. They are tried and tested, and hopefully the ideas in this blog post can help save you some time and stress as you prepare for a new schoolyear.

This is a representation of a completed class puzzle. I wish I had taken a photo of a real one, they were truly amazing!

#1 Class Puzzle

This is my favorite first day of school activity. It takes some preparation, but it is so fun and worth it. In the end you have some unique class art, and the completed puzzle represents everyone in the class. You can even use the puzzle to initiate a conversation about your classroom culture and class norms.

To do the Class Puzzle, take a piece of poster board, and cut it into different shapes and pieces: triangles, arches, squares, curvy pieces…the number of pieces should match the number of students in the class. Every student gets a puzzle piece, and they decorate it with their first name and some of their favorite (science) things. Then, the students put the puzzle together!

Tips: Cut a few extra puzzle pieces in case you have some last minute additions or transfers into your class. Use colored poster board so students can tell which side is the front and which side is the back. Students draw on the white side. If you only have white poster board, draw all over the back side with a colored crayon or pencil, and tell students to draw on the blank side of the puzzle piece. Tape the matching pieces together.

Students who finish their puzzle piece first can start working on the puzzle. It can be a challenge to find a workspace that is big enough to accommodate a dozen students working on it at once. It may take up to a week to finally get the puzzle together! Students enjoy going back to it at the end of class or when they finish an assignment early.
I display this slide when I explain the directions to the class. When fully colored, the pieces come together to make creative and beautiful classroom artwork!

#2 My Favorite Things

This is one of my favorite icebreakers to do with middle school students. Students fill in a worksheet with their favorite things. Then I show a slideshow of my favorite things. As we go through each category, I call on students to try to guess what my favorite things are by guessing their own. It’s like a game, and we have some fun while we learn about each other.

Tips: Think about your classroom routines for calling on students and for handing out papers. Do you want students to pick up a copy from the back table when they come in? Maybe you prefer to put a copy on each desk, or have a student volunteer pass them out to the class. Call on a mix of student volunteers and “voluntolds.” Use equity sticks, or check students off of your seating chart once they have answered. Utilize your classroom systems from Day 1, and it will make the rest of the year easier!

You can ask students about their favorite food, drink, movie, book, vacation spot, musical artist, hobby, sport…anything you want to share with students and also get to know about them!

#3 Class Survey

This is an excellent activity for high school students. Students get to know each other by creating a question, polling the class, and graphing the results. As the teacher, you also get to know your students better, and you get an idea for their graphing skills! I love this activity because we get into science skills on Day 1, and the whole classroom comes alive with students walking around, asking questions, and getting to know each other.

Tips: Provide graph paper, rulers, and colors. Example questions: What’s your favorite sandwich? What is your best subject in school? How many miles do you live from school? What is your favorite snack? What was your favorite summer movie? How do you get to school most days? Depending on the grade level, you may want to do a mini graphing lesson after the data collection. Take students through labeling the Title, X and Y axes, appropriate scale, and making a key. Bar graphs are a good choice, although a pie chart would work as well.

#4 Decorative Name Tag

This is a basic activity in which students create a colorful name tag for their desk. It keeps students occupied on the first day, and it helps everyone learn names. It takes a lot of effort, and a little longer each year, but I usually have all 150 names memorized within 2 weeks! The nametags definitely help with that, as well as carrying around a labeled seating chart.

Tips: Provide card stock paper and colored pencils. For the first few weeks of school, students set-up their nametag on their desk at the beginning of class. Designate a spot in the classroom for each period where they can put away their nametag at the end of class. You can use the nametags throughout the schoolyear, like when you have a substitute teacher.

I like to display any directions that I give my class verbally. This particular year, I had students create a nametag, and then we went over the course syllabus and classroom expectations.

#5 Decorate Science Notebooks

Another activity idea is to start decorating science notebook covers. I wrote a whole blog post on how to do it. Students find or draw images that represent them. It’s the best when I have lots of magazines that students can look through and cut images from. They can also use Textbooks or Chromebooks to find images and draw them on blank paper. When I do this activity, it’s a great time to talk to students about classroom supplies they will need, like a science notebook. Students can also bring pictures or stickers from home to decorate with as well.

Tips: If I start this activity on the first day, then we need more time to finish. Have envelopes handy so students can secure their image clippings until next class period. It was perfect one year when we started on a Thursday with a block schedule. If you start on a Monday, or mid-week, you might consider waiting for this activity until the second week of school. This way, students have the weekend to go out and get their school supplies, like their science notebook. Provide scotch tape so students can secure the images where they want them on their notebooks. I like to use clear packing tape on top, which makes the notebook cover waterproof and very durable. Just be ready to have a sore hand for a few days, after taping 150 notebook covers!

#6 Raffle Ticket

This is one of my favorite things to do on the first day because it adds excitement. Towards the end of the period, I give each student their first raffle ticket. They write their name on it and put it in the raffle ticket bin. It is a nice opportunity to talk about positive classroom behavior on the first day. My raffle system is something that is totally unique to my class and makes it special. My class points and reward system is essential to my classroom and behavior management style. I need to write a whole blog post on it!

Tips: You can buy a roll of raffle tickets at most office supply stores, like Staples and Office Depot. One roll will last for several years! Use a separate bin for each class period. You can buy matching containers at the Dollar Store.

Good Luck On Your First Day!

For me, the first day of school is super exciting, but it is also a stressful time. There’s just so much to do to get ready for the first day. Just thinking about it gets my blood pressure up, even though I am on a sabbatical from teaching science in public schools. If you are a new teacher and you feel nervous, just know that the first day of school usually flies by. It will be over before you know it. I actually had some of the most fun my first year teaching when I didn’t have anything figured out. But when I feel prepared I usually have less nerves. Remember that it’s always best to overplan. You won’t regret it when you find yourself with an extra 15 minutes before the bell rings. To be prepared on the first day, some more things you may want to consider are: a few of your classroom systems (attention signal, passing out papers, turning in work, bathroom and cellphone use), Course Syllabus & Classroom Rules/Expectations.

What is your favorite activity to do with students on the first day of school? Let me know by writing a comment. I would love to hear about it!

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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