Activities for the beginning of the school year are very important because it can set the tone for the rest of the year. Students and the teacher are nervous and looking to one another for clues as to what kind of year it is going to be. Below are activities, teambuilders, and lesson plans that are sure to start your year off on the right foot.
Beginning of Year Activities
Activities for the Beginning of the School Year: Nonfiction Article Lessons
Use nonfiction articles to create short, engaging assignments for students. I have students complete a close reading on a nonfiction article followed up with collaborative discussions and activities. I typically use articles that students find mysteries or that are relatable to them such as: “Minecraft”, “Murder He Wrote”, “Dead Mountain”, “Fright White”, “Barbie’s New Body”, and others. Once they complete an independent close reading on the article, they work in pairs or threes to discuss a controversial question about the article, and complete a collaborative activity. We then finish by sharing out our ideas and opinions at the end. This provides students the support necessary to get to know each other in a controlled environment.
Activities for the Beginning of the School Year: Fictional Short Stories
Use entertaining short stories in your classroom at the end of the school year. I use ghost stories or murder mysteries because students love them and they are a great way to engage students while managing your classroom. Some examples of great short stories to use are: “The Elevator” by Roald Dahl, “Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl, “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” by Rod Serling, “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman Perkins, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, and more. Have students complete a close reading on one of the short stories, and complete an interactive digital lesson. I focus on a review of the plot structure diagram which includes graphic organizers, videos, close reading, audio, short film, and follow-up activities. Students stay busy while you circle the room and answer questions.
Letters from Prior Students
Have students from the previous year write Letters-students can write letters to the incoming students. I have students introduce themselves, write about their best experience in the class and their worst. They include their favorite types of assignments/projects/authors etc. and their least favorite assignments/projects/authors etc. Students provide specific advice on how to “survive” or succeed in the course. Students include their own fears and expectations for the following year. Lastly they include one item they believe will help the incoming student. Have new students read their letters and share their objects their student left for them.
Short Films and Themes
Short films and theme-Use animated short films to review themes that will be discussed throughout the school year. Some of examples of themes you can write on the board are: the need to belong, social outcasts, grief, loss, the affects of war, the affects of racism, etc. Students are to watch the short film, and as a group try to guess which theme matches the short film and how it connects to the reading. I would have students watch a film, stop and match a theme, discuss as a class, and move on to the next film. Students absolutely LOVE this activity and it is a great team builder!
Activities for the Beginning of the School Year: Station Activities
Station activities-use station activities to introduce a concept they will learn during the year such as theme, genre, symbol, plot, etc. I like to use theme by having something different at each station such as a poetry slam, self-test , like Harvard’s How Bias Are You?, controversial short film with questions, creative activity such as drawing blindly, controversial statement for students to discuss, social emotional learning activity, etc. Students are engaged while they are able to move about the room in an organized fashion. Teacher circulates throughout the room to monitor progress.
Activities for the Beginning of the School Year: Team Builders
Imaginary Places-Turn the lights down and play some instrumental music. Invite students to move about the room in time to the music. Ask them to listen closely and imagine what kind of place the music reminds them of. They can “pretend” to be in that place as all of the other students arrive. When every student is present, gather students in a circle and tell the rest of the class which place he/she was imagining. Let the kids know that essence of creativity is using their imaginations to create different places and people wherever they are!
Camp Fire-Designate an area of the room where the group routinely meets in a circle. Create an imaginary fire in the middle of the circle. Dim the lights and invite the kids to sit around the “campfire” with their snacks. You may choose to tell a story, or ask for each student to contribute something such as telling the class about a time when they felt really scared, or something that no one else knows about them. A “talking stick” is a really great item to have on hand for campfire time.
Two Truths and a Lie-Each student is told to write down two truths and one lie about themselves. Take turns going around the room and have students share out. Other students will guess which one is a lie. Example: I have swam with sharks, I saw Adam Sandler when I was 16, and I work part-time for a celebrity. The answer I work part-time for a celebrity. Every student shares. It’s a fun way to get to know each other. By the way, all of those examples are true for me.
Hot Seat-This fun game is a lot like the game show Password. Split your class into two teams and have them sit together in teams facing the whiteboard or chalkboard. Then take an empty chair—one for each team—and put it at the front of the class, facing the team members. These chairs are the “hot seats.” Choose one volunteer from each team to come up and sit in the “hot seat,” facing their teammates with their back to the board. •Prepare a list of vocabulary words to use for the game. Choose one and write it clearly on the board. Each team will take turns trying to get their teammate in the hot seat to guess the word, using synonyms, antonyms, definitions, etc. Make sure team members work together so that each member has a chance to provide clues. •The student in the hot seat listens to their teammates and tries to guess the word. The first hot seat student to say the word wins a point for their team. Once the word is successfully guessed, a new student from each team sits in the hot seat, and a new round begins with a different word.
The Tree-Provide enough paper and colored markers for everyone. Invite the students to enter the room and join the circle and start drawing a tree. It can be any kind of tree. Any color, any shape, any design. When all students have arrived, and have finished their trees, have the students place them on the floor either in a big wide circle, or in random places around the space. This is our tree “gallery”. In silence invite the students to walk around the gallery looking at the trees. Eventually have them stop at a tree that is not their own, but one they feel is like them. Then invite the student to join you in the sitting circle. Ask them what they noticed. Explain that just like us, every tree is different, and that in this class, there are all kinds of people with all kinds of viewpoints and that all of us are unique. Explain that no one is ever right or wrong…and in this class, we appreciate each other’s differences.
The Sheet •Divide students into two teams. •Place a tarp, or sheet on the ground •Have the first team stand on the sheet •Tell them to flip the sheet around so they are standing on the other side of the sheet without stepping on the ground Switch teams
The Marshmellow Game-•Divide students into groups of equal numbers. Pass out an equal number of marshmallows and wooden toothpicks to each group. Challenge the groups to create the tallest, largest, or most creative structure in a set amount of time, each member taking turns doing the actual building. Afterward, have each group describe what they made.
I would love to hear about your activities for the beginning of the school year! Please leave a response in the comments below!
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“The Elevator” by Roald Dahl
“Lamb to the Slaughter” by Roald Dahl
“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl
“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” Rod Serling
“The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Gilman Perkins
“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs
To visit my blog post on short story lessons, click HERE