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Top Tips for the First Days of School (Grades 1-5)
Make a great first impression with these teacher-recommended strategies, icebreaker activities, and more.
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
Like other "first days" in your life, your first day as a teacher in your own elementary classroom will have you feeling excited and anxious in equal measures. Don't worry too much, though. Even experienced teachers feel anxious about facing new students at the beginning of each school year. Just take a deep breath, look around your newly decorated classroom, double-check those lessons plans, and remind yourself of all you've done to get the year off to a successful start.
These school-year startup tips will help you make a positive first impression.
- Arrive early.
- Write your name on the board so students can learn it right away.
- Have a fun activity laid out on each student's desk so students can become engaged as they settle in. For primary grades, try dot-to-dot, matching, or drawing activities. For higher grades, consider an easy writing activity or word search game. These activities are an easy, comfortable way to start the day.
- Greet students at the door with a smile and a pleasant "Good morning!"
- Invite students to find their desk or table as soon as they arrive. They can wait to explore the classroom. This helps you create a good working climate right away.
- Do some fun ice-breaking activities to put everyone at ease. For older students, consider creating a class dictionary. Students write a three-part definition of themselves that includes physical characteristics, personality traits, and favorite hobbies or interests. Definitions could also include a pronunciation key to first and last names. Be sure to write a definition for yourself and then host a guessing game. For younger students, give each child a chance to share the story of a favorite experience or why they are excited about starting school.
- Read a funny first-day-of-school story or a book about making and being a good friend to create a pleasant mood and ease students' fears and anxieties.
- Introduce the important features of the room and the school with a tour or scavenger hunt.
- Present the most important classroom routines in a positive way, as you would a regular lesson. Explain, discuss, and give students a chance to practice such routines and opening-of-day exercises.
- Work with students to develop classroom rules.
- Post a general schedule for lunch, music, physical education, recess, and class work. Emphasize and teach the routines that will help students move into these periods quickly and efficiently. Remember, they won't learn it all in a day. So, continue to emphasize and practice classroom routines for the first few weeks.
- Post a daily schedule stating academic goals for the day. Note interruptions in the daily schedule, such as class pictures, programs, assemblies, or guest speakers.
- Begin with simple academic activities — short reviews that guarantee a high success rate. These will boost confidence and ease fears. And they can serve as trial runs for practicing routines, such as turning in completed work or asking for assistance.
- Monitor and maintain constant contact with students. Avoid spending time on clerical work the first day. And never leave students unattended. In an emergency, get another teacher or school adult to monitor students.
- Deal promptly with behavior problems. Offer a lot of positive reinforcement for students picking up on routines quickly.
- Generate interest and enthusiasm by hinting at exciting new topics you plan to begin later in the week.
- Issue books and discuss their care.
- Take students on a tour of the classroom and explain what is in all the cabinets and drawers. Show them what is accessible and what is off limits. Areas in which students will work independently, such as a listening center, should remain off limits until you've had a chance to fully explain the purpose of the area and model how students will use it.
Overall, you'll be sure to make a good impression if your first-day activities involve all your students in ways that allow them to be successful and for you to be seen as a caring, organized leader who is focused on creating a stimulating and cooperative environment.
This article was adapted from Learning to Teach . . . Not Just for Beginners by Linda Shalaway, © 2005, published by Scholastic, Inc.