Back To School
Establishing Connections, Building Culture and Cultivating Relationships
The beginning of the school year holds special significance for both educators and students. The arrival of a new class brings about feelings of excitement, anticipation and fresh starts. It is essential to take the time to understand your students on both an academic and personal level, as this sets the groundwork for the year ahead. The more information you have about your students, the better you can connect new knowledge to their interests and relate to them on a personal level. Devoting time to this at the start of the year is an investment in more impactful teaching and learning throughout the year.
Below are some engaging and impactful activities to initiate the year:
About Me Exercise
Provide your learners with various sizes of blank paper and encourage them to take as many pages as they desire. After receiving their pages, ask them to write or draw something about themselves on each page, such as their strengths, interests or personal information. They should write continuously for the entire duration. This activity reveals insights about the students, such as who took only one page versus those who took multiple pages, their writing or drawing abilities and their level of perseverance. After 3-5 minutes or however long you have designated, invite students to share about themselves in small groups of two or three. Following this, ask the entire class to share something they learned about one of their classmates, making sure to use the person’s name. For instance, “I learned that Amber loves country music and plays netball.” As the teacher, you can build on this by asking, “Who else plays a sport?” This allows students to quickly discover that there may be others in the classroom who share similar interests. Lastly, collect all the student’s “papers” in individually labeled envelopes and return them at the end of the year to demonstrate their growth in writing.
Choose It or Lose It
This activity is a variation of the game, “Would You Rather?” Display four pictures related to a particular category on a screen. Examples of categories include stationery items, school subjects, activities, key ideas for a topic, holiday destinations or music selections. Instruct students to choose two pictures they like, enjoy or can relate to and two pictures they would “lose” or not choose. Have them explain their choices to a partner and then share their selections with the class.
From day one, I insist students (at every age) answer questions in full sentences, not just stating the items. I explicitly teach them to use the question within the answer. Not only does this add more clarity to their speaking, it is also foundational practice for writing answers to exam questions later on in their educational journey. For example, “I would choose x & y and lose z & p because… (and give a reason).” As the teacher, if I want to delve deeper into their answer, I could ask, “What makes you choose (or lose) x over z?”
Instruct your class to create an avatar of themselves using various available technology tools such as Bitmoji, Avatar Maker, LEGO Minifigure Builder, DoppelMe or Pixton. com. Pixton.com is a favourite option as it not only allows for the creation of a fun and customisable avatar but is also free and integrates seamlessly with Google Classroom. An exceptional feature of Pixton.com is the ability to generate a class photo using the avatars. Later, you can use these avatars to create cartoons for a more personalised and amusing experience.
Your Favourite Game
If you have a preferred board game or TV show game, consider adapting it for classroom use. For example, you can create a giant version of Snakes and Ladders, where students act as the playing pieces and must answer a question when they reach the bottom of a ladder. The question cards, designed by you, could involve reviewing a previously studied topic or assessing prior knowledge before beginning a new unit of study. You can also adapt popular TV game shows like Jeopardy, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune or The Chase. Following educator Adam Peterson’s advice, remember to keep it simple by choosing one game for the year and modifying the content each time you play. This approach ensures that students become familiar with the game mechanics, allowing them to focus more on the learning content rather than on understanding how to play the game. Additionally, it minimises your workload since you only need to develop the game once and reuse it multiple times. You could invite your learners to work in groups to create the questions and engage in gameplay amongst themselves.
Design a bingo board with questions or statements that students can ask their classmates. When they find someone who matches a question or statement, they write that person’s name or get the person’s signature on their bingo sheet. The objective is to be the first to find five in a row or fill the entire board! This is a great way for students to learn each other’s names on the first day. Questions might include someone who can dance, play a musical instrument, loves to swim, has long hair, can speak more than one language, etc. Once students have completed their bingo board, facilitate a discussion about who they found. For example, “Who did you find who can play a musical instrument?” This gives students an opportunity to re-identify the student and reinforce their name. It also is a great way to lead a discussion about which instruments and ask – who else plays the guitar to highlight the similarities in the class, which creates positive connections.
Challenge Question Cards
Create a set of cards or slides containing questions that prompt students to reflect, ponder, debate and explain their reasoning. This activity can be done individually initially and then in small groups, with students sharing their ideas with the class.
Questions may include:
• What is your favourite subject in school? Why?
• If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go? Why?
• What is a personal accomplishment that makes you proud?
• Are you a morning person or a night owl?
• If you had a superpower, what would it be? Why?
• What is a book or show that you would recommend? Why?
Connect To Their World
Educator CJ Reynolds emphasises the power of understanding your students in their world. He poses an impactful question at the beginning of the year: “What is currently considered cool that adults aren’t aware of yet?” When students share their interests, CJ makes it a point to investigate and become familiar with what excites them. This understanding allows him to incorporate analogies, metaphors, and examples related to his students’ interests, resulting in memorable and personalised lessons.
Life In 10 Moments
A beneficial activity at the beginning of the year is to gain insight into your students’ backgrounds, enhance their presentation skills and encourage deep self-reflection. Ask your class to contemplate ten significant moments from birth until the present that have shaped who they are today. Assign them the task of creating ten slides to demonstrate these moments. The first slide should focus on their birth or early years, while the tenth slide should represent who they are today. Keep in mind that this task may vary in complexity, requiring individualised support or differentiation. Organise a presentation day where students can share their personal journeys so far.
It is important to demonstrate to parents that you have a holistic interest in their child, beyond just their academic achievements. At the start of the year, distribute a questionnaire to parents, either through mail or email, asking the question, “What non-academic information should I know about your child?” This allows parents to share their perspectives and shows your genuine interest in their child’s growth and development.
Please keep me informed about which ideas you implement and how they are received.
Wishing you a successful return to school!