First Days of School: Getting to Know You


You’ve got to get a feel for your students’ skills, they need to feel connected to one another enough to be able to work together effectively, and everyone has to learn each other’s names. Time for some community-building activities in the classroom!

If you’re not in class yet…

  • send everyone an e-card. Or a physical postcard, if that works better for you. It makes everybody feel welcome, either way, before they even come in.
  • set up a Google group. Get yourself a gmail account if you don’t already have one, go to the Google Groups area, and set up a private group for your class with the easy form. It gives you an easy way to communicate with class members.

google gropups

  • ask some questions. At your discussion board, at Open House, or on the bulletin board outside the classroom door, post some icebreaker questions for everyone to answer. Favorite TV show, last book you read, favorite color, Mac or PC — just suit the questions to your class’s age.

On the first day of class…

  • Put students in pairs and have them interview one another and report to the class on their new friend.
  • Make Bingo cards with statements like “_______ has ridden a horse” and “________ likes sports.” Give students some time to mingle and fill in the blanks. First person to fill in the whole sheet wins — or keep playing till everyone has all the blanks filled.
  • Play the Name Game. Sit in a circle. Say your name. The student on your left says your name and hers. The next student repeats the first two names, plus his own. Continue till you make it all around the circle.

In the first week of class…

  • Research shows that people remember information better when it has a rich context. Let your first writing assignment be a story about the write: a childhood memory, or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” (If you go with the summer theme, don’t miss Mark Teague’s wonderful book, How I Spent My Summer Vacation.) Ask students to read their papers aloud, or read your favorite parts of each to the class. The extra information will make it easier for everyone to learn each other’s names.
  • Move students around to sort themselves by various characteristics. “Everyone who has brothers, stand up,” you can say. “Stay seated if you don’t have brothers. Now, everyone who has sisters, stand up. Sit down if you have no sisters.” Follow up by asking memory questions: “Who in the class stayed home for summer vacation and owns a dog? Do you remember?” Do a few questions every day at the beginning of class.
  • Start each day with a thought-provoking question on the board. When you take roll, students must answer the question instead of saying, “Here.” Try questions like, “What would be more useful if it were smaller?” or “When was the last time you climbed a tree?” Nothing too hard or complicated, but things that might get students thinking or reveal something about them as they answer.
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