Here are Five Happy Ideas for Back-to-school.
Scroll and keep scrolling for even more ideas!
We are all unique!
Each day throughout the school year, I introduce a Word of the Day. The first day's word is unique. I write the word on the board and ask students to read the word. (I don't recall any of my third graders ever identifying the word without a few clues. My last clue, using proper emphasis, is usually "This word is a unique word!")
Then I use the word in several statements, the last of which is "Each of us is unique." We talk about ways in which we're each unique. I'm the only one more than 6 feet tall. Mia is the only one who's wearing a pink shirt. Sam is the only one of us who has a pet ferret. (I learned this from the previous activity.) And so it goes.
Next step: Out comes the roll of white mural paper. I tear off a sheet about 10 feet long. Sometime during the day, each child goes out into the hallway and uses markers to draw his or her name on the mural paper. "Make it unique!" is my only direction.
I start out by writing "Mr. H" in big bubble letters inside an explosion design such as you see declaring NEW! or IMPROVED on product packaging in the grocery store. I draw colorful polka dots inside the bubble letters. When completed, this colorful mural makes a great hallway bulletin board under the cutout-letter headline We Are All Unique! I can also see from this activity who some of the truly unique characters will be in my new class!
Each student is given a sticker to put on his or her hand upon entering the classroom, but students aren't told what the sticker is for until the time is right! Be sure there is a partner (matching sticker) for every student. Ask students to find their partners and interview them (name, grade, hobbies, etc.). Each interviewer is responsible for introducing each interviewee to the rest of the class. You might find that students find it less threatening when someone else shares information about them than when they are asked to share about themselves.
Grade 4-6 team, Silverwood School, Silverdale, Washington
Place a white paper bag on each desk on the morning of the first day. The bags should contain pencils, name tags, and other items students will need to help get the class organized. Also include a letter introducing yourself, telling of hobbies, etc. The students then empty their bags and decorate the Me Bags with pictures from magazines or drawings that represent themselves. You shoulld already have completed a sample Me Bag with pictures and drawings representing yourself. Students love to hear about their teacher! Then students share their Me Bags to help class members get to know one another. That afternoon, the students take their decorated Me Bags home and put inside any special or important objects. You might share a few items from your bag as examples. The students keep their objects secret until the next morning when they share with the class. They're very excited to tell about the special things they placed in their bags and why they are special! From this bag can stem some neat writing assignments or coloring activities, depending on kids' ages.
Billi Walton, Addeliar Guy Elementary School, Las Vegas, Nevada
Kelly Horn, Kentucky
This activity is always fun, and we all learn something interesting about one another! I start. I write four facts about myself on an overhead transparency. Three of the facts are true, and one is false. Students take my little true-false test. Then I survey students to learn the results. We go back over each question to see what they thought about each statement. That gives me a chance to tell a little about me. Then, on a sheet of paper, students write three interesting facts about themselves that are true and one that is false. Throughout the day, I ask a few students to try to stump the rest of us.
Tony Stuart, grades 4 and 5, Lanark, Ontario, Canada
John Reilley, Fillmore, California
On the first day of school, read to students a popular favorite -- The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown. It's a wonderful, repetitive book that tells the "important thing" about a variety of things, such as a spoon, an apple, the wind, etc. After we read the book and discover its repetitive form, we write our own More Important Book. Each child tells about himself or herself, following the format of The Important Book." The children end, as the book does, by repeating the first line, "But, the most important thing about (child's name) is that he or she _____." Each child is responsible for a "most important thing" page, which becomes part of the class book. This is a wonderful and fun way to get to know one another, and the book is read throughout the year. **I have a finished class book if you want a model!
Susan Wallace, St. Agatha Academy; Winchester, Kentucky
Students use colorful markers to write their names in big letters on a sheet of drawing paper. Under their names, they write several sentences describing themselves, for example, favorite things, family info, hobbies, and pet info. Then hand out blank puzzles (which can be found in craft stores -- cheap!). Privately -- perhaps behind a folder upright on their desks -- students illustrate on the blank puzzles the interests and information on their name sheets. They break up their puzzles and place the pieces in a brown paper bag with a question mark on the front. Post the large papers with the descriptive sentences on a bulletin board and, beneath that display, line up all the paper bags full of puzzle pieces. Throughout the week, during free time, students can choose a bag, put the puzzle together, compare the puzzle with the posted sentences, and guess which classmate it may be. At the end of the week look at guesses, and find out whose puzzle is really whose.
Eileen Horn, Godwin School, Midland Park, New Jersey
A Tangled Web
Gather students in a circle sitting around you on the floor. Hold a large ball of yarn. Start by telling the students something about yourself. Then roll the ball of yarn to a student without letting go of the end of the yarn. The student who gets the ball of yarn tells his or her name and something good about himself or herself. Then the student rolls the yarn to somebody else, holding on to the strand of yarn. Soon students have created a giant web. After everyone has spoken, you and all the students stand up, continuing to hold the yarn. Start a discussion of how this activity relates to the idea of teamwork -- for example, the students need to work together and not let others down. To drive home your point about teamwork, have one student drop his or her strand of yarn; that will demonstrate to students how the web weakens if the class isn't working together.
