10 Things to Do on the First Day of School

This is an old post that has been updated to reflect changes at the beginning of the year due to social distancing during in-person and synchronous teaching.

The first day of school is usually full of excitement and smiles. It also sets the tone for the entire year. This year should be no different. Here are some ideas to help you kick it off right.

1. Greet Your Students with a Warm Welcome

There are so many fun social distance greetings you can use to welcome your students. Some of my favorites are the pinky wave, the air five the salute, and the heart fingers.  They may not be able to see you smiling behind the mask, but they’ll know. The first day can be scary, so show them that they have a kind teacher who is excited to meet them.

2. Introduce Them to Their Personal Spaces

Make them feel welcome by showing them their desk, cubbies, etc. Be sure to have a name tag already made for your students. If a student that was not previously on your roster shows up, make a name tag as soon as possible. (You’ll also want to make sure you have extra sets of everything for these new additions.) This helps students feel like they have a place in your room and in your heart.

3. Keep Your Students Engaged From the Start

All About Me Back to School Activity

Having an activity ready for your students not only gives them something fun to do but is also an excellent management trick.  Students who are busy at work have less time to devote to other less than desirable activities.  Make sure the activity you plan is simple enough for students to complete independently and entertaining enough to hold their attention.  A simple “All About Me” activity like the one above allows for creativity and differentiation. 

4. Double Check Transportation

The first day is busy enough to exhaust even the most experienced of teachers.  Don’t let yourself run around at the last minute checking the after-school transportation of your students.  Instead, check with parents as your students arrive in the morning.  Having a transportation list printed and ready to go makes the day so much easier!  You will still need to spend your conference period checking on transportation with parents who do not accompany their students on the first day, but it’s nice to have a giant head start. 

5. Teach and Reinforce Classroom and School-wide Procedures

Teaching classroom and school-wide procedures is going to be extra important this year. It’s always important in order to have the school year run smoothly, but now it is part of your health and safety plan. There is a lot to think about here. Hopefully, you are getting guidance from your district and principal. You just want to be as thorough as possible. Here are just a few possible things to think through. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

• How do you want your students to enter and exit the classroom?

• What type of greetings are acceptable?

• When and how will students be washing hands and getting hand sanitizer?

• How will students get a sharpened pencil?

• How do you want students to turn in items that need to be sanitized after use?

• How do you want them to ask permission to get water or use the restroom?

• How are you handling the classroom library? How do students turn in books for book quarantine before they are returned to the shelves?

• Where/how are students to keep their materials?

Once you’ve taught the procedures necessary to keep the classroom running, make sure to reinforce them throughout the day.

6. Create the Rules Together

Creating the rules as a class gives the students a voice.  Their knowledge and experiences are valued, and they feel a sense of pride in the community that they are helping to build.  Another advantage of having the students help in the creation of the rules is that they are more likely to follow the rules that they create. 

The downfall of creating this list with the students is that it could last all day and take all the pages in your chart tablet if you let it.  Once I feel like we’ve covered most of the big ones, I like to tell them that I notice some similarities.  I then help them see that the rules we’ve come up with fit into three categories:  Be safe, Be respectful, and Be responsible.

If you are teaching in-person and virtual students synchronously, you may want to consider using these FREE Google Slides for this so you can both project and share your screen at the same time.

7. Open Lines of Communication with Parents

Start the year off with strong parent-teacher communication.  Parents are the best source of information about your students.  Building strong parent-teacher relationships will help you meet the needs of all your students.  Not to mention, starting the year off on the right foot with the parents will help ease the stress of any difficult conversations with them throughout the year. 

Make your first phone calls with parents positive by calling home the first day and throughout the week, especially with students who seem to have “a lot of energy.” 

Parent Contact Magnets for Back to School

Make sure all parents have your contact information as early as possible.  Consider sending home some contact magnets on the first day/week of school.  Doing so ensures that parents always have your contact information, highlights your organization, and expresses your commitment to working together. They are easy and cheap to make. All you need to do is type up your information in a style/format that you like, print on magnetic paper (available at Hobby Lobby and other craft stores), cut, and distribute. Running short on time? Check out these editable contact magnets. There are four templates to choose from. Just choose the style(s) that you like most, edit, and print.

You’ll want to gather information about your students as early as possible.  I like to send student information forms home on the first day. This year, you may want to consider going digital with Google Forms.  Either way, you’ll want to communicate with parents to gather critical information about my students’ strengths, weaknesses, medical concerns, and histories. 

8. Get to Know Each Other with an Icebreaker Game

The first day of school brings excitement and anxiety as students look around at the new faces in their classroom.  Break the ice and help the students get to know each other with a fun game.  Here are a couple of fun ideas:

Who’s in Our Class? This game can be played in a whole group setting with students spread out safely. This can also easily be played virtually for those students who aren’t physically in the room. Students roll a die to see which question they will answer about themselves. This takes the stress out of deciding which “one thing about themselves” to tell the class.

Back to School Game

Miss V in 3 also has a super fun This or That game that gets students moving and is amazing for distance learning. The types of movements can also be modified for in-person learning.

9. Make Sure Students Know Their Way Around

Make sure your students know the best routes to get to the nurse, office, library, etc. from your classroom.  I usually suggest a school tour, but social distancing may change the way you go about that this year. You will undoubtedly have a few students who are new to the school this year.  Just make sure they all know how to get around and your expectations for doing so.

10. READ!!

A great read-aloud on the first day is a must.  A read-aloud serves many purposes.  It helps your students feel a little more at ease, connects the class through a mutual experience, gives us a new perspective, helps us create our identity as a class full of readers, and facilitates discussions about our feelings, expectations, and community.

See 16 Back to School Books Third Graders Will Love!

16 Back to School Books Third Graders Will Love
Starting the year with rich and engaging read alouds sets the tone for the rest of the year. These incredible back-to-school books will help you ease nerves, ignite excitement, build community, and promote a growth mindset.
Back to School 10 Things to Do on the First Day of School Pin

I help upper elementary ELA and reading teachers like you create engaging and effective reading lessons without all the stress.



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