The first day of school is full of so many things: anticipation, wide-eyes, school supplies, new faces, maybe a few butterflies. And I'm notorious for trying to get too much done on the first day...
I want to get to know my students.
I want them to get to know each other.
I want them to unpack their school supplies.
I want to show them around the classroom.
I want to teach them procedures, and more procedures, and more procedures.
And not only do I never fit it all in the first day, the tone I set while trying, the "mood" of the room, if you will, is not exactly what I intend it to be.
On a normal, middle-of-the-year day, I want my students to come into my room in the morning knowing it is a calm place, a cooperative place, a place where we work hard, try new things, and have fun.
A couple of years ago, I asked myself a question I thought was a bit unrealistic: Could I get that "middle-of-the-year" tone started within the first ten minutes of the first day of school? Could I find a way to slow down, shove my laundry list of activities and procedures aside temporarily, and show my students right from the get-go what this classroom should look like, sound like, and feel like?
I took on the challenge.
The thing is, it's not something that I get a lot of chances to try. I mean, really, I get ONE first-day-of-school per year. So, after a couple of good cracks at it, here is what I've found to work for setting the tone in the first ten minutes of the first day of school.
Prior to students arriving, I put a freshly sharpened pencil at each student's desk, as well as a "first task" that students will work on when they come in. For me, I try to make this first task something that can be done independently and is extremely low-stress. I don't want to have to explain anything to students about how to do their first task. A "Finish the Picture" works pretty well for third grade.
|(Click this picture to download it for free.)|
As each student enters my classroom on the first day, I greet them warmly, and then I ask them to keep their backpack zipped up and to hang it on their cubby hook, then to find their seat and get started.
Giving students a simple but engaging task to do at their seat frees me up to start making personal connections with individual students right away.
Still within the first ten minutes, my whole class is sitting at their seats, drawing away, with a nice little hum going. Meanwhile, I'm walking around, kneeling down at different table groups, asking students how they are feeling about third grade, who they already know, what they are going to eat for lunch, and so on.
After a few minutes, I ask the class to share their drawings with their table groups and to talk about how their drawings are alike and different. In the grand scheme of things, I really don't care one bit about these drawings. It's the talking I want. Communicating with each other right off the bat about their ideas.
Pretty soon, I'll start introducing some of our classroom procedures, and eventually I'll let them go unpack their shiny new backpacks. But in the first ten minutes, I've shown my students that we get started working right away, that I care about them and what they have to say, and that sharing our ideas and thinking with each other happens a lot.
Come visit me at my blog, The Thinker Builder!
UPDATE: Wow, I never would have guessed this little idea would have picked up so much steam. Thanks! You can pick up five more "Finish the Picture" pages, totally free, by clicking HERE.