Amy Henning, W. C. Petty School, Antioch, Illinois
Begin by asking students "Who can do something really well?" After a brief discussion about some of the students' talents, pass out paper and ask students to write down five things they do well. Then provide each student with five different-colored paper strips. Have each student write a different talent on separate paper strips, then create a mini paper chain with the strips by linking the five talents together. As students complete their mini chains, use extra strips of paper to link the mini chains together to create one long class chain. Have students stand and hold the growing chain as you link the pieces together. Once the entire chain is constructed and linked, lead a discussion about what the chain demonstrates -- for example, all the students have talents; all the students have things they do well; together, the students have many talents; if they work together, classmates can accomplish anything; the class is stronger when students work together than when individual students work on their own. Hang the chain in the room as a constant reminder to students of the talents they possess and the benefits of teamwork.
Kimberlee Woodward, substitute teacher, Waterford, Michigan
You will need a camera for this activity. An instant camera will work best; a digital camera will work well if you have a good printer. Take a picture of each student. Then provide each student with a prepared questionnaire that includes questions about favorite foods, books, places, or hobbies. When the questionnaires are completed, students share their responses with one another. (This can be done one-on-one, in small groups, or as a class activity.) Students examine their peers' questionnaires to find "connections" -- things they have in common with one another. Post student pictures on a bulletin board titled "Common Connections." Then students can use strips of construction paper to connect the pictures. On each strip that connects two pictures, students must describe the connection in writing. (For example, a strip labeled "We have three brothers" will connect the pictures of two students who each have three brothers. A strip labeled "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" will connect the pictures of two students who listed that book as their favorite.)
Melissa Kowalski, Schaumburg School District #54, Schaumburg, Illinois
A Smile Goes a Long Way!
Create a giant happy face and staple it to a bulletin board with the headline "A Smile Goes a Long Way!" Gather students on the carpet and talk about how this is a happy classroom and it's going to be a happy year. Then prompt students by saying something such as, "As your teacher, I want to know what makes you happy." Then pass out smaller happy faces with lines at the bottom. Children write on the lines one or two things that make them happy. Post their work around the giant happy face.
Shelly Nitkin, Radburn School, Fair Lawn, New Jersey
Gather groups of three students. Supply a prepared three-circle Venn diagram for each group. Students talk in their groups about themselves and the things they like to do. After a brief discussion, the students must decide on three ways in which they are all alike; they write those things in the intersecting areas of the diagram. Then each student must write in his or her circle three facts that are unique to him or her. This activity helps students recognize and appreciate likenesses and differences in people. It also introduces them to Venn diagrams on the first day of school. This type of graphic organizer might be used many times throughout the year.
Rene Masden, Sixth District Elementary School, Covington, Kentucky
If you write a letter of introduction before the school year starts, include a request that students bring to school on the first day something that has a special memory attached to it. If you do not send a before-school letter, you can make this activity the homework assignment for the first day. Start the day by reading Mem Fox's popular book Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge. The story is about a little boy who befriends an older woman and gives her back memories that she has forgotten. After reading the story, discuss what a memory is and list students' ideas. Then give each child an opportunity to share his or her special item and tell about the memories it carries. You might also use this as the first writing assignment of the year; have students write about the memories their objects sparks take pictures of the objects, and create a class book of memories.
Cindy Kramer, West Side Elementary School, Cold Spring Harbor, New York
This activity helps students get to know one another while they review parts of speech and symbolism. Organize students into pairs, and have each student trace both of his or her partner's hands onto a sheet of construction paper. Then the students cut out the outlines of their hands. Instruct students to write on each finger of the right hand a different noun that tells something about them. They might write the name of someone special to them, a favorite sport or TV program, a favorite place or book, etc. Then each student should write on the left-hand cutout a different adjective to describe himself or herself. Finally, the students might connect the two hands with a paper-chain bracelet of five links; the students should draw on each link a symbol that represent something about themselves.
Katherine Butcher, Berkeley High School, Moncks Corner, South Carolina
Classroom Rights. Most teachers post their classroom rules, announce them to their students, and that's the end of it. An alternative approach is to ask students to brainstorm some "rights" they would like to have in their classroom. First, you might give some examples, such as the right to a quiet work environment or the right to be treated well. Have each student write down a right he or she would like to have in the classroom. If they have time, students might illustrate their rights. Then ask each student to share his or her idea. Provide time for students to talk over the ideas and brainstorm negative and/or positive consequences of each. Then print on butcher paper the rights students agree should be among their permanent classroom rights. Have students press his or her thumb on an inkpad and place a thumbprint next to the right they most strongly agree with. Then have each student sign his or her name to the document to make it "official." Leave the Classroom Rights document on display all year long to remind students of their rights. This also is a great activity for transitioning into a study of U.S. History and the Constitution. Students can explore which of the rights in the U.S. Constituion are represented among the rights on their Classroom Rights poster.
Kristy Davis, Challenge Charter School, Glendale, Arizona (from an idea observed in the classroom of Tricia Shaughnessy, Hawthorne Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas)