Yes, You Can!

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1

What you need: Construction paper, crayons, chart paper or poster board

What to do: At the start of the year, Tammy McMorrow, a first-grade ­teacher at Indian Creek Elementary in Kuna, Idaho, asks kids to do things that are out of their comfort zone, from reading challenging books to following new rules. She teaches her students that the word can’t is not in her vocabulary and shouldn’t be in theirs, either.

McMorrow has students write the word can on a piece of construction paper. Then, each student decorates his or her drawing. McMorrow glues the drawings on a sign with the word can’t crossed out in the center. The poster is an agreement between McMorrow and her students that they will try their best. “I refer to the poster often, especially at the beginning of the year,” says McMorrow, who blogs at Forever in First. “It becomes our reminder that we are ‘can-doers.’ ”

Happy Handprints

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1 (Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts)

What you need: 11" x 15" watercolor paper, liquid watercolors, black and white acrylic paint, paper plates

What to do: Kathy Barbro, an art teacher at Dixie Canyon Community Charter School in Sherman Oaks, California, and blogger at Art Projects for Kids, gets the year off to a fun start with a creative, and messy, project: Andy Warhol–inspired handprint paintings. Before school starts, Barbro draws a four-panel grid on watercolor paper for each student. Then, on the first day, Barbro starts the project by having budding pop artists paint each rectangle a different color. (She uses liquid watercolors in spill-proof cups to keep cleanup to a minimum.)

As the watercolors dry, Barbro sets up a station with one plate of black acrylic paint and one with white. Kids make white handprints in the top right and bottom left panels of their painting and black handprints in the remaining two panels. Bonus: The process helps Barbro assess how well students follow directions.

A Classroom Family Tree

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1; SL.6; McREL Life Skills: Working With Others Standard 4 (Displays effective interpersonal communication skills)

What you need: Brown butcher paper, family photos, crayons, glue

What to do: To ease the transition from school to home, invite students to bring a piece of their family with them to create a classroom family tree. To begin, use brown butcher paper to cut one “tree trunk” for the class and one “branch” per student; mount the trunk on a bulletin board. Then, have students take out a photo of themselves with a family member (ask parents to send in photos on the first day of school). Go around the room and ask kids to share details about their photo. For example, a child might say, “This is a photo of me and my siblings at Grandma’s.” After students have presented their photos, give each one a paper branch to decorate. Next, glue the student’s family photo to the branch. Once dry, mount the branches on the tree trunk.

In addition to getting to know one another’s families, the family tree also provides a place for kids to visit if they’re feeling homesick.

DIY Rule Book

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1

What you need: Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann; preprinted class rules; construction paper; string

What to do: To reassure students that their classroom is a safe place, Caitlin Clabby, a kindergarten teacher at Park Trails Elementary in Parkland, Florida, has them make their own rule books. “Making the books at the beginning of the year gives students ownership of the classroom rules and makes the rules memorable,” says Clabby, who blogs at Kindergarten Smiles.

First, Clabby reads Officer Buckle and Gloria, the tale of a safety officer and his canine pal who teach safety tips and rules. Then, the class discusses appropriate rules, such as using soft voices. Once they’ve touched on every item on Clabby’s list of rules, students glue one preprinted rule to each page of their books and create a collage or drawing on construction paper that illustrates the rule. To finish their books, children use a hole punch and string to bind the pages together.

Choose Your Own Teacher

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1; SL.6

What you need: Chart paper, marker

What to do: Rachel Freundlich, a first-grade teacher at Wilson Elementary in Wyoming and blogger at Teaching and Learning Together, begins each school year by posing the following question to her students: “What kind of teacher do you want?” Freundlich guides the class in a conversation about what qualities might make a great teacher.

By talking about what students want in a teacher, Freundlich encourages them to focus on the aspects of school they are excited about, while also assessing their vocabulary. She alleviates any anxiety by showing she cares about what they think and feel. “The children are usually pretty quiet at first,” says Freundlich. “But soon they warm up to it.”

The activity doubles as an opportunity to discuss descriptive words and adjectives. Model the activity by describing a common item using three to four adjectives. Then, read a book such as A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, by Sandra Boynton, to introduce new descriptive words into students’ vocabulary.

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Photos (from left):  Courtesy of Milagros Montalvo; Tammy McMorrow; Art Projects for Kids; Rachel Freundlich; Caitlin Clabby