August 26, 2013

What I Do the First Week of School

If you had a chance to read my post on Friday, you'll know that I am officially one week into the school year.  Not only did I survive, but the kids did too!  I wanted to take some time today to share some of the lessons I typically teach during the first week or two of school.  The most important things to me in these crucial weeks are building our classroom community and teaching those oh-so-important routines.  Routines are the MOST important part of classroom management IMHO!  Read a list of some of the routines I make a point to teach these first weeks here.

Anyways, I thought I would just share a list of some of my favorite beginning of the year lessons and activities...

Starting Out the First Day
The very first thing I do on the first day is have the kids just drop their supplies on their desks and join me at the carpet.  Here, I teach them our opening tradition.  We listen to (and sing!) a song--this year our first opening song is "Brave" by Sarah Barielles--while doing some sort of clapping routine to the beat.  Then, I teach our opening greeting (which I can now do in ASL!  hooray!).  Once we've had a chance to practice that a couple of times, I explain expectations for transitioning from the carpet to the desks.  Since I move back and forth between both many times a day, it's important to teach this transition!  We practice at least once or twice before heading to desks and labeling, organizing, and putting away supplies.

Since the first days can involve a lot of routine practice and presenting of information, I try to alternate each "seated activity" with some sort of game or movement break.  Those little bodies aren't used to sitting for very long yet!  These things games can be complicated or as simple as "touch all four walls and get in six high-fives."  

Getting to Know You + Team Building Activities
One of my favorite activities for the first day is one another teacher on my team shared last year.  We read aloud the story The Dunderheads--have you read this one?  It's about a class of misfits, each of whom has some crazy unique talent or gift.  They don't fit in at all, but they work together to combine their gifts and conquer a challenge during the story.  While reading, I kept a chart of each student's unique talent, and afterwards we talked about how this is like our class--each of us has something different to offer, but together we can do anything!  Each student took some time to write some of their special talents down on strips of paper, and we stapled them together to create a chain that I displayed in the classroom all year.

Last year's chain
Since I am in a multi-grade classroom, I couldn't repeat this same activity this year (half of the kids would have already done it!).  Instead, I decided to read aloud The Important Book.  After reading, we talked about the things that are important about each of us.  We drew symbols representing each of these things on a net of a cube, and then cut and folded the cubes.  An art activity like this on the first day is a great way to both get to know the kids AND start teaching your expectations for work time.
I also do a lesson called "Home Court Advantage" every year with my class.  This is a lesson I learned at my Quantum Learning training, and I love how it builds my classroom community.  I first start by having the kids visualize that they are on a pro-sports team--this year I chose the Chicago Blackhawks because we won the Stanley Cup here in Chicago this summer (yay!).  I had them picture looking out at the fans, all in Blackhawks colors, cheering for them.  I had them picture looking down at the ice with their mascot painted on it, and at their teammates, all supporting each other in matching jerseys.  We thought about how the teammates cheered and high-five-d and hugged when they scored goals, and how when they missed, their teammates encouraged them.  After visualizing all of this, we talked about what Home Court Advantage means--statistically, players are more likely to win on their home court because of three things: Safety, Support, and Belonging.  We talked about how this classroom is their home court, and we brainstormed ways we can contribute to the home court advantage in the classroom by helping classmates feel safe, supported, and like they belong.
Building Instructional Routines
On day two, I usually start my first Daily 5 lesson--introducing Read to Self and beginning stamina building.  Read more about this here.
The first week, I also introduce our Writing Workshop routine.  This year, I read aloud The Best Story Ever as a perfect segue into the Narrative Heart lesson.  I'm sure many of you are familiar with this lesson--we draw hearts in our writing journals and fill them in with all of the people, places, activities, and memories that are in our hearts.  Then, I have students pick something from their heart to write about in their journal.  This lesson is a perfect starting point to writing workshop.  It gives students a place to draw ideas from for future lessons, and it also introduces the mini-lesson, writing time, sharing time structure of Writing Workshop.
Before we start our literacy series, I like to also do some lessons about things that good readers do--visualizing, making connections, etc.  The first one I start with is a lesson on Metacognition that I got from the book Comprehension Connections.  I model reading a very challenging text and talk about how even though I was reading the words, I was actually "fake reading" because I wasn't thinking.  Then we practice think alouds while reading a picture book together.  This year, I chose The Boy who Grew Flowers.
We will dive into our math curriculum starting week two (today actually!), but we did our first classroom switch for math on Friday.  I introduced expectations for this transition and our math opening routine (another song) to my math class, did my very best to learn a few names, and then started introducing them to the Guided Math routine.  Read more about how I run Guided Math here.  This year, I had the kids practice transitioning from desks to carpet with their white boards, markers, and erasers.  We also practiced turns and talks with the kids "Brain Buddies."  Once at the carpet, I shared our math expectations with the kids.  Normally I would make an anchor chart of these on chart paper, but I decided to make them in ActivInspire, our interactive board program, so I could try revealing them one at a time.  With the new emphasis on critical thinking and "rigor" in the Common Core, I wanted to make sure the kids understand what it means to justify their solutions and critique those of their neighbors.
After attending an awesome math workshop with Greg Tang last year, I decided to use one of his great online (free!) picture books, The Grapes of Math, as another part of our shared lesson.  This book does a great job of encouraging mathematicla thinking and showing that there are many ways to solve a problem.  Kids worked through the problems with their Brain Buddies and shared their solutions.
After reading a few pages from the book, I wanted to review a simple math game with the kids from our Everyday Math series to make sure that when we start our guided math groups on Monday, they will have an activity to work on when they are independent.  I reviewed the rules to Addition Top-It, a game frmo the third grade curriculum, and gave them time to play with their brain buddies.  Easy peasy!

What are some lessons you love teaching the first week of school?


  1. Amy! How wonderfully sweet and generous of you to share your first day plans! I got ideas for several new activities that I want to use during my first week, if not my first day, thanks to your descriptions. I love a chance to sneak in classroom rules and expectations when they think they are working on an art project.
    Thanks again!

  2. I just sent this to myself at school. I am definitely going to use a couple of ideas. THanks.


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