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What Do You Do On The First Day Of School?


As regular readers know, I’ve been writing a monthly “What Do You Do” posts focusing on specific classroom issues.

Next week, Teacher Magazine will be publishing my article on “What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class?” and a few days later I’ll be following that up with an extensive “Part Two” on the same topic. You can see many comments left by readers in my original post.

Previous posts in this series have included:

What Do You Do On The Last Day Of Class (Part Two)?
What Do You Do When You Have A Few Minutes Left In Class? — Part Two

What Do You Do When You’re Having A Bad Day At School?

What Do You Do To Keep Students (And You!) Focused Near The End Of The Year?

The next question I’ll be tackling is “What Do You Do On The First Day of Class?”

I’m eager to hear what readers do.  I’ll, of course, highlight your ideas (with credit) in the post.

Please leave a comment with how you handle your first day of class each year.  The “deadline” for comments will be August 15th.

I’ll look forward to learning a lot!

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. I try to do something that shows the skills of a historian along with the kids finding out about me and me finding our about them. In the past I have brought in artifacts from my life, had them take notes with their own conclusions and then write a poem about who they think their teacher is.

  2. I teach to several age groups so I will let you know what I have done for each age group. All these classes are at the beginner to intermediate level of English proficiency.

    Children- I wear a big smile and say Hello and introduce myself in English and in their language. Then it is straight to game playing!

    High School- I wear a big smile, say Hello, introduce myself, and give them a one page syllabus with their first homework assignment to email me with whatever they want to say for a free 100. I also collect index cards with their personal information. I have each student share some information of themselves with the class such as name, country they are from, and their hobbies. With more advanced classes, I do this as a pair interview where the partner introduces the student. I give my speech that everyone starts off with a 100 and clean slate in my class. We also learn vocabulary about the school and do a tour with each student acting as a tour guide the second time around.

    Adults- I wear a big smile, say Hello, introduce myself, and start with this question game. One student is in the hot seat and the others must each ask the student one question beginning with the Wh question word I wrote on the board. This activity has been very successful in breaking the ice!

    Hope this helps!


  3. In my high school world history class I go over the syllabus and do all the typical first day stuff, then we start right in on the history! I have a handout on which students guess when and where common objects (toothbrush, bra, spas, sun glasses, etc) were first used. We talk about their guesses and why they made the choices they did. The next day they each get a post it with the answer to one of the objects on it, get in a chronological circle and go around sharing the right information. I tell little stories about each object. The information is from the book The Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati.

    • hi there,
      Could I have a copy of what you use the first few days in history? (when and where common objects were first used?
      Thanks so much!

  4. On the first day of school, students read letters from last year’s 4th graders about “How to Survive in Mrs. Hines” class. That’s always a lot of fun and loosens things up. We also review classroom expectations and rules, as well as setting up a basic calendar of things to expect. This year we will be starting on our overall yearly theme of “Healthy Living” with a lifestyle pre-assessment.

  5. I like the paper bag ice breaker. Before school starts I send out a letter asking the kids to bring in 3-4 items (small) that are important to them in a brown paper lunch bag (unmarked) and when they get to class on the first day of school I collect them. Then when they are gone to a special I pass out the bags in random order and have the students unpack them when they get back. They are allowed to walk around the room and look at the different things and then they have to try to guess who belongs to each bag. I have each student stand to show what is on their desk, make their guess as to who they think it belongs to, and then the person who brought them in will explain why they chose those particular things to bring in and show. With elementary students it is like a giant show-and-tell and then I don’t have to do it anymore for the rest of the year!

  6. This is a demonstration I do on one of the first few days of school. I get a local fast food joint burger (actually, I buy 5 because I have 5 classes). Before I reveal it, I have the students define what a quality burger is (it has meat, bun, pickle…etc.) Then I set it on my demo table and unwrap it. I ask if it is a quality burger. Then I smash it with a rubber mallet. While I am smashing it I am talking about the paper that is due the next day and how it is grabbed from the printer minutes before running out the door and slammed into the backpack and other books smashed on top of it.

    Then I ask if it is still a quality burger. It has all the same parts. But it is a mess. And I expect to see tidy papers turned in.

    They don’t forget the quality burger very quickly.

    • I love that idea. What a great visual it provides for them. Then you get to refer back to it throughout the year. However, I am a vegetarian, so I need to come up with another food. 🙂

  7. The first day of school is always hurried. Our classes are about 30 minutes each following a homeroom (with students that I will not have in class) period of 60 minutes where we hand out schedules. I always greet students at the door, check their names off the roll sheet and assign them a desk. Once the bell rings, I double-check that all students are present, then repeat their names again asking if there is another name they wish to use in class (i.e. nickname, middle name, etc.). I also stress the importance of them correcting my pronunciation if necessary. We review the syllabus and go over the recommended supply list. If it’s an AP class, I collect the summer assignment. At that point, I usually have time for a quick activity/demonstration. One of my favorites is to show them an overhead of a world map that has been cut into four pieces. The first view is centered on the Atlantic Ocean (which they are used to seeing), but then you move one of the pieces to the other side of the map to create a different view. We talk a little about our perceptions of what the world looks like and how sometimes we just need a different view to understand things better. If I had a full class period I’d add in a mental map of the world. It’s great to watch students’ maps progress over the course of the year.

  8. I spend time not only on the first day, but the first few weeks community building in the classroom. Taking the time to build community in the classroom from the very first day of school sets the tone for the rest of the year. Norms naturally emerge and relationships form that allow for productive cooperative learning. The students take complete ownership of the classroom, their own behavior, and their classmates’ behavior.

