The first month of school is all about getting to know your students and setting the tone for the rest of the year. These activities will help you and your students get to know one another and become comfortable working together as a team. Most of the activities were designed with elementary students in mind, but many middle and high school students will enjoy them too.
1. Scavenger Hunt. Pair your students up and give them a list of objects to find around the classroom. You can use a scavenger hunt to help familiarize students with the layout of the classroom or to help them find important papers and other supplies they’ll need during the school year.
2. Student Photos. Make a frame out of construction paper and cardboard and take each student’s photo. Have students wear large name tags in the photos to help you learn their names. Then print out the photos and display them in the classroom or, for a better idea, play a live version of Guess Who by randomly selecting a photo and having students ask questions to guess which classmate’s photo you chose.
3. A Class Project. A therapist recently made the news for encouraging couples to put together IKEA furniture as a form of therapy. While you might not want to hand your students power tools, you can work together to put together a bookcase, decorate a bulletin board, or plant a classroom garden. This type of shared activity will help you learn your students’ communication styles and help you all learn to work together.
4. Recipe for Success. Work with your students to develop a recipe for success in the classroom. Maybe you need a tablespoon or teamwork or a cup of effort. Once you write the recipe, bring in food items (similar to what you would find in a trail mix) to represent each item and have students assemble the recipe in plastic bags. Be sure to note if students have any allergies before bringing food into the classroom.
5. Bucket Filling. The concept of bucket filling has become popular in many schools. Give each student a plastic bucket to decorate. Talk to students about actions that fill their buckets (being kind, showing respect) and actions that take away from their buckets (not listening, putting others down). Throughout the school year kids can add and take away small stickers, coins, or other tangible objects from their buckets.
Language Arts Activities
6. Readers’ Theater. Take a popular fable or fairy tale and turn it into a readers’ theater piece for the class. Place students into groups and have each group decide how to perform the story for the class. This activity will help students become more comfortable speaking in front of their peers and give them a chance to learn to cooperate with others.
7. Group Writing. Have each student take out a piece of paper and write a sentence or first line of a poem on the top line. Students then pass their papers around the room with each classmate adding a sentence or line. At the end of the activity, every student has a class story or poem to share. Chances are students will think they’re hilarious too!
8. Writing Time Capsule. Give students a traditional back-to-school writing prompt, but add a bit of a twist. Take each student’s piece of writing and place it into a large mailing tube or envelope. Call it a “time capsule” and explain to students that you’ll pull each piece out at the end of the year so they can see how much their writing has improved.
9. My ABCs. Using the 26 letters of the alphabet as inspiration, have students write 26 words or fun facts to describe themselves. They can turn these into small ABC books or simply read them aloud. Use our handy alphabet charts as a template for this activity.
10. Read a Book. Since the beginning of the school year is so stressful, regularly take some time to sit with students and read a book together. You can let students suggest some of their favorite books to read or choose a fun chapter book that the whole class will enjoy.
11. Class Survey. Divide students into small groups and have each group write a summer or back-to-school themed survey question. Each group writes its question and creates a graph for the answers on a large piece of paper hung on the classroom wall. All students then walk around the room and plot their answers on the papers using colored sticker dots.
12. Me by the Numbers. Allow students to blend their artistic talents and math skills with this activity. Give students blank sheets of paper and have them draw pictures of themselves (or use photos) in the middle. Around their pictures, students answer and illustrate number related questions about themselves. For example: How old are you? How many pets do you have? What size shoe do you wear?
13. Find Someone Who… Bingo. Print a copies of the number-themed Find Someone Who… Bingo cards. Ask students get to know their classmates by talking with each other and writing the initials of the student they find that fits each statement in that box.
14. What’s Your Birthday? Challenge students to arrange themselves in a line across the room in order of birthday (day and month). The catch? No talking or writing.
15. Human Knot. This classic team-building activity also strengthens student understanding of special relationships and pattern recognition. Have 8 – 10 students stand in a circle, raise their right hands, and then join hands with someone across from them. Repeat with left hands. Important – students should be holding hands with two different people and not holding hands with a person next to them. Groups must then untangle the knot without letting go of hands. Try combining students into larger groups after they are successful untying themselves in smaller groups.
16. Lost on the Moon. In this exercise, students must work both individually and together to rank a set of items based upon their importance for surviving on the moon. After, teams can compare their ranking to how experts ranked the items. Get started with this online version.
17. Tower Building. Challenge small groups of students to construct the tallest tower they can using only the materials provided in a given time. Simple materials that work well include straws and paperclips, plastic cups, and index cards.
18. Class Pet or Terrarium. Raising and caring for a pet or growing plants in a terrarium can be a year-long class endeavor that helps foster an appreciation for nature. If your school allows small pets like fish or hamsters, students can work together to develop a job share schedule for feeding, cleaning, and vacation care. Another option is to have students design, build, and care for a class terrarium.
19. Classroom Makerspace. Introduce your students to the concept of makerspaces – a physical location to design, collaborate, and build. Designate an area of your classroom as a makerspace, and have the class brainstorm what should go in the space. Working together to design and create the space will get students excited to use it throughout the year.
20. Two Facts and a Science Fiction. In this variation of Two Truths and a Lie, each student researches two interesting, strange, or amazing science facts and makes-up one science falsehood. Students then take turns sharing their three statements and the class votes on which one is incorrect, or a piece of science fiction.
What activities do you use to help get to know your students and build a sense of community in your classroom at the beginning of the school year? We’d love for you to share them in the comments!