1. Start Your Engines

Like so many, my family absolutely LOVED the blockbuster hit movie Cars, which inspired me to begin thinking of ways to welcome the kids to my classroom with a racecar theme. I am so excited to welcome my new students to 3rd grade with a classroom theme of "Third Graders — Start Your Engines."

Our classroom rules are posted in big letters at the front and follow the acronym "RACE":
R-Respect — yourself and others.
A-Attitude — always have a positive one.
C-Cooperate — and always do your best.
E-Excellence — it's the key to success!

We learn the sign language signs for these words, and we do them together each morning at calendar time.

Our reading corner is now called "the Pit" and features a four-foot blow-up racecar (that I won on eBay for cheap!) suspended from the ceiling. My classroom helpers are now called the "Pit Crew" and our classroom water fountain has been renamed the "Fill-R-Up Station." The hand-in bins have been appropriately renamed "the Finish Line" — all of these "signs" were made with Microsoft WordArt, using the checkered flag page-border art style with 31 point width.

One of our bulletin boards has a brightly colored U.S. map and is titled "Race Across the States." Students will attempt to receive postcards from every state. As they do, we will learn the capital of each new state and will remove that state's "license plate" from the Race Across the States wall.

As we look forward to our 100th day of school, a little mouse-driven racecar will progress from one number to the next along the number line atop the white board, to help us keep track of the countdown to the 100th day of school.

What formerly was my Student of the Week bulletin board has been transformed into "Victory Lane," complete with an oversized, graphic Winner's Cup with the student's name added to the faceplate. On this bulletin board, the student of the week will get to share pictures of his or her family along with his or her "Driver of the Week" form, where the student lists all favorite pastimes and other special personal details.

Everything was made from scratch except for a plastic Cars tablecloth from Wal-Mart for my bulletin board background, a plastic birthday party "Start Your Engines" flag banner, and black-and-white checkered fabric for touches of the "checkered flag" effect throughout.

The thing that was the most fun for me was when I converted the front of my desk into a '57 Chevy! I blew up a picture of a grill of a '57 Chevy and turned it into an 18" x 24" lifelike grill, then did the same with photographs of headlights and glued them to foam board for that 3-D effect and stuck them on each corner of the front end of my desk. I had so much fun that I made a hood ornament out of foam board and ticky-tacked it to the center of my desktop!

For icebreakers, my students will "paint" their own racecar on tag board. All students will have their pictures taken, and we'll put their pictures on the heads of their racecar drivers. When everyone is finished designing his or her own racecar, we will do one "lap around the track" (around the classroom) to show off our fancy paint jobs.

Next, my 3rd-grade "drivers" will be directed to start their engines and line up for "time trials." The directions for this activity will be: "This time trial is to see how long it takes you to line yourselves up according to your birthdays, beginning with January 1st and ending with December 31st, only you have to decide how you're going to get this done." "Drivers on your marks... get set... GO!" (And I will wave the green flag!) Then I will keep time on the stopwatch and observe who emerged in the group as a leader, the most hesitant to work in a group, the bossiest, the most sensitive, the most easily discouraged, etc. I only "help" from time to time if they all get stuck or seem to be spinning out and going nowhere.

We will repeat this same activity midyear and also at the end of the year, and the students will see just how much better they have become at working as a team. I guess you could say I'm revved up and ready to go back to school!

I hope this inspires others to get their classrooms all "spiffed up" for an exciting new school year!

Submitted by Angie Shaw (Grade 3 teacher, Nebraska)


2. Classroom Giving Tree

In my classroom, I have a "Giving Tree." I put up a big tree and cover it with paper apples. On each of the apples, I write a supply item that parents can donate to our room. Supplies range from Lysol wipes and Post-its to dry erase markers. The parents take an apple and return it with the supply. I put the apple back on the tree with the parent's name on it. At the end of each month I have a raffle for the parents who have helped to make our classroom a success. Last year was amazing! I had an overwhelming response. Needless to say, I am ready to put it up again this year.

Submitted by Heather Milani (Grade 4 teacher, Illinios)


3. Mystery Postcard

I welcome my 3rd-grade students back to school by sending them a postcard over the summer. On the postcard is a picture of me at some location in the United States, and their first homework assignment is to try to figure out where in the U.S. Miss Baumann was. The first year I did this, I was in Boston and had a picture taken at the Public Gardens by the Swan Boats. This summer I was in Seattle, Washington, and had a picture taken by the Space Needle. It's a great way to motivate the students for the first day of school, and they LOVE getting mail. 

Submitted by Leslie Baumann (Grade 3 teacher, Iowa)


4. Fun and Wacky First Day Writing

Since the first day of school is scary for most students, I try to make their day more relaxing and less stressful with a fun activity that requires art and writing. I give each student one white piece of paper (Xerox paper is perfect). I tell my students that we are going to draw faces — not just ordinary faces, but wacky faces. First, I have my students write their names on the back, and then I tell them to draw a very large oval; they can add ears but nothing else. Then the students hand their paper to the left (if students are seated in pods, otherwise, for older students you can roll a die and say switch the paper 2x's, 6x's etc.). Then the students add eyes and eyebrows to the existing face oval and ears. Then, pass paper. Next, add mouth. Then, pass paper. Next, add hair and any other finishing touches. (I tell the kids that tattoos are not acceptable.) I also give them 5-6 minutes to draw and color each facial feature they add. When the face is completed, it is given to the student whose name was on the back.

Now the writing begins. The picture of the face is a new student at your school. The students must write what it is like for this new student on his or her first day of school. Here are some writing suggestions: Was this person scared to come to the first day of school? Could he or she sleep the night before? What did he or she wear? Who took him to school? Did she meet anyone? The wonderful things about this project are that it brings out creativity, it's fun, and students soon forget any first day jitters they may have! Also, it makes a wonderful item to display at Back-to-School Night! 

Submitted by Leslie Flores (Grade 4 teacher, California)


5. Time Capsules

At the beginning of the year I take pictures of the students and make copies. We place one photo in a time capsule along with a writing sample and a string showing how tall they are at the beginning of the year. Then they fill out sheets about what they like and don't like, as well as a hopes-and-dreams card. Their hopes and dreams have to be something school-related, things they hope they will learn this school year. The students also get a special wishing rock that they make a wish on, which goes with their hopes and dreams. They put all this in their time capsules (which are paper towel tubes with tissue paper covering the bottom). The students decorate their time capsules with tissue paper, sequins, pom-poms, streamers, two wiggly eyes (the time capsules keep an eye on them all year), etc. We hang them from the ceiling and take them down on the last day of school when we redo the same activities for comparison. The students are so excited about seeing if their hopes and dreams came true, and they love to see how much they have grown.

Submitted by Julie Brown (Grade 1 teacher, Vermont)