I try to make students feel welcome as soon as they step into my classroom. I believe the most important part of the first day is helping students feel comfortable and enthusiastic about attending school. Here is my 8-step plan for starting off right from day one.
1. Setting the Right Tone
I open the morning by reading First Day Jitters. It is important for students to know that teachers and all students share the same insecurities and nervous feelings at the beginning of the year. This story offers a way to open communication and set a tone for trust and openness, which I hope to build upon throughout the year.
2. Enjoying a Sweet Start
At the end of the first day, students receive a treat bag with meaningful items to set the tone of the class for the year.
- an eraser — mistakes are opportunities for learning
- Smarties candies — we all have different kinds of “smarts”
- a pencil — "Because I know that you are sharp!"
- a stick of gum — we are going to stick together as a team
- a Hershey kiss — we have a safe and caring classroom
- candy — we are sweet and respectful towards each other
3. Conducting Student Interviews
On the first day of school students have a shape taped under their chairs (apple, rocket, etc.). They match their shape to someone else's in the class. The students walk around the soccer field interviewing their partners. While being interviewed, the students have a chance to become acquainted to the field we use for PE. The students tend to feel more comfortable and relaxed in the outdoor setting. We return to the classroom and each pair introduces each other to the class. Students have to describe three interesting facts they've learned about their partner.
4. Conducting a Teacher Interview
I pass out cards that have facts about me on them. I ask the students a question about myself. For example, I will ask “Who thinks they have the card with the name of my dog?” The student with the card that only reads “Domino” will stand up and say the answer. The fun part about this is that the students don’t know the answers. If they think they know the answer they stand up and read the answer on the card. Sometimes the response is funny because they are the answers to different questions — we all have a laugh together, which is a great way to bond as a class from the very beginning.
5. Answering Questionnaires
Students walk around the room with clipboards and a questionnaire asking students different questions. Afterwards we come together and share our responses. Students take the questionnaires home as a reminder of the first day of school. Throughout the year I will use that information to discuss graphing during math.
6. Playing Bingo
Students are given a blank bingo card with the class list and five other important staff members' names (principal, nurse, other 3rd grade teachers, etc.). They write the names on random squares on the bingo card. Then I call out names of students or faculty members until someone wins bingo. The first few winners get a free book from a Scholastic Book Club order.
7. Connecting a TEAM 16 Puzzle
Since we're in room 16, my class adopts the name "TEAM 16" for the year. I draw “TEAM 16” on a poster board. Then, I cut out pieces of different sizes. I give each student a piece to decorate with words and images that represent them. Students share the pieces, explaining how and why they decorated theirs a certain way. Then we glue the puzzle pieces together to form TEAM 16.
8. Summer Souvenirs
I read How I Spent My Summer Vacation as an introduction to this assignment. Students bring in a “souvenir” that represents something they did during the summer. The souvenir can be an artifact, map, drawing, or postcard. I display the souvenirs students share during the first week on the back counter. Although, sometimes students bring in a family member visiting as their souvenir!