Thursday, August 22, 2019

First Day of School Activities for High School and Middle School English

First Day of School Activities for English Class

Much like students who spend more hours on the hook of an essay than they do the bulk of an essay, I often found myself with a case of English teacher writing block when it came to planning my first day of school activities. Though I had ten years (x two semesters each) of first-day experience, the back-to-school butterflies fluttered just as much on year ten as they did on year one. A lot of my anxiety came from planning a first day of school that didn't match my teaching style at all. I did what I thought I was supposed to do which was read a boring PowerPoint about myself and explain all of the rules. Nothing says, "let's make learning fun!" like rules and boring teacher facts. ;) Therefore, a couple of years ago I decided to change the path of my first day of school routine, and that has made all the difference. Instead of talking at the students, I conversed with them. Instead of telling them the rules, we made them together. Instead of pointing out the supplies, I let them discover them. 

Here are my favorite first day of school activities for high school and middle school English: 

(I personally used these as first day of school stations, but if learning stations aren't your style or can't fit with your class time, you can adjust to fit your needs) 

Use rhetoric to introduce yourself



1. Introduce yourself using rhetoric- Rhetoric is something that English teachers teach regularly, yet it might not occur to you how powerful pathos, logos, and ethos can be when it comes to introducing yourself to your students on your first day. 

While we sometimes think of rhetoric as a persuasive technique for argument and sales, I believe the art of persuasion can apply to almost anything– including the influence you have in your classroom. When you really think about it, all teaching is one big persuasive speech. We convince students to learn, we open their minds to more points of view, and we prove why what we teach matters.  While all of this will take place over the course of your class, it’s important to start your journey of influence on day one. If you can tap into all three sides of the rhetorical triangle—their hearts, their minds, and their trust--on day one, then you set yourself up to make an impact this school year. 

To do this, think about ways you can show your expertise and your heart while also making a logical case for your curriculum and classroom procedures. This part of my first day agenda only takes around five to ten minutes, and it starts by greeting each student at the door with a smile and directions for sitting so that they feel comfortable and aren't left out of the "cool table." I then take attendance with a fun attendance question to lighten the mood and begin to learn names. After this, I project a single slide that tells about my heart, my qualifications, and my curriculum. I have found that the less time I spend in front of the room on the first day, the better it is for both my students and my nerves. 

You can find the exact editable PowerPoint template I use in my First Day ELA resource.


First Day of School Activities for English Class
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2. Get to know students- Now that students know you a little more, it's time to get to know your students. Since I want to keep with the ELA theme and hate traditional icebreakers, I created an ELA profile sheet that students can fill out so that you can learn more about them. I actually haven't used this sheet in a couple of years because I do something similar as an introduction to British Literature,  but thousands of other teachers use it every year and love it! You can grab your free download by signing up for my Buiding Book Love Letter. 


3. Use stations for first day of school tasks- There are always a number of housekeeping items that must be taken care of on the first day of high school. Stations are a fantastic way to create movement and natural icebreakers while also making sure each back to school task is complete. 

Here are back-to-school station ideas: 


Classroom Worry Box

1. Set up a worry or "I wish my teacher knew" box- Back to school can be an exciting but also stressful time of year for many students. To get them in the practice of acknowledging their stress and worries, set up a worry box based on this article from Harvard: Two Techniques for Reducing Stress . However, be warned. Some silly answers you make you laugh while other serious answers will make you sob. You can decide if you want this to be anonymous or not, but if they leave a very worrisome anonymous note, you will have no way to address. it.


First Day of School Activities for English Class

2. Go on a classroom scavenger hunt- While going over procedures and classroom materials is a necessary first day of school task, it doesn't have to boring! Simply turn it into a scavenger hunt instead! Students in this station walk around the room to find all of their supplies and will even complete a few subtle icebreakers along the way such as "find Mrs. Bible and tell her your favorite time of year." If you want an editable version of this scavenger hunt, you can find it in my First Day ELA Resource.


Infographic Syllabus

3. Close Read the Syllabus- Cutting my syllabus down to a one-page infographic has ensured that I relay all of the important information AND that my students actually read it. For this station, I have students read their syllabus and do prompts that it says such as "Sign up for Remind."

Infographic Syllabus

If you want to be able to make your own infographic syllabus in PowerPoint, I have a handy template for you in my ELA First Day Resource. 


First Day of School Activities for English Class

4. Have students help you create the rules- When I implemented some flexible seating last year, I knew that I would need to have rules, but I wanted my students to come up with the rules. This honestly worked out better than I could imagine. I just set up a station in the living room area and let students write down the rules they thought were fair. I then went through each class and tallied the opinions. The majority won in favor of rotating days for flexible seating. Therefore, I just had to make an easy system and follow it. Since I had group tables around the room, each group had their day to use the flexible seating. Monday was table one and so forth. I was able to accomplish this because I made sure that every student had a desk. The flexible seating was extra seating. This type of rule brainstorming works with other classroom rules as well!

High school book raffle

5. Get students excited about reading- This back to school activity is my favorite because it helps build excitement around reading from day one! I implement 10 minutes of free choice reading at the start of class every single day, so naturally, I want my students to choose a book on our first day of English class. I allow students to browse my classroom library and check out a book on the spot, or they can try their luck at one of the new and exciting books that I have in the book raffle! The book raffle works like this: display your new or highly sought after books and have a cup under each book. After you talk up the books, students can come through and add their name to the cup if they want to enter for a chance at first dibs on checking it out. This would work extra well if you had one copy of the book for each class, but I didn't and it still built excitement for reading amongst all of my classes!

First Day of School Activities for English Class

6. Make classroom decor with your students- While I love creating a magical place to learn for students, I also think that it's important for each student to be represented in their classroom. For the past five years or so, I've done a dictionary get to you activity that turns into a book page banner that I leave displayed all semester long. You can look at the pictures below for an idea, and also read more about how to make this craft here: Get to know you activities for secondary ELA students 

Get to know you activity



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I hope that this blog post has given you lots of fun first-day activity ideas for high school and middle school English. Be sure to tag me on social media so that I can join in on your back-to-school excitement!