Looking for clever, meaningful ways to ease students into the start of the school year? These welcome-back activities are easy to introduce, don't take long to complete, and encourage creative thinking and interaction. They also give you quick insights into your students' individual personalities, interests, and abilities.

A Year-in-the-Life Time Capsule

Creating personal time capsules is always been a big hit in Alyson Grove Sieva's second-grade classroom. The "time capsule" is actually an empty paper-towel roll covered with construction paper students fancifully decorate with their names, drawings, stickers, and sparkles. "Capsule contents include a picture of the child, a hand-tracing, and a completed questionnaire that asks about favorite books, what they want to learn during the school year, TV shows, friends, and so on," says Sieva, a teacher in La Habra, California. She also uses a piece of string to measures each student's height and tucks the string in the time capsule, too. "Then I collect the capsules and hide them," she explains. "On the last day of school we have a fun 'reopening' ceremony, during which the children compare their earlier choices, goals, and height with how they feel now."

Penny Jar Pass Gets Conversation Rolling

To get students talking, Janet Worthington-Samo, a teacher in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, plays a getting-to-know-you game that really makes "cents." Here's how it works: Fill a small, plastic jar with pennies. Pass the jar around and invite students to remove as many or as few coins as they wish. Explain that for each penny they take, they must share one piece of information about themselves. For example, if a student chooses three pennies, she might share. "I have three sisters," "I take karate," and "I like mystery stories." Remember to take your turn with the jar, too, and let everyone keep the pennies!"

Make a Pattern Book

One of fifth-grade teacher Lisa Mosco's favorite welcome-back activities starts off with a discussion about books with predictable language patterns. Then she reads them a familiar book from their kindergarten days — Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. (illustrated by Eric Carle). "We then make our own book, titled Fifth Grade, Fifth Grade, What Do You See?" explains Mosco, who works in Jonestown, Pennsylvania. "Each student writes and illustrates a page about their new classroom and classmates. " She compiles the book and then they have fun reading it together. "Later in the year, we enjoy reading it to their kindergarten book buddies," she says.

Start-the-Year Bingo

Give an old game a new angle. "On a sheet of paper create a bingo grid of five squares by five squares," suggests Bill Singer in The Scholastic Teacher Plan Book. "Then, write a phrase in each square that might relate to a student, such as "has a brother or sister at this school," "has a birthday in September, 'has never broken a bone', or 'knows how to swim'."

The object of the game is for each student to find another student in the class to sign the squares on his or her bingo board. "For instance, if Marcus has a little sister in kindergarten, he could sign Jessica's bingo grid in that square," explains Singer. "You can make the game more challenging for older students by limiting the number of times they can sign off on the same classmate's bingo board." You can also make the game easier for kindergarten students by putting letters in each square and asking them to search for a classmate who has that letter in his or her name. Game play continues until all students get five in a row, or until one student has every square filled.

This game can also be played game-show style with no board. As the emcee, call out the phrases and ask kids to stand up if they "play on a soccer team" or "have a pet dog." Kids love the up-and-down action and seeing that they have much in common with their new classmates.


The ideas originally appeared in Teacher magazine or The Scholastic Teacher Plan Book by Bill Singer and Tonya Ward-Singer, © 2005, both published by Scholastic, Inc.