Saturday, August 11, 2012

How to Have a Great First Day of School

As an experienced teacher with more than thirty-five "First Days" to my credit, I am all too aware of just how important the first day of school can be for teachers and students alike. In the writing that I am doing right at the moment, revising the second edition of First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, I focus on the first day and how teachers, both experienced and novice, can make that day as special as possible and get their students' year off to a fantastic start.
     In this post, you will find three exerpts from what will be the new book next spring. One is just some ideas that may help you plan a good first day, another is a template you can tweak to help you plan that day, and the third is a checklist of things that you will have to manage on the first day.
     I hope these make your first day a positive one for you and for your students!


 In addition to the day’s lesson and class expectations, your first day of class can include many other activities to engage students in meaningful work. Using the planning template in Teacher Worksheet 4.3: Planning Template for the First Day of School and the checklist in Teacher Worksheet 4.4: Checklist for the First Day will both make it easier for you to make sure that the first day of school will be a productive and positive one  for your students. When you are trying to decide just what you want your students to do on the first day, consider some of these activities:

  • Fill out forms together. While you are explaining your class expectations, students can fill in the information on a handout instead of just listening passively.
  • Photograph students in their new school clothes on the first day of class. This is a good way to begin your class scrapbook.
  • Show examples of the supplies they need.
  • Pass out colorful paper, and ask students to write on it what they can contribute to make the class a better one for everyone. Display the papers in a giant collage.
  • Issue textbooks, and have students skim their new texts, looking for items in a textbook treasure hunt.
  • Have students work with a partner, telling that person one thing that they can do well and one thing that they would like to learn how to do. Have partners introduce each other to the class by sharing this information.
  • Ask students to write you a brief note, telling you three things you need to know about them so that you can teach them well.
  • Place a large sheet of paper on the wall. Hand students old newspapers or magazines, and have them tear out words and photos that describe their strengths and talents. Focus on what students have in common. Glue the photos and words in place to create an instant piece of art that will interest every student.
  • Have students jot down what they already know about the subject you are teaching and then share this information with the class.
  • Have students fill out one of the student inventories you’ll find later on in this section.
  • Give students handouts with questions directing them to find out what they have in common with their classmates. Some possible areas to explore are hometowns, hobbies, favorite movies, pets, vacations, and sports. Go beyond the obvious and include attitudes for success, goals, or other mental traits.
  • Have older students create bookmarks with inspirational messages for younger students.
  • Have students play a people bingo game where they try to discover interesting facts about each other. Items to include on the bingo board could include types of pets, hobbies, past school experiences, favorite colors or foods, siblings, strengths, or favorite sports just to name a few.
  • Ask older students to recount a memory from their earlier first days of school.
  • Put a quotation or unusual word related to the day’s lesson on the board, and ask students to tell you what they think about it.
  • Have students write exit slips explaining what they learned in class on their first day.


While not all of these items may be applicable for your class and for your students, this template can give you some idea of how you will want to plan for your first day.

Opening Exercise (Time Allotted: _____________)


Supplies, Materials, Books to Be Issued (Time Allotted: _____________)


Student Information Forms and Inventories to Be Used  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Rules, Policies, Procedures  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Introduction of Self  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Welcome to Class Activity  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Forms that Need to Be Sent Home  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Fees to Be Collected (Time Allotted: _____________)


Icebreaker Activity  (Time Allotted: _____________)


Lesson  (Time Allotted: _____________)

Teacher input________________________________________________________________

Student activity______________________________________________________________

Closing  (Time Allotted: _____________)




In this checklist of the most important things you must accomplish on the first day, you will find reminders of the tasks you will have to manage.

o   Stand at your classroom door to offer your assistance to those students who may need help in finding their new classrooms.

o   Meet every student at the door and direct them to their assigned seats.

o   Begin learning your students names as quickly as you can.

o   Introduce yourself to your students.

o   Teach an exciting lesson guaranteed to make your students want to learn more.

o   Begin building a classroom community among your students.

o   Set about creating  a positive identity for your class.

o   Help your students get to know each other.

o   Distribute the necessary forms and the welcome packet that your students must take home.

o    Project an attitude of enthusiasm and positivity about the class, the year ahead, and your students.

o   Begin gathering data about your student’s levels of readiness, learning styles, and knowledge of the material in the course.

o   Begin teaching the rules, procedures, policies, and expectations for your class.

o   Make every student feel comfortable and welcome.

o   Assign an appropriate homework assignment to help students transition from vacation back to school.”

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