Whether you are a new or veteran teacher, planning for the first day or week of school can be a bit overwhelming. Planning is much easier when you’ve developed your routines, procedures, and you know what to expect from your students. However, the first day, or even week, is a whole other story. This is when you’re developing relationships, establishing routines, and developing a sense of what to expect from students. This blog post shares my lessons and first day of school ideas, as well as some of my tips for keeping organized. You can also view my first week on YouTube here!
The First Few Minutes
There is no doubt that the most hectic part of the first day of school is the first few minutes of the day. My students arrive to class over a 30 minute period, and many of them walk to class with their parents on the first day (be prepared to smile for pictures). Students typically bring the supplies on our supply list, which can become overwhelming when it all arrives at once. A cluttered classroom makes me crazy, so I like to have a system in place to prevent school supply chaos.
I post an anchor chart with step-by-step directions. You don’t know how much I wish I could make those gorgeous anchor charts that I see all over Instagram! It takes all my effort and concentration to write legibly and to spell correctly, so this is as good as it gets. Guess what, my students don’t mind one bit! On the anchor chart, explain what supplies should be kept at students’ desks and what supplies should be placed in baskets. Once everyone is in the room and we’re ready to start, I take care of the supplies at students’ desks. I place baskets and containers around the classroom for the supplies that students turn in. Those are supplies I keep in cabinets, because I know that if I distribute 1,289 glue sticks on the first day of school, by the following week we’ll only have three or four left. You can download the labels here.
Students keep their personal supplies at their desk. Since I team teach, I place two baskets inside each student’s desk. One if for the student in my homeroom’s supplies, and the other basket is for the student in my partner’s homeroom. I’ve used these baskets for years, and I absolutely love them! I also keep a caddy on the center of students’ tables (cluster of desks). The caddy holds the materials they use on a daily basis. If students prefer to keep their supplies in their pencil box, I’m completely okay with that too. I know I have some who are very particular about their things, and I can understand that, so I don’t force anyone to keep their supplies in the caddy.
Since my students arrive in the classroom over a 30 minute time frame, I need something everyone can do independently. I’m busy greeting students and parents, answering questions, and taking care of a million extras that always seem to pop up on the first day. I want my students to have something to do, but I don’t want to give busy work, because I like for there to be a purpose for everything I do. I’ve created a little Back to School Book, for students to complete after they put away their supplies. If they finish the booklet early, there are plenty of pages with coloring opportunities. I rarely have anyone finish the book early, but I always like to over plan.
First Day Jitters
Once we’ve organized supplies, I read First Day Jitters, which is the cutest little book for the first day of school. I was worried that it would be too young for my 4th graders last year, but they loved it.
After reading the book, I begin going over our rules and procedures. I use a Back to School Rules and Procedures booklet. At this time, I don’t go into great detail for content specific procedures, such as math workshop or reading workshop. I save those for a bit later. As students complete the booklet, we practice, practice, practice the procedures. It’s unrealistic to think that students can sit for long periods of time, especially on the first day, so I’m sure to give them plenty of opportunities to talk and move.
The Back to School Procedures booklet is great, but if you’re looking for something a little less thorough, you might enjoy this editable template.
You can see how I’ve started adding extra information concerning our routines. You can download the blank form above here.
I use the time I have remaining until lunch to do community building activities.
One of my favorite activities is Saving Fred. In this activity, students must rescue Fred. I show this short video clip that sets the stage. Then, students use paper clips to try to get Fred (the gummy worm) through his life jacket (gummy Life Saver). It’s a lot of fun for everyone, and it requires teamwork.
We then play an incredibly fun game called Classroom Quest. If you want a calm and quiet room, this is not the game for you. I always explain that not every group will be able to accomplish the quest for each round, and that’s okay! It’s kind of the point of the game. You can download this game for free at the link above.
