Five veteran teachers share their secrets to a smooth start to the year with tips for setting up your classroom, getting students acquainted, and motivating learners for the year ahead.
Shoot for Higher Learning as a Team
Beginning-of-the-year activities that excite students about school
This past year, our district boosted efforts to promote college readiness. The initiative spans elementary through high school levels, so it's a concept I integrate into my 3rd grade classroom. Before the school year even begins, I set the theme for the year: our class will be spending the year preparing at, "Valley University," which is what I call our class as a way of setting a serious tone for learning. To introduce this theme and start promoting higher education I send my incoming students a letter during the summer that welcomes them to my classroom. I even include a picture of me at my college graduation.
The letter home also sets up our second year-long theme: our class is a team. In fact, I explain to students that on the first day of school they will become part of the official "Team 16," the name my class adopts since we will spend the year in room 16.
The first week of school I begin to integrate the university theme into team-building activities. To incorporate the Valley University theme, students spend the first week’s computer lab session researching a college of their choice from a list of schools I generated. Students research the mascot and location of the school.
- To get kids excited about the school year, I show a video of last year’s students introducing the new students to the grade. The kids summarize all the fun things they learned last year, and give examples of how to exhibit the character traits on a daily basis.
- We “shoot” off the year with a bulletin board that says STUDENTS SHOOT FOR HIGHER LEARNING – students get a basketball cut-out (from paper purchased at a crafts store) and they fill out their statistics: age, birth date, favorite subject, favorite book
- Students are given a basketball pencil and an eraser topper as a visual reminder that they are always “shooting for higher learning.” The supply bins for their desks are also plastic basketballs, which contain white board pens and erasers, glue sticks, and scissors.
- Students make college megaphones (PDF) shouting out messages (shout outs) about what they hope to accomplish this year and what they dream to be when they are older.
Students "shout out" what they dream of accomplishing
- We make university jerseys (PDF), decorated with the university name and mascot, along with the students’ names and visualizations that represent that student.
- Students decorate their homework folder with a variety of college mascots. I laminate the folder and students use it to carry daily homework to and from school.
The purpose of these first-week activities is to get students excited about learning. I want them to be enthusiastic about attending school and to feel positive and successful towards education.
More Resources for Your First Week
- All About Me Draft Worksheet
- All About Me Final Worksheet (PDF)
- My First Day Draft Worksheet
- My First Day Final Worksheet (PDF)