The first days of school can be tough for secondary teachers. There is a pressing need to get going with content delivery. However, at the same time we recognize that kids need time to get to know the other kids in the class-- especially because many secondary students report that they don't know the names of the kids sitting next to them (at the midpoint in the semester).
Research is clear that “reading and writing float on a sea of talk,” so we deed to ensure that kids feel comfortable taking, talking, and talking in class. So in the spirit of trying to build language rich classrooms where small groups of kids can get to know each other, while learning content, here are 9 secondary-friendly activities for the first week of school and beyond:
- Non Cheesy Icebreaker for first Day of School by Laura Randazzo. This is a great way to get kids talking and thinking on the first days of school in a low-risk way. A quick overview: kids are put into groups, have sentence starters, use sticky notes which they put on the wall under their assigned sentence starter, then rotate to the next station. At the end of the rotations, the groups organize all the sticky notes (from the whole class) into categories and present. There’s small group, synthesis and a suggested homework assignment...tons of flexibility here for get-to-know-you as well as room to adapt activity into an intro to class content. Click the link for the entire activity.
- Pickles and penguins (in groups with doc camera). Named after the board game of the same name. Each group gets a small handful of image cards. Have small groups try to link their images to the one you are projecting. The point is for the groups to rid of cards by providing a connection from their card to the projected one….consider requiring students to form connections between the cards using your content ideas/vocabulary ...or use images that are related to your content area.
- Would you Rather? - “ ThoughtCo. blog writes, "This party game is perfect for use in the classroom...It's easy and lots of fun. Would you rather find true love or win the lottery? Would you rather be bald or completely hairy? Would you rather tell your best friend a lie or your parents the truth? Give your students impossible questions to answer and help them ease into learning together.” Modify this activity by asking student to create would you rather statements using academic vocabulary or ideas--would you rather be an electron or a neutron?
- I’m Searching for Someone Who - This is an oldie, but a goodie. Have kids fill in their favourite things for each column and then find someone who has also filled in the same favourites. To make it more content related, change some of the columns from personal headings (favourite movies) to concepts in your class that they should already know or will meet in the coming year. An introductory academic conversation...and get-to-know-you activity.
- Find Your Match- Each kid gets an index card and has to “find” his or her “match” For example card one might be Beyonce and the matching card might be Jay-Z. You could add a little sub-match to each card, that deals with an idea or concept in your subject area. Or have one side be pop culture related and the second side be an academic concept--for example of side is “fraction” and the matching card is “percent.”
- Introduction to your Content Area - “For some teachers, the first step is helping students to understand what they are going to learn this year. But you don’t always want to start right off with a lecture or worksheet, so try one of these:
- Get Them Guessing -Prediction activities can be a great way to activate students’ prior knowledge on a topic and get them excited about what lies ahead in the course.
- Guessing Game 1: Give them a series of true and false statements about the content of the course and have them guess the right answers.
- Guessing Game 2: Or do a demonstration experiment and have students guess about the results.If you teach English, try this trick: get a movie of the first novel students will read and show one brief, suspenseful or exciting scene. Make sure to stop the film so that students are “left hanging” and tell them they’ll have to read the book to find out what happens. You may get kids begging to start the book!” (Teachinghub.com)
- 6 Word Memoirs - A little more challenging, but if “reading is breathing in and writing is breathing out,” then this little writing activity works for supporting literacy as well as thinking skills. Have kids write a six word memoir about their summer vacation, what they think your content area is about, what they like the most about your content area, etc.
- Begin with a Book (non ELA Teachers) Starting with a read-aloud that models thinking in your subject area is an engaging way to introduce your class as well as support literacy. Click this link to learn more about readalouds and to get read aloud book suggestions. Teachignhub.com writes,"this approach is especially effective for non-language arts teachers. Find a book that puts a different spin on your subject and share it (or part of it) on the first day.
- Maybe a children’s book on animals is a fun way to begin studying biology.
- A coffee table photo book might provide striking images for students to think about as they begin studying history.
- For older history students, consider taking an excerpt from a book like Guns, Germs, and Steel; Founding Brothers; or Citizen Soldiers. These books describe history in a different way and may grab the attention of students inclined to “tune out” their textbook.” Read More from Teachinghub.com's site here.
- Book Browsing for ELA teachers A great way to start on the independent reading in your class and get your kids on their way to reading 25 books this year.
- Book Viewing - How cool would it be to start your year by placing 100 books on desks in your classroom and having kids in small groups pick through them?
- One variation of this might include a structured Book Bachelor Activity based loosely on the Bachelor TV show (That CG!) where students all have one book on their desk and they have to decided if they are going to commit to that book or pass it on to the next person. At the end of this activity, each student date only have one book.
- Have students organize your classroom library into categories that make sense to them.
- In small groups have students use books spines to create found Book Spine poetry.
All of these activities provide students the opportunity to talk and get to know each other as well as the content area and each supports language and literacy development. I'd love to hear what you folks out there are planning for your first days of school!
Wishing you all a great start up!