A few years ago I gave a brief overview of what I do on the first day of school, but since then I've rethunk and revamped my thinking on how to best organize those exciting/nervous/nerve-wracking first days.
- The instructional and inter-personal interactions you have with students tell them (either explicitly or implicitly) what things you value.
- Your choices for how to spend the first days of school (and really all the days of school) need to align with your values.
My first day:
First, decide on those high value items. You know, the things that you really want students to know about either you or your expectations of them. Two high value items that I want students to understand right from the beginning are (1) I'd like to know each of them as individuals, and (2) I want them to become learners- not just grade grubbers who pick up a thing or two along the way. Then, find or create activities that reinforce those values.
Here's what I did last year:
- Write one true fact about yourself on the paper (You could probably come up with more specific or interesting prompts. I like the "one true fact" prompt simply because it's non-threatening and allows a very broad range of responses).
- Crumple up the piece of paper (This is when you start getting funny looks).
- Throw your crumpled paper (The funny looks are coming fast-er and furious-er at this point).
- Pick up a piece of crumpled paper and de-crumple it.
- Find the person who the crumpled piece of paper belongs to and write their name on it. Don't let students take their paper from the person who found it and write their own name. When they do this they don't even have to get the other person's name.
- When you've found your person and they've found you, have a seat.
Who I Am
- I try not waste class time, even during activities (like these) that could be considered "fluff." Again, it's modeling to students that what we do in class is important.
- I do go over class expectations with students, though I try not to on the first day. Students are bombarded with class expectations and rules constantly throughout the first day. Why not instead spend the first day focusing on who your students are, then get in the expectations a little later?
- The First Day Wiki- many suggestions and resources for beginning the school year.
- This page on the site has several variations on the Who I Am sheet (scroll down a bit), which are easily downloadable.
- Luann Lee goes over her first day plans on her blog. She take a more utilitarian route on the first day than I do, but I'd definitely incorporate some of her ideas into my first week schedule.
- Frank Noschese's "Subversive Lab Grouping Game" is another great way to get students talking while accomplishing something valuable. Consider it added to my repertoire.
- It's a little sad that many students are surprised or uncomfortable that I'd like to know more about them than whether they showed up on time and turned in their homework. (back)
- I really dislike ice breakers. Seriously. I'm a bit introverted and can get cranky being forced to interact with strangers. True story. In this instance I get around my hypocritical feelings because this ice breaker doesn't require anyone to be the solitary focus of the large group- and it's short and over quickly. (back)
- In the past I've reversed the snowball and Who I Am sheet. The downside of that is the first 10-15 minutes while students are filling out the sheet it's just awkward silent time. When I reversed the order, the atmosphere was a little lighter while filling out the sheets and it provided some good time for me to banter with students while they filled it out. (back)