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DR. LORI FRIESEN

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10 Fantastic First Week of School Activities

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Please Note: THE ORIGINAL FREEBIE FOR THIS EPISODE IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE, BUT HAS BEEN EXPANDED IN MY NEW PRODUCT ON TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS. HOWEVER, YOU CAN STILL GET THE DETAILS ON ALL OF THE ACTIVITIES MENTIONED IN THE PODCAST HERE. :-) 

Show Notes:

We are going to have SO much fun this week!

I am probably a little bit of a geek with how excited I get about the first week of school.

The first week makes me feel like I am seven years old again, and I get all of the same butterflies and feelings of nervousness and excitement I've always had whenever I start something new. I think it's because the start of each school year represents a fresh start - an opportunity to do things better. 😊

Now last week, I gave you SO much information about how to teach your rules and routines within the larger context of your first week of school, so today I want to dive in deep about exactly what kinds of activities you might want to select to do with your students during those very important first few days as you are introducing and practicing your class routines with your students.

If you haven’t listened to Episode #17 and Episode #18, you may want to go back and listen to those shows before this one so that everything I am teaching you in this episode makes sense.

I want to start by saying that in all of my work with beginning teachers across the country, developing and consistently reinforcing class routines is always one of the biggest challenges for new teachers, and I think this is because many of the routines you will be teaching will be new for you as well.

This might sound kind of dumb to you, but I’ll never forget when that lightbulb moment happened for me – I knew I needed to teach my class expectations, and I knew I wanted to do some fun activities with my students, but it was pretty cool when I finally realized that I could put the two together – and it was a game changer for me.

Because teaching these routines is new for you as well, keeping routines top of mind will likely be difficult unless you are constantly reminding yourself to remind your students of what the expectations are in this classroom.

So, for each activity, I will remind you of some of the routines you will want to teach alongside each activity so you can begin to think about how you want to shape that first week in your classroom.

I tend to be really heavy with getting to know you activities during the first day and a half of school, and then I begin to layer in some actual curriculum content as I introduce what will be our daily and weekly schedule to my students as we move throughout our first week.

However, I do build in lots of opportunities for my students to get to know each other throughout the first week, even if we are beginning to launch into curriculum content.

Part of the reason I do this is because many of these activities not only help my students to begin to feel more comfortable and at home in this new space, but we also use a lot of their work to decorate our classroom so they can see a part of themselves and really develop a sense of belonging in this new space before we dive into more difficult content.

Child psychology and learning theory research indicate that children need to experience many small successes in order to feel safe and to be willing to take risks in an educational environment, and so the activities I am going to share with you are all designed to contribute to developing a sense of safety and cohesiveness among students.

Okay, so let’s get started!

  1. Secret Compliments

This is a great activity to do during the first week of school because it helps my students to form the habit of always looking for the positive in each other.

I love to do this activity with my students in our reading corner because it has soft carpet, cushions, and a little couch, so I will first review the routine we have for coming onto the carpet before inviting groups of students to come on over.

Once the students are with you in your class meeting area, you’ll want to review the rule in your classroom about what “Listen to the speaker” looks like and sounds like (if this is one of the rules in your classroom).

If it isn't one of your rules, maybe you have "Respect Others" as a rule, so be sure to review what this will look like and sound like when you have a class discussion in your classroom.

I know, it seems like a small detail, but these small details are essential. Taking the time to teach and reinforce this carefully and thoroughly now will save you SO much time throughout the year!

Next, hold a class discussion to brainstorm different compliments we can give to each other and list them on chart paper, and then talk about a variety of kind and respectful words we could use to describe ourselves (descriptive adjectives).  

Then, have the children label a large envelope clearly with their name, and decorate it with at least 3 descriptive adjectives to describe themselves. 

Once they’ve completed this step, display all of their envelopes along the bottom of one of your bulletin boards so they are at child-height.

Then, have each child write his/her name on a small piece of paper to be put into a hat.

