Give students a warm welcome with these fun getting-to-know-you activities and unit plans.
Fabulous First-Day Ideas
Exciting ways to start the new year and help students get to know you and each other.
PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12
Primary and intermediate-level teachers offer suggestions for first-day-of-school lesson planning. Use their clever activities to create an exciting start to the school year.
During the first week of school, my second graders make a time capsule. First I ask them to bring an empty paper-towel roll from home. We cover the rolls with construction paper, on which the children draw pictures and write their names. Capsule contents include a picture of the child, a hand tracing, and a completed questionnaire that asks about favorite books, TV shows, friends, and so on. It also asks them to write three things that they want to learn during the year. I measure each student's height with a piece of string, and the string is also put into the time capsule. Then I collect the capsules and hide them. On the last day of school we have a fun "reopening" ceremony, during which the children compare their earlier choices and goals (and height!) with how they feel now.
–Alyson Grove Saieva, La Habra, CA
About two weeks before school starts, I send my students a letter in which I introduce myself and describe some activities we will share. I also send them a paper bag and ask them to fill it with four or five items. On the first day of school we all sit together and open up our bags to show each other something about ourselves, myself included.
–Amy Scalf, Winchester, KY
Using a large piece of tagboard, I draw as many puzzle pieces as I have students, plus one for myself. I number them on the back and cut them out. I have students decorate their pieces with their names, pictures, and words. 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.
–Ellaine Barthelemy, Apple Valley, MN
Silly Name Game
On the first day, I gather the children in a circle. 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 to get to know one another and learn everybody's names.
–Megan Law, Falls Church, VA
My kindergarten class works together on the first day to come up with a mission that we strive to accomplish on each day of the school year. For example: "We will learn and use each other's names. Also, we will say 'Please' and 'thank you' at the appropriate times." We read the mission statement every day, and I include it in my newsletters home to parents. We adjust it as the year progresses.
–Ashley Mehr, St. Petersburg, FL
B-Kind! B-On Time!
My first bulletin board revolves around our nature-study unit on insects and helps children remember good behavior. We make bees out of paper, paper plates, and pipe cleaners. Each child thinks of a phrase to go with his or her bee (e.g., B-careful, B-honest, B-kind). Then we hang the bees and accompanying phrases on the bulletin board.
–Andrea Benedett, Jamestown, NY
Bulletin Board Layers
My primary-grade children arrive on the first day to see a bulletin board with special spaces reserved and labeled for each of them. By the end of the first day, the board is filled with their drawings. Throughout the year new pictures are added on top of the old ones; these usually relate to the theme currently being studied. At the end of the year, each collection of pictures is taken down, and students bind them together with a cover to make a book.
–Janet R. Janke, Belle Glade, FL
Intermediate Write About You!
At the start of each year I ask my students to write their autobiographies. We talk about the genre of autobiography, sentence structure, paragraphing, writing steps, and detailed writing. I learn a lot about the students, and they learn about each other. This is a good topic to start the year with, because they are already experts on the subject.
–Kristen Wagner, Durham, NC
All-About-Me Class Quilts
This year I plan to have my fifth-grade students draw silhouettes of themselves. These will then be mounted on white paper and made into a class quilt. The companion exercise will be for students to write a one-page autobiography for a second quilt that is laid out like the first one. The two quilts will be displayed next to each other.
–Yelena Siwinski, Brooklyn, NY
By upper elementary school, many students already know the names of their classmates. On the first day, I have students write three unique facts about themselves (a pet's name, favorite sport, talents, 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 descriptions have been read. I include myself, too!
–Anna Hallock, Elgin, IL
Make A Pattern Book
After discussing books that have predictable language patterns with my fifth-grade class, I read to them the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? We then make our own book, titled Fifth Grade, Fifth Grade, Ftfh Grade, What Do You See? Students write and illustrate a page about their new classroom and classmates. The students enjoy reading the book later in the year to their kindergarten book buddies.
–Lisa Mosco, Jonestown, PA