Hook Them from the First Day ... Tips for Back to School

21 July 2014
Like it or not, it's nearing that time again ... back to school.  I know some of my teacher friends are heading back already!

A few days ago on my facebook page, I asked people to leave a comment about their favourite back to school activity.  You know, those activities that start to build a positive classroom environment and get the students excited about the year right from the very first day.  Their ideas were so fabulous, I knew I had to share some of them with you (and get them down somewhere so I wouldn't forget them).

  • Make a silhouette of each student's head using a projecter.  Then, students draw pictures of their likes and favourites within the head.  (Kerri)
  • Students fill a brown paper bag with ten objects that reveal something about themselves, or evoke a special or humorous memory.  They decorate the bag and present it to the rest of the class.  (Candace)
  • Using a big ball of yarn, get together in a circle and toss the yarn ball to each other, holding onto the yarn.  Students usually tell something they want us to know about them.  Eventually it makes a huge web and we talk about unity and how we all have to work together.  (Monica)
  • Have your students write 5 things about themselves on a piece of paper, crumple the paper up, and throw it across the room a few times.  Students then find a paper and guess whose it is.  (Katy)
  • Read The Important Book and have students create a list of important things about them.  Then have students use Wordle, Tagxedo, or Cloudart to generate a cloud of words about them.  Make sure they also include their names.  Their work is then printed and posted.  (Kimberly)
  • Make hot air balloons.  Give each student a pre-made cut out of a hot air balloon.  On the front of the basket, students write their name and 4 things about themselves.  The balloon is for their goals for the year (at least one is personal/family/outside activity related).  The straps that connect the balloon to the basket display strategies that will help students reach their goals, and people who can help them. (Lesley)
  • Take a picture of the student on the first day and have them write a letter to themselves for the last day of school.  It's always fun to see how much they change in one year.  (Kristine)
  • Pass around a roll of toilet paper, asking each student to take as much as they think they need.  After all have done so, the students are then told that they need to share as many things about themselves as squares of toilet paper they have taken.  Always a fun way to start the day.  (Jody)
  • Write questions on a big playground or beach ball.  Toss the ball around and when it is caught, where a student's right thumb lands, that's the question they answer.  (Karen)
  • Measure the students on a bulletin board.  At the end of the year, you can put the paper back up and measure again.  Students are always amazed at how much they've grown.  (Katherine)
  • Do a team-building activity where you take one large marshmallow, 20 uncooked linguini sticks, and an arms-length of tape.  In small groups, the students work together to build the tallest free stranding structure.  (Kristi)
  • Make a "My Reading Timeline" where students make timelines that show their favourite books, series, authors, throughout the years starting as far back as they can remember.  Return the timelines at the end of the year so students can add their new favourites from the year.  (Jennifer)
  • Students decorate a butterly to represent them.  They pass it to the right and the person compliments them and then returns the butterfly.  It still looks beautiful and the student feel good.  Then, they pass it to the left and the person says something they don't like about it and then they crumple up the butterfly and return it.  The butterfly will never look as beautiful.  This activity then goes into a discussion about character and the importance of using kind words.  (Heather)
  • Students stand in a circle (teacher included) and toss a bean bag to one person at a time, saying that person's name.  Everyone has to remember who they threw the bean bag to.  Do it a couple of times with one bean bag going in the order you created, and then introduce a second bean bag so there are two bean bags going at once in the same order.  If they're really good at it, a third bean bag is introduced.  It's a great twist on the traditional name game.  (Cherissa)
  • Give all the children letters in a bag that say ______ Grade Rocks!  (without telling them what the letters actually spell out).  They then have to see how many phrases or words they can come up with using the letters.  Challenge them to use all the letters.  The students will usually end up working together to find the phrase.  (Kirsten)
  • Have kids wander around the room.  Call out a number and a machine.  Kids have to make groups of the number called and then "make" the machine with their bodies.  (Jennifer)
  • Read Giant Steps to Change the World by Spike Lee and his wife, then discuss things students can do in the school or classroom to make changes during the school year on little footprints and then display them in the hallway.  (Evette)
This was just a small sample of the ideas ... so many wonderful and creative ones were shared.  

I have a favourite activity to share, too.  I like to do this bio poem with my students on the first day.  I project the poem first for students to get a rough copy done, then give them the templates for students to complete and decorate their presentation copies.  Students also make a picture of themselves to display with the poem.  The poem template is a freebie in my TPT store, and there is a template included for each grade, so I've got everyone covered.  ;)  You can download it by clicking HERE.  It makes a great bulletin board display that is ready to go by the end of the first day.

I have also bundled together some of my favourite back to school activities on TPT into a great First Days of School Activity Bundle.  This bundle includes my Back to School Drama Circle (a fantastically fun ice breaker activity), Back to School Cootie Catchers (for students to get to know their classmates in a small group or partner activity), The Length of a Summer (a fun mathematics problem-solving activity), and my newest First Day Apples Craftivity (get your students writing and create a fabulous display all in one activity).  You can view this bundle by clicking HERE.

Whenever your first day happens to be, I hope you have a WONDERFUL back to school start.  And maybe you gathered some new ideas today.  ;)


  1. Wow so many ideas! Thanks for compiling and sharing. I'm definitely pinning this to refer to in a few weeks. We don't start back until after Labor Day in Michigan so I'm still in summer mode. :)

    Wild About Fifth

  2. Thank you so much for compiling all these ideas! I can't wait to use them next year....even though I'll probably be starting after school starts. I'm teaching in Korea and don't get back until after school starts. And sadly, I'm not in summer mode yet since school is still going on for me. Ugh. I don't get my 10 day summer vacation until August 6th.
    Southern Fried Teachin’

  3. What a useful collection of ideas! I’m sharing this post on my #TrendingInMath feature today!

  4. Thank you so much for compiling this collection. It is always nice to read your blog.

  5. Awesome ideas, thanks for the list. I always love to use www.kahoot.com