Each child draws out a name; this will be their secret pal for the week.

The students can write brief, secret compliments to their pals each morning as their warm-up when they first enter the room, and last thing before they go home at the end of the day.

My students absolutely love this activity! They get to open their envelopes at the end of the week and read all of their compliments, and the secret pals reveal themselves at the end of the week.

You won't believe how meaningful this activity will be for some of your students. I had one parent tell me that her son, Harry, who was absolutely adorable with freckles, red hair, and glasses – kept this envelope on his bedside table and that he read the compliments each night before he went to sleep.

He was one of the quietest, most gentle souls in our classroom, and I realized that I needed to be super intentional about helping him to find at least one really good friend in our classroom.

 

  1. Ball Toss

This is a fun, interactive way to begin the year – and it’s a great opportunity to remind students of our class routine for how to come to the carpet for carpet activities.

Use a soft ball such as a nerf ball, and have the students sit in a large circle on the floor.

Begin by tossing the ball to someone across from you while introducing yourself and saying your favourite food/sport/color/animal etc. (decide on one topic for each round of the game).

So I might say… "My name is Mrs. Friesen and my favorite color is yellow."

That person then tosses the ball to someone else, introduces him or herself and tells their favourite color. 

Continue until everyone has introduced themselves.

As a fun follow-up, see if the kids can remember their neighbours’ name and favourite color for that round. Shuffle spots and then play again!

Students love this one because it gives them a movement break and gives them an opportunity to learn everyone’s names.

 

  1. Classroom Scavenger Hunt

This activity is a great because it allows your students to show you how awesome they are about moving through the classroom space respectfully and using quiet voices.

You will also want to review your routine for what they should listen for when you need to get their attention before you start this activity.

Simply put your students in pairs and have them answer a list of questions about your classroom by walking around and finding the numbered items in your room that I've listed on the activity template.

Then, talk about what they found as a large group and clarify any questions the students might have about where things are in the classroom.

 

  1. Secret Student

My students LOVE this activity!

To begin, have your students fill in the Secret Student form (this form is included in my new resource, available by clicking HERE on TpT).

This form has fill-in-the-blank questions on it like “My favorite food of all time is _____ and I have _____ colored eyes.”

Then, there is a space at the very bottom of the page for your students to print their name.

Once the students have completed their forms, collect them and then redistribute them randomly.

Have each child read out one form and see if anyone can guess who the Secret Student is!

Another way to use this activity is to put a sticky note over the student’s name and then put these up on the bulletin board as a free time activity for your students so they can read each one and try to guess who each student is.

It’s a great way for your students to get to know a little bit about each other!

  1. T-Shirt Activity 

For this activity, the students will design a ‘t-shirt’ made of card stock (I’ve included a pattern you can use to photocopy in my new product on TpT).

On the t-shirt, they will put their name on the pocket, and then they will fill in various types of information about themselves that you specify.

So for example, this may include printing information and drawing pictures on the left sleeve about the kinds of foods they like to eat, or writing where they went on their favourite holiday around the collar of the shirt, and so on.

The students love it if you do this activity with them by filling in the information that is true for you on your own shirt.

The fun part about this activity is that the ideas can be decided by you in advance or they can be student-generated. 😊

Next, have each student introduce him or herself and tell one or two pieces of information from their t-shirt (write this information down as they tell you so you can use it for the next activity!)

Important: If someone else has said that they love pizza, you cannot also say this – you must choose something else from your shirt. J 

Ask your students to pay very close attention to what their classmates say because they will need that information soon. Try to remember!

Finally, put all of these t-shirts on display on a ‘clothesline’ across the room using clothespins to hang them, and the students can go around and review/study the information on each shirt.

 

  1. Guess That Person Bingo 

Before you begin this activity, take the opportunity to review your expectations for name and date on assignments. Post an example of how you will ALWAYS want their name and date written on every assignment, and then have them practice with this activity before you begin.

As a follow-up to the t-shirt activity, it’s fun to test the students’ knowledge of their classmates by playing a game of bingo.

