The back to school season is upon us! The first day of school can give students (and teachers!) butterflies in their stomachs and nervous giggles. It’s important to plan first day of school activities for elementary students that make students feel welcome and ease their nerves.
These activities for first day of class can help them start the year in a positive way and help curb the butterflies over a brand new school year.
#1 Welcome New Students Back from Summer Break
We all remember those teachers that made us feel welcome, and those that made us watch the clock on the classroom wall. The attitude we have at the start of the year makes a huge impact. Students are walking into the building with lots of questions and worries, but your smile and making an effort to learn students’ names can help them relax.
On the first day of school, we recommend sharing about yourself and getting to know your students, while simultaneously setting expectations in the classroom. Use the first day to ease students back into school routines and classroom habits.
We love to use back to school writing activities for first day of class. For lower elementary, Back to School Sentence Writing Activities are ideal. Upper elementary students may benefit more from Back to School Paragraph Writing Activities. Each activity will scaffold students through the writing process, which is a big relief when you are just getting to know your students, and are not sure what strengths they have. We also created YouTube mini-lessons to match each activity, so you can review with students and practice as a class before students work alone.
Now, what’s better than a back to school activity that helps us get to know our students, and help us determine where our students are with their skills?! Honestly, it doesn’t get better than that. You definitely don’t need to grade this assignment, but look them over to assess your student’s abilities. While your students are working, walk around to answer questions and use lots of positive reinforcement.
# 2 Back to School Icebreakers and Cooperative Learning
We get it… The term “icebreakers” might make you cringe, and you may avoid them like the plague at meetings, but Icebreakers are a great first day of school activity for elementary students. Even if students are already familiar with each other, icebreakers serve as an introduction to cooperative learning.
When students work together to accomplish a task, especially a fun, silly one, they are engaged in cooperative learning. This leads to some masterful engagement that will have your students opening up and shaking off their back to school jitters. Here are some amusing icebreakers you can use:
✔️ Statues – In this game, one student is “it”. Everyone else stands still like a statue, spread across the room. The “statues” will try to move without getting caught by the person who is “it”. If the student who is “it” sees them move, they are out of the game.
✔️ Scavenger Hunt – For this scavenger hunt, students get a paper with several student attributes they need to find. For example, “find a student that has a pet” or “find a student who is an only child”. You can play along, too! This not only helps students get to know each other and find commonalities, it also gets them up and moving!
✔️ Survival Guide – Place students in small groups (no more than 4 students) and give them the following scenario: You are on a deserted island. What five items do you need to have in order to survive? Give the groups a set amount of time to think of their items, then have them present it to the class. We’ve had students get super creative and say things like, “A cell phone to call for help!” Genius.
# 3 Setting Classroom Routines and Expectations
Every educator knows the importance of setting classroom expectations and routines from the very start. We don’t often realize their importance until it’s dire, so why not make this a part of your first day of school activities for elementary students? Embed these expectations into the other activities you are doing like working on assignments, icebreakers, and other activities on the first day of class. Begin reminding students of the expected behavior in the classroom. Here are some items to think about on the first day:
✔️ Community Contract – Create your classroom rules together as a class and have each student sign the paper. Then, throughout the next few days, refer to the contract to remind students of the expectations.
✔️ Room Tour – Ditch the lecture and have students tour the classroom with a checklist or scavenger hunt. Ideally, you want students to know where items are located, and the procedures for getting those items.
✔️ Classroom Jobs – Explain the classroom jobs to your students, and then have them apply for the jobs they want to hold. We’ve seen teachers even make applications students had to fill out, which is a great idea for upper elementary students.
# 4 Building Excitement for the New School Year
As much as we’d love the first day to just be fun and engaging icebreakers and cooperative learning activities, it’ll be important to have some seat work activities too. After using the Back to School Sentence Writing Activities or Back to School Paragraph Writing Activities, try out some of these other exciting writing activities for some work time fun. Fun writing topics + learning seat time expectations = you got your moneys worth!
Here are some back to school writing activities to help you build excitement:
✔️ Backward and Forward: In this activity, have students reflect back on their prior year, and then look forward to the new school year. Ask them questions like, “What did you like about last year?” or “What are you excited to do in ___ grade?” After students write their responses, give them time to share with a partner or group. You can even do this along with your students! Maybe give them a teaser of an upcoming field trip or an exciting project during the year.
✔️ Letter to my Future Self: Have students write a letter for their future (end of the year) self. They can write something they hope they learned, a goal they met, or something in their personal life. Then, store these letters to pass back at the end of the year.
# 5 Read Back to School Books
We are big book nerds around here! If you want to simplify your back to school lessons while also adding in some major impact, read alouds are the way to go. There are so many back to school books you can use during morning meetings, silent reading, or as an activity on the first day of school. They are perfect for setting classroom expectations, and getting your students pumped about the new year! Here are some back to school book suggestions:
- We Don’t Eat Our Classmates
- Hunter’s Best Friend at School
- Bears Big Day
- The King of Kindergarten
- Lola Goes to School
- Mary had a Little Glam
- School is More than a Building
- How I Spent My Summer Vacation
- Do Unto Otters
- Schools First Day of School
- The Name Jar
- Your Name is a Song
Looking for short, simple stories for your students to kick off the new year? Our personal favorite activity is Back to School Story Retell Activities. This activity is simple enough that students don’t need a lot of prior knowledge, and a quick mini-lesson will have them ready to go. Students read fun back to school themed passages, like meeting the teacher, and then organize the information in beginning, middle, and end. It’s low-prep, so you don’t have one more thing to prepare during back to school season.
Back to school is such an awesome time of year! You get to meet new students and make new memories together. We hope these activities help you make the most of your first day of school with your elementary students. If you want to review skills in stations or ease into teaching, check out our YouTube videos for free ELA videos made for elementary students.