    I also assign lunch groups and a topic of discussion. The groups sit together at lunch and report back the next day in class. Topics range from finding 3 unique things the group has in common to something that helps them to reflect on a previous day. We have 5 feeder schools that filter into our middle school and for sixth graders the lunch groups help to settle the anxiety that naturally emerges in regard to that time of the day. I only assign lunch groups for the first two weeks of school, but the students tend to continue sitting with each other throughout the year.

  9. If it’s a new group, I of course want to know their names and a little bit about them. However, I know I don’t like boring introductions, so I’m guessing they don’t either. That’s why during the first meeting I sometimes ask “different” questions, like: “Do you have a nickname?”, “What book is on top of your shelf?”, “Who would you invite to an imaginary party?”, “What are you most proud of?” etc. These unconventional questions get them to open up and it’s always a fun class, especially since I too answer the same questions. Also, this type of getting-to-know-each-other exercise sets the ground for a good collaboration.
    With groups with which I plan on using technology, I’d probably adapt the questions and ask stuff like “When was the last time you read a book/webpage?”, “When was the last time you received a letter/an email?”, “When was the last time you browsed an encyclopedia/wikipedia?”.
    This is what I normally do, but I’m on holiday now, so maybe until school starts I’ll come up with something new, thanks to you and the people who’ve contributed their answers here 🙂


  10. Thanks for the reply, Larry 🙂 And I forgot to mention the Time Capsule. I believe it’s nice to write your thoughts, hopes, expectations on the first day of school and then come back to them on the last day and see if they actually came true they way you’d expected.

    Same Mona

  11. I teach 8th grade Language Arts. By the time they get to me, they know most of the rules, so I go over them QUICKLY and pass out a supply list. Then I take any “I must know or I’ll die” questions, but I put off all the class info stuff until the next day (when all of the other teacher aren’t doing it).

    We write the first day, usually a fun assignment and never a graded assignment. Last year they wrote an essay entitled, “What I Did This Summer” but the weren’t allowed to tell the truth. The crazier the better. They they shared with a partner and a few shared with the whole class.

    This year, I think we will write a poem using the mini-whiteboards I have. Each student will write a word that describes school, then I will video the word while they say it and post the video to my website. If there’s time, we will do the activity again, this time with a word describing what they wish school was.

    I want kids to know right off the bat that this class isn’t about listening or being quiet and following directions (although those are important skills), it’s about doing.

  12. Last year I taught 3rd grade, and I wanted the focus of my first day (and many after that) to be the cultivation of community. I showed pictures on the Smartboard of my husband, our dog, and from a trip I had taken to Argentina that summer. I let them ask lots of questions (they especially wanted to know all about the trip to Argentina because I had worked with kids their age). The purpose of this was to let them know that I wanted them to know me– to really know me, and this helped set the tone for the rest of the year. I shared my life with them, and they shared theirs with me.

    We then played a game called “Connections.” I used a big piece of butcher paper and wrote all our names around the paper at the edges. Everyone sat behind their name with a marker, and we started the game with one student sharing something about himself. If a student found a connection with what he said, he drew a line connecting their names. They also wrote what connected them on the line. At the end, when the paper was a barely legible mess of lines and words, we drew conclusions about what this game taught us.

  13. I teach fifth graders and have been doing this activity successfully for the past 29 years. After everyone is seated, I ask the students to look around the room to find THE most valuable item. I tell them it is not in a drawer or a closet, and that they can walk around and look if they want. After a few minutes I ask for what they believe is the most valuable object. Computers and stereo and ipod and TV and Smartboard are often mentioned. Sometimes it’s the artwork or books. I recognize that it IS valuable, but not THE most valuable. Eventually someone mentions the students and I concur… but add that it’s not only the students, but any person in the classroom, and I will not allow any damage to occur to the most valuable item(s) in the classroom. We refer to this lesson throughout the year as the first lesson they were taught in fifth grade. They don’t forget.

  14. I am going back into the classroom after 10 years out so my main aim for the 1st day is to survive!!
    I have a questionaire to hand out to the children. Although I already know them I hope this will give me more of an insight into each of them and make it easier to tailor my lessons for this class. It will also make it a bit easier to connect with each of them during the year. I will also spend time community building where we will discuss our expectations and how we all feel the classroom should be run (rules, consequences etc)

  15. I introduce myself and tell the students a little about me and my background, hobbies, and interests. Then I have each student introduce themselves and tell about their hobbies, interests, or something interesting about themselves. I then talk briefly about the class and what we will be doing and what they can expect. They get a copy of the syllabus on their way out.

    I teach high school physics, so I have grades 11 and 12.

    I hand out the textbooks and go over class policies and procedures on the second day.

  16. I break my US history classes into groups of 4 people. In their assigned group they have to decide how a random item relates to US history. It starts an interesting discussion when they share. After they share their thoughts I add some details about each item. For example:

    1. A Teddy Bear- Share story about Ted Roosevelt and the bear
    2. A barbie-a reflection of women’s roles and the changing times (i show images of barbies from the founding to today)
    3. GI Joe- Cold War,, (not a doll- masculinity)
    4. Davy Crocket Hat- obvious
    5. Lincoln Logs- build a house, westward expansion, AB Lincoln
    6. Monopoly- created 1920s popular in the 1930s etc.

    Anyone have any other ideas that I could add to this lesson?

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