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Classroom Activities for Back to School

Effective classroom activities for back to school can help teachers kickstart a year filled with learning, challenge, social–emotional growth, and fun.

When those school doors reopen, there’s a kind of electricity in the air. Teachers find themselves filled with optimism about the productive year that lies on the horizon. That sounds a bit whimsical, we know. But it’s the truth. We’ve spoken to many educators about the feeling of inspiration that bubbles up once it’s time to go back to school.

The dedicated educators in this video love what they do despite the hardships that come with the gig. But how do you make the most of those first days when the kiddoes are especially hungry to learn? What classroom activities will lay a solid foundation for academic growth? Here are a few ideas.

Classroom Management: Back-to-School Edition

Building a rapport with your students matters. The first time you stand in front of twenty some-odd kids is a pivotal moment. After all, you’re setting the tone for the year in which you’ll spend a lot of time together. (No pressure.)

Whether you like it or not, classroom management is part of the gig, and it’s paramount to set rules and regulations first thing. The old adage states “you can get nicer throughout the year, but you can’t get meaner.” That’s not only an outdated methodology, but also a hazy concept that lacks any concrete details. Which is why we suggest this classroom activity for back to school.

Writing the Classroom Constitution

A classroom is pretty much a micro country, right? You lead a group of kids who (ideally) work together to form a productive environment informed by good citizenship. So why not get the kids involved with that process at the starting gate?

Writing a classroom constitution means allowing the kids to have input. While you undoubtedly get final say in the rules and regulations, the kids’ involvement with creating a set of behavioral and academic standards gives you a read on their values.

Here’s how Missouri elementary teacher Amy Hoffman pulls it off:

“I ask them to create the rules for us. I have them each get with a partner and they each get one sticky note. On the sticky note, the partners must agree on two specific rules for the class. Finally, we gather back together at the carpet, and I have each partner group come up and share their rules.”

Ms. Hoffman refers to this back-to-school activity as the classroom promise, purposefully eschewing the concept of rules. But no matter how you frame it, writing the classroom constitution involves working with students to pen a set of tenets that create an environment conducive to learning.

Of course, there are the standard classroom rules, such as:

  • Raise your hand before you speak.
  • Keep your hands and feet to yourself.
  • Put all gadgets out of sight.

And then there are the more conceptual principles, such as:

  • Everyone has the right to learn.
  • No matter what, never stop trying.
  • Before you do anything, ask yourself, “Is this kind?”

The second set is less directive, but nevertheless, understanding and acting on the concepts ensures a healthy, nurturing environment for each citizen in your classroom.

When you get your students involved in creating standards, you establish a mutual respect and dig deep into the intricacy of their personhood. With the design of a mutual contract, you can make this happen first thing.

Back-to-School Icebreakers

Fun and silliness have not gone out of fashion. If such virtues ever do fall out of vogue, then teachers will become joyfully unhip. When it comes to the mood of back to school, students often feel a sense of optimism, but also nervousness. Which means first-day icebreakers will introduce everyone and relax any tense feelings.

Here are a few of our favorites:

The Marshmallow Game: Divide your students into groups, and give each pod 20 spaghetti noodles, one yard of tape, another yard of string, and of course, one marshmallow. The object is to create the tallest possible tower with these items, with the caveat that the marshmallow must crown the top. Pretty good way to enhance teamwork and critical thinking skills (if we do say so ourselves).

Dictionary Deception: Choose an archaic or hyper-jargoned word that no student will be able to define. Have the kids write down a made-up, but smartly speculated definition. During this time, write down the actual meaning of the word. Then collect all definitions and read them aloud, allowing students to vote on which they think is correct. The object of the game is for students to figure out the actual meaning. For extra fun, you can award points for the fake definition that receives the most guesses.

Snowball Fight: Have your students write three facts about themselves on a piece of paper. Each of them will crumple their facts into a paper wad and commence having a timed “snowball fight.” Once the ruckus comes to a halt, each kid picks up the nearest snowball and finds the owner.

Back-to-School Activities for Elementary Students

Classroom icebreakers designed specifically for elementary-aged youngsters will help them form positive, healthy relationships. That’s especially important for this age group, as there’s a very real and likely possibility that these kids will grow up together over the next decade or so.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Wrinkled Heart Empathy Craft: Empathy for your fellow human is perhaps the most vital skill anyone learns in their lifetime. This classroom icebreaker involves cutting out a paper heart for each student. You then discuss words and actions that will hurt a person’s feelings, and with each example, the kids fold their heart, which they will eventually smooth back out to its original shape. The concept shows them that, even after you unfold the paper, the creases remain.

Math About Me: This first-day icebreaker allows elementary students to use math problems to describe their lives. For example, if one student has three dogs, that student can showcase this piece of trivia with an addition problem (1 + 2 = 3).

Color My Feelings Art: Drawing inspiration from a well-known Dr. Seuss book, this elementary classroom activity allows kids to draw their feelings and understand visual metaphors that illustrate big emotions.

Start the Year Off Right

If you’re looking to motivate your students, improve your classroom vibe, and enhance the fun factor in school, consider these PD courses.

  • The Growth Mindset: Fostering Resilience and a Love of Learning: Mindset is a buzzword in today’s educational landscape, but it often addresses only students’ mindsets, not educators’. Explore your internalized beliefs about learning and your students’ abilities, and learn how to structure your classroom around a culture of perseverance and opportunity.
  • Cultivating Student-Centered Classrooms: In student-centered instruction, the responsibility of designing and executing learning activities shifts from teachers to students. Learn to implement active learning strategies, self-paced and cooperative learning, and open-ended tasks to promote self-reliance skills, deeper understanding, greater retention, and increased motivation.
  • Strategies for Addressing Student Anxiety: One in five students currently struggles with anxiety issues, affecting their ability to learn and disrupting health and sleep. Learn to recognize anxiety and develop classroom strategies to support students who suffer from it.
  • Let’s Play! Creating a Playful Classroom: Embark on a hands-on, experience-oriented journey designed to help you reframe your concept of play. Teachers of all grade levels will learn the power of play in education and how to create playful instructional experiences for your unique classroom community.

Advancement Courses offers more than 280 online, self-paced PD courses covering both foundational topics and emerging trends in K–12 education. Courses are available for both graduate and continuing education credit for your salary advancement or recertification needs.

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