It’s time to go back to school! With the back-to-school season upon us, it is time to start planning back-to-school activities for the first week of school. Here are 15 engaging and fun first-day and first-week school activities for middle and high school students.
1. Student survey
Having students complete a classroom survey during the first week of school is a great way to get to know your new students. I’ve used this free back-to-school survey for years, and it is such a valuable tool because I get to know key information about my students right away.
After my students complete this survey, I keep them behind my desk organized alphabetically by class period in a binder. This survey is also included in my Back-to-School Stations and my Back to School Activities for Secondary ELA pack.
2. One-word project
A one-word project is a fun and simple way to start the school year. I use 4×6 notecards and have students think of just one word they want to embody their school year. I provide students with markers and other art supplies and encourage students to fill out the entire card.
3. Stacking cup challenge
Have you ever played the stacking cup challenge? It is a fun way to encourage teamwork and collaboration. I usually complete this challenge toward the beginning of the school year. You can read more about my Teambuilding Tuesdays in this blog post.
4. Classroom quilt
When building a classroom community, one way to include everyone is to make a classroom quilt and display it on the walls. Everyone receives a quilt square, and then students decorate their squares with things that are important to them. The classroom quilt activity is available as a stand-alone resource or included in my Back to School Activities for Secondary ELA pack.
5. Classroom welcome slides
Another great way to welcome students into the classroom is by creating a welcome slide deck. Each student contributes their own slide to the deck, and once the final presentation is complete, you can share the deck with the classroom. I created this free back-to-school activity as a way to help my students get to know one another.
6. Back-to-school stations
Facilitating back-to-school stations is another great way to start the school year. Ideal for the first week of school or even the first day of school, these stations help students get to know one another and the class.
This resource includes four different stations that are absolutely perfect for the middle school and high school English classroom! In this activity, students will complete a survey, set up all of their class accounts, review the course syllabus, and complete a fun reading recommendations.
7. Growth mindset escape room
Escape rooms are always a fun and engaging activity to get students collaborating! From my experience, students are 100 percent engaged in the activity on escape room days. This growth mindset escape room is a great activity for the first week of school. It helps students learn about a growth mindset and includes famous failures as well!
8. Name cards
I don’t know about you, but I don’t always memorize my 180 students’ names during the first week of school. It is just….really challenging with such big class sizes. One way to help learn students’ names and more information about them is to have students complete a name card or a nameplate. Students write their names in the center in large, bold text. Then, they write one thing about them or one interest in each corner.
9. Growth mindset activities
If you’d like to focus on goal-setting, reflection, and aspirations, starting the school year off with growth mindset activities is another great way to start the school year. I love this growth mindset activities resource because it includes a student survey, exit tickets, reflection assignments, and more!
This growth mindset resource includes a growth mindset survey, class exit tickets, assignment reflection forms, and so much more! You’ll be able to use this resource throughout the entire school year!
10. Letter to yourself
Having students write a letter to their future selves is another great way to start the year. Just like with the one-word project, you can provide students with a large notecard and have them write the letter to themselves on it. Better yet, have them write their letter on the backside of the one-word project and have them turn it into a postcard.
11. Class contract
Students perform best when they feel seen and heard. One way to start the school year is to create a class contract together. As a class, discuss what classroom rules and policies seem most fair, along with which ones will help students succeed. Yes, you’ll have some students suggest unlimited time on phones and complete access to music at all times in class, but this is a good time to teach students about digital citizenship and smart and responsible use of technology.
12. Email etiquette
Speaking of digital citizenship, teaching students about email etiquette is always a great way to start the school year. In today’s world where digital communication is everywhere, it is essential that students know how to email a teacher.
I teach my students the ins and outs of email etiquette and how to write a professional email using this email etiquette lesson. My students love the presentation for the direct instruction portion of the lesson, and I love the emails I receive later in the year.
As an added bonus, my teacher inbox is a much friendlier place now!
13. Growth mindset banner
I really love decorating my classroom with my students throughout the year. One really great way to do that is by having students help create colorful decorations from day one! This free growth mindset banner is a perfect way to celebrate your new students and their aspirations!
14. Writing a personal statement
One of the very first writing assignments I have my students complete at the beginning of the new school year is a personal statement. I use this personal statement writing unit, and walk my students step-by-step through the writing process. This unit is beneficial when I teach seniors because I can use their personal statements as a starting point for college essays.
15. Classroom syllabus scavenger hunt
Finally, an enjoyable way to help students review the syllabus without boring them is by completing a classroom syllabus scavenger hunt. Rather than read the syllabus aloud with students, I have them complete a scavenger hunt by finding key information, like “do I accept late work?” “what is the restroom policy?” and things like that. Students find and write the critical information, and the students keep the scavenger hunt page in their binders. I have a classroom syllabus scavenger hunt activity available in my back-to-school stations.