If I have time, we’ll do a puzzle activity to illustrate the importance of team work and participation. I give each group of students a blank puzzle that was secretly missing one piece. Groups work together to complete their puzzles, but of course no puzzle can be completed. Last year, everyone was looking on the floor for the lost piece and asking other groups if they had the missing piece. As soon as each group complete as much of their puzzle as they can, I call the class back together to discuss what happened and how it can be related to teamwork. I then distribute the missing puzzle pieces and allow students to decorate their puzzles as a team.
The last part of my day is pretty scheduled. We go to lunch, recess, and then the last hour of the day is reading. During our reading time, I teach a lesson from my Reading Unit 1. Since my students already have a background with reading workshop, I combine Lesson 1 and Lesson 2. I teach students the procedures for how to choose a book from my classroom library. We also discuss choosing the just right book by discussing the 5 finger rule. I also have students complete a reading interest survey, so I can help them choose books that they’ll love.
On the second day of school, we complete the Escape the Back to School Blues activity, which allows students to practice and review our classroom procedures. I’ve written a separate post for that activity, and you can find it here.
By biggest two pieces of advice for the first day of school are be sure to go over your plan. You never know if you’ll have students who rush through everything and you’re having to search for things to do, or if you’ll have a group that works slowly and you don’t finish half of what you planned. I also can’t emphasize enough how important it is to set a positive first impression. Even if you’re a nervous wreck, be confident, organized, and ready to go!!
Once I’m a day or two into the school year, I try a few other things to build community and to ease into our curriculum. I’ve been jealous of all the adorable Math About Me activities for younger students. They are all too stinkin’ cute, so I create a version for upper elementary students. It’s fairly basic, but there’s a catch (of course)! Students cannot simply answer with a number. They must answer the questions with a number sentence that equals that number.
This will be a fun way to start getting to know students and a great way to sneak in a little math! If you teach fourth or fifth grade, you could even add requirements such as: it must include multiplication, it must include at least two operations, etc. I’ll probably keep it simple for my third graders and just encourage them to be creative and to avoid + or – zero. You can download that file here.
I couldn’t leave my 4th and 5th grade friends out, so I made a 4th Day in 4th Grade for you! These are all in my TpT store, so if you’re interested just click on the links below!
3rd Day in 3rd Grade
4th Day in 4th Grade
5th Day in 5th Grade
Kori Deal says
Thank you! After 25 years in 1st I was moved to 4th grade and have no idea what to do to start off. This will help.
Hi Ashleigh, I am just wondering where you get your blank puzzles? I love the idea for teamwork. Thanks, Marsha
I’m wondering what the brand is of the student baskets that stay in their desks. Do you know the size? Thanks!
I can’t remember the size off the top of my head. You can buy them from Really Good Stuff, but they’re on the expensive side. Every now and then the Dollar Store has them.
Is the reading interest survey in your TPT store?
Yes, it’s in my Reading Unit 1!
Ginger Teacher says
These are great ideas!
Over here in the UK we haven’t broken up yet (1 more week!) but already I am planning next year.
I was wondering about the bins inside of the desks too! When the students switch to your teacher partner, do they remove the bin/tray from their desk and take it with them? (or just take the materials out of the bin/tray) Thanks!
They keep their things in the basket and leave the basket in their desk, because they don’t need to take their things home.
Alison L Quickel says
Where did you purchase the baskets that go in the desks? I love that they sit side by side and can hold two students’ items.
I got them from Really Good Stuff.
Miriam Riley says
Ashleigh, where did you get the blank puzzle pieces from? I love this idea for team building.
I got them from Amazon.
Could you please send me the Classroom Quest link? When I click on it, it takes me to the Fred activity video. If you can’t send it, could you tell me where I could find this game? I would really like to do this with my students.
Thank you so much for this website you have created and all the amazing activities and advice you give! Your site has definitely been not only a life saver for me but a total game changer!!
Thank you so much!!!!
The Google Drive link underneath the heading should take you to it. Let me know if it doesn’t work.