Back to School Activities for Secondary ELA: 10 Engaging Lessons and Resouces for the First Month


It’s back-to-school time, and that means it is time to start thinking about the ideal back-to-school activities for your secondary ELA classroom. Whether you teach middle school ELA or high school English, or an entirely different subject altogether, here are some activities to start the year off right!

Throughout the years, I’ve tested several different back-to-school strategies and styles. Through years of experience, I’ve learned that I have the most success in the classroom when I spend dedicated time with my students at the beginning of the year building relationships, establishing trust, reviewing classroom policies and procedures, and teaching key concepts.

From there, I like to teach and review content areas that I focus on throughout the year. Here are some of my favorite go-to resources for the beginning of the school year.

First Day of School Activities

Back-to-School Stations

This stations activity is brand new to my classroom this year, and I am so excited to use it. I am especially excited about the tech accounts aspect of it because getting 150+ new students signed up for several different educational technology accounts can be quite cumbersome.

Back-to-School Activities for the Secondary Classroom

I like to spend more than just one day getting to know my new students, and this is where this activity packet comes in handy. Not only are there resources to help teachers get to know their students, but there are some ice-breaker activities as well. 

Back-to-School Activities for the Secondary Classroom

Back-to-School Activities for the Secondary Classroom

Writing a Personal Statement

Within the first few weeks of the school year, I like to have my students write a personal statement. Since I teach juniors, this is a paper in which they can use later in the school year as they apply for colleges, jobs, scholarships, and internships. One reason why I love assigning a personal statement within the first few weeks of school is that it allows me to get to know my students more.

10 Lessons and Activities to Teach When You Go Back to School

Relationship Building Activities 

Growth Mindset Activities

As I work my way into the school year, I like to visit activities a couple of times throughout the first few weeks. This Growth Mindset Activities resource includes goal-setting activities, information about growth vs. fixed mindset, and activities to get your students thinking.

Growth Mindset Escape Room

Escape rooms are always a hit with my students, and this Growth Mindset Escape Room is a great challenge to get your new students working together, trusting one another, and learning to collaborate with new students. One of the best things about setting up an escape room toward the beginning of the year is that it provides you with critical information about your students; you can see who the leaders are, and you’ll also be able to spot some of the students who might need a little extra assistance. 

Back to School in ELA Lesson: Growth Mindset Escape Room

Growth Mindset Escape Room

Content-Based Back-to-School Lessons

Teaching Email Etiquette

My lesson on email etiquette is one of my very first content-based lessons of the school year. Teaching students about email etiquette and how to correctly write an email to adults is such an essential skill that they’ll take with them even after they leave the four walls of your classroom. Even more so, there is a big push to teach students skills for college and career readiness, and teaching email etiquette hits that mark.

Back to School Lesson in Secondary ELA: Email Etiquette

Email Etiquette Lesson

Annotating Text Made Easy

Another one of my favorite lessons to teach at the beginning of the year is how to annotate text. Since I teach in a common core state, everything that I do is based on the standards. And since I teach a grade-level that takes standardized state assessments, teaching annotating skills at the beginning of the year helps prepare students for state testing because it helps to lay the foundation for text-based evidence.

Sticky Note Literary Analysis

The very first unit I teach is a short stories unit. I take this time to teach, review, and reteach important literary elements, closely read short stories, and begin literary analysis. This unit comes with PowerPoint that reviews the main elements of fiction as well as literary elements, which is perfect for the beginning of the school year. This unit also comes with hands-on, engaging organizers that use sticky notes to help students begin to unwrap the literary analysis process.

Back to School Lessons in Secondary ELA: Sticky Note Literary Analysis

Sticky Note Literary Analysis

Writing Spotlight: Writing About Quotes

Piggy-backing off of my Sticky Note Literary Analysis unit, I have my students write a literary analysis response each week with each short story that we read. At the very beginning of the year, I am solely focused on building skills. I want students to write a three-sentence response: a topic sentence that answers the prompt, properly embedded quote, and a sentence explaining the connection between the quote and the prompt. Even though it is just three sentences, these quick writing prompts, content-wise, ask kids to do a lot of hard work. My Writing Spotlight mini-unit helps students write more analytical commentary sentences. 

Back to School Lessons for Secondary ELA: Writing Spotlight: Writing About Quotes

Writing Spotlight: Writing About Quotes


Embedding Quotes in Writing

One of the final lessons that I teach my students at the beginning of the year is how to embed quotations in their writing properly. Since we’ll be doing this all year long, it is so important that my students learn and master this skill early on in the year. The significant benefit of teaching this skill at the beginning of the year is that by the time you get to your first formal essay, most of the students will know what to do.

10 Lessons and Activities to Teach When You Go Back to School




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