Monday, July 25, 2016

A Middle School Teacher's Guide to the First Week of School

The pencils are sharpened, your classroom is clean and the bell rings…gulp…here they come! My feelings on the first week of school are conflicted. On one hand, it’s one of the most important weeks. Explaining and practicing the class procedures and expectations sets the tone for the rest of the school year. Success is vital. On the other hand, I’m so excited to start teaching my historical content that waiting until all the expectations are explained requires a lot of patience! Every teacher has their own plan of action for that pivotal time.
Here are 5 things I can’t live without during the first week of school:
One: An Icebreaker. I aim to try and make kids feel comfortable in my classroom on day one. One of my favorite little activities is Fact or Fiction. Each student receives a small slip of paper and they’re instructed to write one fact and two fictions. Then each person (including myself!) introduces themselves and we all try to guess which statement is the fact! It’s a great way to quickly learn about each other.
Two: Classroom Information and Expectations. This is every teacher’s staple, I know, but it had to go on the list because it’s a must-have! When you’re making your own, spell everything out – from the obvious grading procedures and late work policy to how to pass back papers and when to sharpen pencils and go to the bathroom. Trust me, leave no stone unturned. Your classroom will function much better if you set the tone from day one. (Oh, and don’t forget a seating chart!)
Three: Fun and Games. On the second day of school, I love to start class with a little game. It’s a great way for the kids to start practicing our classroom procedures and expectations while getting familiar with their teacher and classmates. Here are some of my favorite games that I use during the first week of school: (P.S. Some of these activities can be found in my Back to School Activities resources! Click the grade level you’re teaching to check them out: Sixth, Seventh, Eighth)
InstaFriend: This activity gets students moving around the room and interviewing fellow classmates! Their InstaFriend paper has a series of descriptions and characteristics. When they find a student who matches the description, they write their name in the box. Each name can only be used once!
Right or Wrong: I love skits. LOVE THEM. I like to introduce students to the idea of skits during the first week by allowing them to create their own based on our class expectations. I first divide students into small groups of 2-3. Each group then randomly receives one of our class procedures or expectations. As a group, they have to work together to create two mini skits – one showing the RIGHT way to follow the expectation, the other showing the WRONG way. They get to be silly and I get to reinforce my class expectations. After each skit I happily point out all the positive behaviors as well as each time a class policy was violated. It’s a light-hearted way to grab their attention and create a positive atmosphere all while practicing the laws of the land.
Classmate Bingo: I love to play this game at the end of the first week. I give each student a blank bingo board with a large selection of personal characteristics, hobbies, etc. at the bottom. The students choose 16 off the list and create their customized board. Then, I randomly select characteristics from the list. If a student has that characteristic on their board, they have to write down a student’s name that matches the characteristic – but no cheating! They have to use what they’ve learned about others during their first week of school to try and win the game.
Four: A Pre Test. After a few days of class information and fun, it’s time to start getting down to business. Each year, I make a short pre-test on the information they’ll learn about that year. It gives me a chance to see what the kids already know and gives them a feel for what subject matter they’ll be learning about in the coming weeks. FYI: Your pre-test probably won’t take the whole class period. Make sure to have plans for other activities, too, on the day you give your pre-test!
Five: A Writing Activity. True fact: when I tell kids they’re going to do a writing activity, they groan every time. It’s a signal that the “real work” is about to begin. Luckily, they’re always relieved when I assure them that this activity will require very little research because it’s about a subject they’re experts in – themselves! I have a few different activities to choose from each year. Here are some suggestions:
Student Survey: What are your strengths? Weaknesses? What do you hope to learn in this class? These are just some of the questions I ask students in the survey. The more I know about my students, the better I can help them achieve success in my class.
Write Away: A staple of many: write a letter to a future you! I ask students to write goals for the year, dreams they wish to see realized, and questions they want to ask their “End of the Year” self. I tuck these letters away and revisit them during the last week of school.
I’m Ready: Like every middle school history class, we do a lot of writing and students always have to back up their reasons, statements, etc. with evidence to support their claim. In this writing activity, students have to identify which class rule or expectation they believe is most important and provide evidence to support their claim. This activity both reinforces my classroom policies and secretly gives me a preview of their writing proficiency.
Have I left anything out? If you have any fun plans for the first week of school, share them in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas for my classroom!


  1. I do a rock, paper, scissors tournament. It can get a little noisy, but it builds great teamwork. It starts like normal rock, paper, scissors then whoever wins faces the winner of another group and so on. The students that are out don't get to just sit that have to cheer on their winner until the final round. My winner has gotten to pick their seat in my room and I create a seating chart off of that for the first one.

    1. That's such a fun idea, Megan! I may definitely have to borrow that idea for my classroom this year. Thank you! :)

  2. I'm so curious about your InstaFriend activity. Can you share more information about it?

    1. Ellen, thanks for your question! In InstaFriend, students are given an activity that has 8 characteristics listed. At the start of the activity, I ask them to think of their own answers/responses to the items. For example, one says "...likes the same school subject as you." Their goal is to walk around the classroom and find students who share their likes/dislikes and fill that student's name in on their paper. It prompts them to meet new people and discover similarities between themselves and at least a few of their classmates. :) At the end of the activity, I always ask volunteers to share a few of their discoveries.

  3. Ooo! I like that! It's like a more social/in depth friend bingo. Thank you!

  4. Can we buy/download your ideas anywhere- in particular the instafriend game?
    Thank you for the great ideas!!!

    1. Yes, Alyssa! I have a store on Teachers Pay Teachers full of resources for the classroom. :) Here is the link:

  5. I'm looking to set up procedures and routines. Would love any suggestions