You're not the only one excited and nervous about the first day of school. Your students are, too! Here are four getting-to-know-you activities that will help everyone break the ice and create a sense of classroom camaraderie from the very beginning of the school year.
Create a Class Jigsaw Puzzle
Ellaine Barthelemy, a teacher in Apple Valley, Minn., uses a large piece of tagboard to create a jigsaw puzzle that has as many pieces as she has students, plus one piece for herself. She numbers each puzzle piece on the back, cuts them out, and distributes them to students on the first day of school. "I have students decorate their pieces with their names, pictures, and words," she explains. "We share these as a group and then reassemble the puzzle on a bulletin board to symbolize the importance of each individual's contribution to the class as a whole.
Play the Silly Name Game
"On the first day, I gather the children in a circle," says Megan Law, a teacher in Falls Church, Va. "We go around the circle and have each child pick a word to go with his or her name (either rhyming or beginning with the same letter as the name). Each child must say his or her name and repeat the names that came before ("I am Marshmallow Megan and that was Willowy Wendy and Soccer Sally and Jumping Jimmy..."). It's a fun way for young children to get to know one another and learn everybody's name."
Show-and-Tell in a Lunch Bag
About two weeks before school starts, Amy Scalf, a teacher from Winchester, Ky., sends her students a letter in which she introduces herself and describes some of the exciting activities her class will be doing during the school year. She also sends them a paper bag and asks each student to fill it with four or five items that are of some significance, perhaps a photo, an item from a collection, a souvenir from a trip, or a sports memento. "On the first day of school, we all sit together and open up our bags to show each other something about ourselves, myself included."
Since she teaches upper elementary and middle school students who are already familiar with their classmates, Anna Hallock, a teacher in Elgin, Ill., turns getting-to-know-you into a fun guessing game. "On the first day, I have students write three unique facts about themselves, such as a pet's name, favorite sport, talent, and so on. I collect the papers and read a description aloud to the class. The students then guess to whom I'm referring. I continue until all the descriptions have been read, including my own."
One More Thing to Keep in Mind
Getting-acquainted activities aren't just for the first day of school. Experienced teachers recommend sprinkling these types of icebreaker and welcome back activities throughout the first week of school. They know it's the quickest route to building a strong class community.