Idea Swap

Icebreakers, first day fun, and more from Instructor readers.

Start the year off right with ideas from teachers like you!

Brain Power
I like to combine a getting-to-know-you activity with a science lesson to segue into a unit on the brain. I have my third and fourth-grade students create 3-D models of their heads using Styrofoam balls and Model Magic. They make their face on one side and a labeled model of the brain on the other. We then introduce ourselves using the “face” side, then begin our first lesson on neuroscience using the “brain” side. Students are always so excited to see what their classmates have made!
—Jane Williams, Independence, OH



What’s In A Name?
To learn the names and interests of my middle school art students, I ask them to decorate the covers of their art portfolios with their own unique name design. The objective is for them to use the letters of their first name to create a design that reflects something about their individual personalites. Some choose to draw favorite foods, objects, animals, activities, and so on. Students then share their designs with the rest of the class. Not only do we get to know each other a little better, but when it’s time for students to get their portfolios from the shelf to work on assignments, they can easily spot their own. —Carla Anderson, San Jose, CA

Decorative Doors

I enjoy working with my first-grade students to make our classroom door welcoming. Our class is known as Hive 515, as we are all busy bees. We reused plastic cups from snack time, cutting them in half and painting the bottoms to look like a giant honeycomb. Next, we made a 3-D tree out of recycled materials. Each student wrote his or her name on a paper bee and hung it on the door! —Elizabeth Kennedy, New York, NY

We the Students
My class begins the year by writing a classroom constitution. Each student writes two things she thinks should be included in the constitution on separate Post-it notes, and, one by one, places them on the board. We then group similar ideas together, creating a bar graph to show how many people had similar suggestions. Usually, we find that we can narrow our ideas down to three or four for a productive learning environment: respect, quiet, teamwork, and responsibility. This important document helps set the tone for the year. —Elizabeth Peterson, Amesbury, MA

Globe Trotters
Many of my students come from different parts of the world, so I begin with an activity that has an international flavor. The only material you need is a map of the world. I give each student a few minutes to think of three clues that describe, but don’t give away, where they are from or their location of choice. Then, they take turns saying their names and presenting the three clues, while the rest of the class guesses the place they have chosen. The student then explains what they like best about their place and shows the class where it is located. I like to display the map on a bulletin board with the students’ names and locations marked. —Nanette Avery, Miami, FL

Musical Names
On the first day of school, I give each of my early elementary school students precut letters for his/her name. They spell their names (using their name tags for help) and walk around the room while music is playing. Once it stops, they grab a spot at another student’s desk. They then spell and read that student’s name! —Jennifer Caps, York, SC

Early Essay
I begin by asking students to write a short essay about their expectations for the year. Then, throughout the school year, I encourage students to update their entries with all of the new discoveries they’ve made. On the last day of school, I hand back their work. Kids love seeing what they said compared to how the year actually turned out. They even love looking at how their writing (cursive) had changed from months of practicing! —Suzanne Tingley, Watertown, NY

Say Cheese!
I use a digital camera to create an alphabetized name chart, complete with photos of the children. It’s a great way for kids to get to know each other—by name and by face—and it can be used to promote early literacy. —Jeremy Brunaccioni, Gill, MA

Steadfast Sand Castles
Early in the year, I have my students make sand castles to remember the fun they had at the beach this past summer! First, enlarge a picture of a sand castle. Use a mixture of ½ water and ½ white glue to paint the castle. Sprinkle fine sand over the top of the glue and let the glue dry. Shake off the excess sand, then have students decorate their castles with flags, pictures of beach toys—even real shells! —Tonya Kramer, Montpelier, ND

Random “Adjectives” of Kindness
We start the year off by creating a list of “kind” adjectives to display in the classroom. I like to give students a copy to bring home as well. I ask them to try to use at least two of the words from our list per day, and to add to it by using a thesaurus, interviewing others, or writing down positive words they hear. When students use one of these words in class, we celebrate by clapping! Watch how this learning activity pays it forward. —Patti Glynn, Wayland, MA

“Shorts” Stories
It is often difficult to make the transition back to school, so I have my students relive the days of summer by creating their favorite summer shirt out of various materials: paper, glitter, anything! Once they’re completed, we hang the shirts on a clothesline in the hall. The summer shirts are accompanied by the first writing activity—“Shorts Stories”—a description of a favorite pair of shorts and a memorable experience while wearing them. Both projects help to trigger parent memories on Meet the Teacher Night. —Marilyn Ruzick, Cincinnati, OH

All About Me
During my autobiography unit in the beginning of the year, I ask students to choose a song that best represents them. Then, they make a project presenting their song, using tamborines with words on them, CD cases, and even records. They are able to better understand the idea of autobiography by delving into their own lives. —Nicole Hughes, Pelham, AL

Summer Collage
In the first week of school, my students and I put all of our colorful summer memories on display with a giant class collage. It includes ticket stubs, museum passes, brochures from traveling, even wrappers from their favorite candies. We include a write-up about all the fun we had! By leaving summer in the hallway, it really helps students get focused on the school year. — Ji Ji Lawley, Montevallo, AL

  • Subjects:
    Classroom Management, Homework and Studying Support, Homework and Tests

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