Every Year Is The First Year: Back To School Strategies
We have a lot in common. We both love fitness. We are both moms. We both think good teaching means teaching thinking. We love to try experiment in and out of the classroom, and we both agree that the every year of teaching, no matter how how long you’ve been in the classroom, is a first year. The kids are different. You are different. What has always worked in the past may not resonate any longer. So how do we begin? Here are our favorite (and most engaging) strategies for kicking off the new year. There are two themes that connect all of these strategies: work alongside your students and invite your students into the process. We believe that creating a strong classroom community and culture is the most important work in September. 1) Generate Class Norms Together
We have all done it. We have developed our class rules and posted them in the classroom before our students walk through the door. We have found that when we invite our students into the process of norm generation that they are more invested in following those norms and see the value and importance of how they keep the classroom community strong. Some of our favorite class generated norms are stay in your own lane, move with speed, do you, ask for help, and give one to get one. Start by accessing students’ prior knowledge and experience, and ask them to think about a time they were part of a group or a team that worked well together. What did that team do? What did those team members say to each other? As students share, record their brainstorm on a the whiteboard or a large piece of chart paper. Once you have a list, go through each example and determine with your students what the norms will be. Some teachers create an anchor chart with the norms and ask all the students to sign or if they are younger, use paint to place their handprint on the poster. This visual reminder is helpful for students to see in the classroom. 2) Go Go Mo (Give One, Get One, Move On) is an icebreaker for students to learn names and details about each other. In this protocol, a teacher gives students a graphic organizer with different boxes. Each box contains a question where the students write down details about themselves. There is also a list of students’ names so they can write down the details they “get” from each other. Play music and when the music stops, students find a peer and they “give” a detail and “get” a detail. This activity gets students up and moving. This Video shows the strategy in action. 3) Write Six Word Memoirs As an English teacher, it felt important for me to write with my students on the first day of school. Prior to class I filled jars with strips of paper. Those papers contained different words and phrases. I shared some examples of six word memoirs from the book I Can't Keep My Own Secrets by Rachel Fershleiser. I then shared a six word memoir I wrote with the class. I gave students the task of writing their own six word memoir that would give a sense of who they are and what matters to them. Students who weren’t sure how to start were able to use the words and phrases in the jar for inspiration. I saved the students’ writing, and later in the year we returned to their six word memoirs and they revised them. We then wrote an essay about how they had changed and grown that year.
4) Letter to the Teacher
I agree with Julie that it is important to start writing on the first day of school. For the past few years I have started having the students write a letter to me to introduce themselves. This helps me get to know them and hopefully make connections faster than if I had to talk to each student as the year gets underway, but also it gives me a writing sample and I get an immediate feel for the students' abilities. I go ahead and introduce "friendly letter" format and them have topics I want to have included in the letters.
5) Speed Conversations
This activity is a great way for students to learn about each other and hopefully make connections with other students. I have desks arranged in two circles: each pair facing each other. You could have students stand in two circles and face each other, too. I have a list of ridiculous questions and give each person about 45 seconds via a timer to tell their answer. After each partner has shared, one circle rotates so the partners change. It’s a great ice breaker.
6) Poetry Portfolio
I learned about this year-opening activity from my host teacher when I was student teaching. Each day (for a given length of time--your choice) students are taught a mini-lesson about a type of poem, then they write their own. All of the poems are modeled for students so the tone is set for the content. Students revise and edit each of their poems and create a portfolio that they bind and create cover art for. I never required students to share their work in front of anyone because it can be very personal. There are a lot of different things you can do with this project: adjust the number of poems, choose the tone of the content, choose your genre of writing also--do narratives or creative writing.