Kick start your back-to-school plan with ten quick-and-easy, teacher-created ideas that will motivate students, keep you organized, and improve your classroom life.


Suggested and tested by teachers like you, each of these entries in our Winning Ideas Monthly Contest won $50 in Scholastic products.

1. Mail Mystery Postcards
Submitted by Leslie Baumann, St Joseph's School, IA

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 Garden 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.

2. Make Time Capsules
Submitted by Julie Brown, Lawrence Barnes Elementary, VT

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.

3. Wish Upon a "Secret Star"
Submitted by Maria Morgan, St Helen Catholic School, FL

In order to encourage my students to walk in a quiet and orderly line while in the hallways, I often pick a "Secret Star" when going somewhere (e.g., P.E., Art, lunch, etc.). I usually pick a boy and a girl "Secret Star." I don't tell who my "Secret Star" is and I tell the students that I am watching to see if my "Secret Star" is walking nicely and quietly. When we arrive back to our classroom, I announce the "Secret Star" if and only if the "Secret Star" was successful in being a good walker. The "Secret Star" then gets a Starburst candy. Since nobody knows who the "Secret Star" is, everybody is usually very quiet and respectful in case it might be him or her. If the "Secret Star" is not quiet and respectful, then I simply state, "My Secret Star did not make it this time." I don't tell who it was. This works wonders for getting the students to walk quietly in the hallways, and it's also fun.

4. Do Donuts With Dads
Submitted by Rhiannon Dame, Greenbriar West Elementary, VA

Something fun I do to get the dads involved is host Donuts With Dads once or twice a month. Every month, a different dad or two volunteers. He comes in with donuts and juice and does a presentation for the students. The dad and I work together on coming up with something he would be comfortable presenting and the students would be interested in. We have had presentations covering all topics from using an abacus to being an FBI agent to National Hispanic Month. They also bring one of their favorite books and do a mini-book talk for the class about that book. The kids love seeing fathers, who traditionally aren't around schools much, involved in school, and the dads love it because it is minimal commitment: just one morning a year!

5. Breeze Through Make-Up Work
Submitted by Deana Pittman, Batesville Junior High School, MS

One of my classes is an 8th-grade class. Students used to be absent and request make-up work, often only to lose it and have to request the work again. To put a stop to this, I invested in a large, desk-sized calendar — each month I put that month's page up on my bulletin board. Each day I write everything that we do on that day's date, and I put any worksheets that an absent student will need on the bulletin board right there with the assignments. It has really been a time-saver, and the students know right where to go to look for their assignments!

6. Take Dance Breaks
Submitted by Andrea Moffat, General Wayne Elementary School, PA

Keeping kids active isn't just a matter of exercise. While exercise is certainly important, I view an active environment as one in which children are learning.

In my 1st grade classroom, I have stockpiled fun CDs. Some are kids' CDs that contain songs with directions to follow and games to play. Others are just popular songs that make you want to get up and dance. Between lessons, I use the songs as both a re-energizer and a transitional tool. The kids know that by the end of the song, they should have danced to their spot.

Besides keeping them awake and alert, I love that our songs build community by rallying all members of our learning community around common goals and experiences.

7. Group Students by the Clock
Submitted by Lisa Carney, Mcfadden Elementary School, TN

Part of effectively managing the classroom is having an efficient way to put students into groups. Students love working in groups, and this is a sure way to partner or group students with variety and inclusion of all students. To partner students, we make appointment clocks. I make a clock with the hours and a blank line by each hour. The students make an appointment with another student on each hour of the clock. If Sally is Jimmy's one o'clock appointment, then Jimmy is also Sally's one o'clock appointment. When I need my students to pair up for activities or review skills, I simply say, "Go to your two o'clock appointment." To group my students, I place name labels on a deck of cards. I simply shuffle the cards and deal them out into stacks, one for each of the groups that I need, and then call out the names. The cards are great to use for lots of things: selecting a student to do a special job, picking students to give presentations, etc.

8. Enlist Super Star Helpers
Submitted by Nikki Groth, Monday Primary School, TX

In the past, I always had a "helper board" where I posted helpers of the day such as line leader, calendar helper, etc. This year I tried a new system, which I love. I have my students seated in five tables and each table has a chair with a star on the back. The star has many responsibilities, such as passing out papers to others at the table, picking up supplies when necessary, etc. Every day I also have a star table (the star at the star table is the superstar). Typically the star table corresponds with the day: table 1 on Monday, table 2 on Tuesday, etc. The superstar does all of the one-person jobs for the day, like leading the line, leading calendar, delivering messages, etc. On Mondays, the star chair at each table moves to the next table and the rotation continues. It's wonderful because I know that every student will get a chance to be the leader, and it's so easy to maintain. I no longer have a checklist of who has been line leader.

9. Organize for Writing
Submitted by Lanise Jacoby, Pierce Elementary School, MA

For many, many years I used a simple file folder as a "working" folder to organize the students' work for Writers' Workshop. Sometimes they were plain, and the children decorated them, or sometimes they were just a nice, bright color. They contained first drafts, word books, and various sheets of writing tips and tools. The problem, however, was that they were always a mess!

This past summer I decided to make a change, and it has worked out GREAT! This year each child has a three-prong, two-pocket Writers' Workshop folder. Here's how it's organized:

1. Front pocket always has the working draft of the piece on which they're working.
2. Back pocket has their "Word Books."
3. The folder is filled with clear pocket sleeves in which there are lists of:
traits of good writing
words for feelings
words to describe people
"sparkle words" (adjectives)
powerful verbs, etc.

Pages can be added or taken out VERY easily, and writing tools and tips are neat, organized, and always at the children's fingertips! This is an easy way to organize, and both the children and I love it -- I know you will, too!

10. Transform Student Into Teacher
Submitted by April Roberts, Franklin County Middle School, GA

For my middle-school, Latino, ESL kids, I often wrap up the last ten minutes by having one or two of the students "be the teacher" for a mini-lesson.

I'll call on someone at random and ask them to go to the board and in two minutes or less re-teach what they've learned that day. I'll call them "Mr." or "Ms." and ask them questions as they demonstrate their lesson re-cap. I encourage the other students to ask questions so the teacher can field them. The "teacher" is allowed to choose to give their lesson in English or Spanish, depending on their language ability level. This option allows even the beginner to participate effectively and show off a bit. It works well with grammar because they can write examples, diagram a sentence, and list or categorize. This also works effectively in other content areas.