Saturday, July 19, 2014

Setting the Tone in the First 10 Minutes of the First Day of School




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.

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5ePvBTfGoXfaGZPT3F5U3JNZ0U/edit
(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.

http://thethinkerbuilder.blogspot.com/

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.

50 comments:

  1. What a great post. Those first few minutes are vital. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. I think I may use your "finish the picture" for my first day of high school! So much better than those "What did you do over summer break?" pages! ugh!

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    1. Ha! You'll have to let me know how that goes, Theresa! It may shock them a bit!

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    2. What a great way to kick off a new year! Love your posts!
      Hilary 😊

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    3. I too was thinking the finish the picture might work for my high school classes! We shall see!

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  4. Great idea! You've solved the exact problem I have every single year. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  5. Love it! I too like the idea that we practice what I expect right away !

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  6. Your idea might work well with my VPK class; thanks for sharing.

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  7. I love this post! Keeping it simple. I only have 45 minute periods, and that's even shorter on the first day so this is great!

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth! I'm so glad that so many upper grade teachers and/or teachers with shorter classes are getting something out of this. I was writing it with elementary in mind, so thank goodness for you guys sharing other perspectives!

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  8. This is fantastic! I am a first year teacher and will definitey be implementing this on our first day as a class, thank you for sharing!

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    1. Congrats, Jen Marie! Hope you have a great start to your year!

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  9. This is great! I teach 3rd too and this will work for the first day!
    Diane
    schoolhousetreasures

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  10. In love with this idea =0) Setting the mood on day 1. Thanks for sharing.

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  11. Great idea! You have given us "permission" to start the day calmly on day 1!

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  12. What a great idea! Any suggestions on how to do this for an elementary music class without desks?

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    1. Hi Sarah!
      Hmm, you're a bit out of my area of expertise there, but maybe something tangible that students can *safely* explore without much guidance. A (really) simple instrument? Or something with scarves (our music teacher would have students try juggling lightweight scarves). Something that would really engage them but without a bunch of preliminary directions.

      Who else is reading this that's a music teacher? Anyone have some suggestions for Sarah on how to see this whole idea through the lens of a music teacher? Thanks!
      -Michael

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    2. Maybe borrow a bunch of clipboards and let students pick any spot in the room they feel is safe.

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  13. Michael,

    This sounds like a wonderful idea... I've been teaching now for 4 years and ALWAYS have something for them to do. But, I'm usually running around like a mad woman dealing with supplies, parents, and kids. I love the idea of not letting that be the first thing.

    Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Oh the supplies. Every teacher's first-day-kryptonite. :)

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  14. You are right. The first 15 - 20 minutes of the first day of school are usually crazy with kids coming in and not knowing what to do. They start handing me stuff and we go from there. What a great idea to put off all that supply unpacking etc and get them in and going. Thanks for the post!
    Heather
    A Rill Classroom

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  15. Love it Michael - moving to third and it all sounds great!
    Vicky
    Teaching and Much Moore

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  16. ExciTed to try this idea. I teach pre k and I think having an entry activity ready well help with the couple of sad students I usually have on the first day

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  17. What an awesome idea! I'm going to try it this year..I mean, next week! Oh, my!

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  18. You make so much sense! I always have a frantic feel as they want to know where to put stuff and parents wanting to talk and me wanting to get a gazillon things done before recess. This is great. Breathe and talk with my new class. Wow!

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    1. Thanks so much! Yes, breathing is good. :)

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  19. What a fantastic idea! I will be trying this on the first day this year...thanks for sharing!

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  20. This is great! I'm trying this with my high school freshmen tomorrow - we'll see how it goes :)

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    1. I'd be interested to hear how they do with it...I have Grade 7s at a new school this year and would like to try it with them.

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    2. Leigh - how'd it go? I thought I would try it out with my middle schoolers this week.

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  21. I am also going to use this with my high schoolers next week. Thanks!

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  24. Thank you so much for this amazing post. I am going to follow your advice and get my first day and first grade started off right!

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  25. This is incredible! Like so many others I feel frantic and excited and nervous about the first day (just like the students). I really like the calm and "business" feel of this first activity. I think I'll give it a go! Now what do you do with those parents??

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  26. Thanks for the freebie, Michael! Even after 25 years, I am still looking for great ideas for the first day! LIke this one ALOT!!! Thank you.

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  27. Just what I need... Thanks a zillion!!

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  28. I have seen this used as a team-building activity. The first person is given the "starter" drawing and instructed to add one line (this can be straight, curved, zigzag, a shape....but just one continuous line) then pass it to the next person or if using a projection system, the next person comes up and adds one more line. This continues until all have contributed to the group's drawing. No one can tell others what to draw or not to draw during the activity. When the last line is drawn, the drawing may look realistic or more abstract. Students can comment on what they see in their drawing. Why they drew their line; how did they feel when someone added something they didn't like? How did the feel when the drawing may have changed in a different direction than it originally looked like it was going? Apply these comments to the upcoming day...are we going to encounter unexpected situations? Are we going to agree with how others do things? May others do things different or think differently from us? How will we react to this? Are we going to work together and be supportive of each other as we work for a common goal today? You get the idea. A great way to start thinking and preparing for the day's activities and situations. Great way later during a teaching moment to draw back to the morning activity (no pun intended!)

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  29. I'm a homeschool mom and this is PERFECT for my kiddos (starting 3 and 5th tomorrow!).

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  30. As a casual teacher every day is a first day for me and my class. I start by cutting strips of paper. the first student/s to arrive are given a strip and asked to write their name on it in an artistic manner and draw a picture. Student's enter and other students tell them the task or I explain. As the first students finish I give them sticky tape/blue tack and ask them to place their name tag on the desk. this has helped me countless times to get the class on task, show my expectations from the minute they enter and for me to get to know their names

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  31. Going to try for my freshmen and sophomore classes this year on the 1st day! Any suggestion for physical fitness class? the first 10minutes?

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  32. Can't wait to try this out with my students on the first day of school! Thanks.

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  33. Any high school teachers try this yet? I think I will try when we start at the end of august

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