Student Goals for the New Year

By Brent Vasicek on December 29, 2010
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Now that the parties and gift giving are beginning to subside, and you haven't had to do lesson plans for awhile, it is time to think about kicking off January right. Inspired by the movie Freedom Writers, I like to start January with a "toast for change."

Photo courtesy Luigi Diamanti.






I like to set the tone for the rest of the year with my one-hour back-to-school routine. Below is the breakdown of my two favorite activities for this day.

Social Circles:  Inevitably the students come back without having had their normal amount of sleep. They are quick to get bored, but they do have lots of updates for their friends. So to take care of that social need, we head off to the cafeteria (or other large space) right after morning announcements. 


  • I tell half of the students to make a large circle around me. Circle Around Me
  • The other half of the students then partner with someone in the circle. 
  • If there is an odd number of students, I participate in this activity.
  • I model telling a brief story from my break. I add as many details as I can, but aim to finish the story in about a minute.
  • I give the students a minute to think about a story or two they might want to share with their classmates.
  • I give each pair two minutes to share their stories with each other. I tell them to make sure to completely fill the two minutes with conversation.
  • When the two minutes are up, I tell them to thank their partner with one of the three Hs (handshake, high five, or hug).
  • Then it's time to rotate. I will say something like, "Someone choose to be Cupid, and someone choose to be the New Year's Baby."  I pause so they can make their choice, and say, "Cupids, put your hands in the air. You will rotate clockwise two people."
  • We repeat this about five times. 


  • Academic Benefit: Students are involved in retelling the same story. Each time it gets better. This leads nicely into a writing activity later in the day.
  • Brain Benefit: Caine and Caine's second brain principle is "The brain is a social brain." This is an interactive way for students to socialize and tell all their holiday tales. I find this alleviates a lot of wasted time later in the day.
  • Social Benefit: Students are reacquainted with each other and interact with positive touch, something Dr. Becky Bailey promotes in her book Conscious Discipline

Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono

Toast for Change: After that 25-minute activity, we return to class. Of course, the classroom has been decorated to look not-so-classroom-like. The day after New Year's there are always a ton of sales for party supplies. I buy the hats, noisemakers, napkins, and champagne glasses. I also buy some bottles of sparkling grape juice.  

  • I assemble the desks into two long groups. I put down long sections of butcher block paper (usually yellow) as makeshift tablecloths. On the "tablecloths" I place napkins, cups, hats, and noisemakers.
  • We hold a brief discussion about what the class is about. This reminds them that they are indeed back at school.
  • We establish a class goal or two (be more efficient, have fewer missing assignments, transition more quickly). We write them down and post them on the wall. Writing down goals brings them one step closer to success.
  • Each student then reflects upon what he/she would like to change individually.
  • As they are writing down their goals on a die-cut that will be posted on a prominent wall in our room, I pour the 'champagne' (apple juice or grape juice).
  • We share our goals with one another, then with the class. Doing this in small groups makes it a low-risk activity. I always try to have them share with a partner before the entire class, as some students come up with some pretty personal goals to share.
  • We do our toast, and then start our day.

What sort of back-to-school activities do you do to energize your students in January?


2I2 Trademark 2010 Vasicek Happy New Year!


The 2i2 logo is a trademark for Mr. Vasicek's class. 




Very good articles and also details about this blog,it’s very good post and best luck for the future.

Thank you! ~Brent

I did the social circles activity today and it was a great success. Thanks for the great idea :-)

Vanessa, You are welcome. Thanks for letting us know how it went! ~Brent

Thanks for these great ideas Brent.

I had planned to share with them some of the upcoming assignments and then asking them to commit to class goals and our level of performance

I will extend my concept and add in your ideas to our re-commitment party.

Thanks again.

Valerie, Thanks for taking a moment to write and share. Have a great 2011. ~Brent

As always, amazing ideas and so timely! Happy New Year Brent!

Thank you. Happy New Year to you as well, Kathy. ~Brent

I think your back to school activities would help my students adjust back to their school routines.It provides them the opportunity to use their interpersonal skills in a fun and necessary way. I can't wait to try them with my third graders.

Thanks, Lynn. Let us know how it goes. Happy New Year! Brent

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