Project a list all of the students’ names on the board and then give each student a blank bingo card (also included in the freebie for this episode) and some marker chips. 

Have your students fill in the squares with one student’s name for each space (no doubles allowed).

Then, call out one piece of information about one of their classmates from the t-shirt activity.

If they know who the information is about and have his/her name on their card, they get to put a marker on it.

Continue until someone gets bingo.

To win the game, the student needs to tell the names of the students he/she has marked on their card.

Have students switch cards and play another round!

This is also a great filler activity if you finish something else early one day and need something to fill the gap. πŸ˜‰

  1. Mystery Door

This is a really fun activity to do to help students remember your expectations when lining up before recess, lunch, or home – but it will take you an extra five or ten minutes so only do this when you have the time.

To prepare for this activity, seal about 30 questions in an envelope, asking information about the school, the teachers, the students’ summer vacations, their favourite sport etc.

(Again, I’ve included templates for you in my new product on TpT).

Then, stick this envelope to the back of your classroom door so you can use it whenever students line up.

For students to be able to line up, they need to be the first to answer one of the questions in the envelopes (while, of course, following your class rules for putting their hand up to speak and walking, not running, as they earn their spot in line).

Students LOVE this one and it’s a great way to review anything from class rules and routines to studying for a test!
 

  1. Something in Common

This is a great activity to get students up and moving around, interacting with their classmates - and to realize that they might have a lot more in common with each other than they had realized!

It’s also a great time to practice getting your students’ attention quickly while they are in the middle of an activity, and giving them constant feedback about how well they are learning this routine. 

This activity is very simple.

The students must walk around and ask questions to find something they have in common with each member of the class and write it down. It's helpful if you brainstorm a list of questions your students can ask before they begin.

For example, if they have a younger brother, they can ask the question, "Do you have a younger brother?"

If one of their favorite snacks is popcorn, they can ask, "Is popcorn one of your favorite snacks?"

The first person to find 10 different people with whom they have something in common wins!

 

  1. Time Capsules

I love to do this activity at the beginning of the year, and then give the capsules back to the students at the end of their year to demonstrate the growth they have experienced.

To do this activity, I ask each student to bring an empty shoe box to school, along with five small items that can fit inside that represent who they are. 

In class, we brainstorm ideas of items that students could bring in to get them started, such as family pictures, magazine photos of favourite foods, activities, sports, hobbies, or games, small figurines, a medal they have won, or a badge they have earned at Brownies or Boy Scouts.

Encourage your students to be creative and set this up as a home/school project to help parents get involved from the beginning of the year.

And of course, I have included both a letter home to parents and a sample activity that your students can do to put into their time capsules in for you to adapt for your own class and grade level.

 

  1. A “Cheesy” Memory Book 

I just had to include this one. 😊

One of my students’ first homework assignments of the year is to order pizza with their families, and then bring an empty medium-sized pizza box to school. 

We then label the pizza box clearly with the child’s name, and this becomes their Memory Box for the year.

(Be sure to line the bottom of the pizza box with wax paper if there is any trace of crumbs or food)!

Then, throughout the year whenever a child completes a project or assignment which (s)he is particularly proud of, we add it to their pizza box face-down.

I also add a lot of the getting-to-know-you activities we do at the beginning of the year,
"Special Occasions" pages such as field trips or special holiday events throughout the year, and an autograph page at the end.

Then, at the end of the year I add a front page photo of the child from their first day in my classroom, a final note from me, and coil bind all of the pages together. The children then have a wonderful keepsake from their year! 

Be sure to tune in next week when I do book talks featuring my favorite books for back to school, along with some of my favorite activities to do with them! To subscribe to this podcast so you never miss an episode, just click here.

I hope you have a wonderful week, and remember – just because you are a beginning teacher, there is no need for you to struggle like one. I believe in you, I know you can do this, and I’m here to help you, every step of the way.

❀️ Lori

Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor

Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.

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