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17 Fun First Day of School Activities to Try This Year

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  • Teaching Activities

Whether you’ve been teaching for years or it’s your first day as a full-time teacher, the first day of school is usually accompanied by some anxiety — no matter how prepared you might be.  

It’s the same for students. Uncertainty about friends, teachers, and schoolwork is enough to make even the most extroverted students a bit nervous.

With that in mind, you should always consider that first day of school activities can stimulate introductions, get students talking, and set the tone for successful classroom management.

Get inspired by these 17 fun, creative first day of school activities and try them out yourself. They’re easy, free, and guaranteed to ease the tension on a busy, hectic first day of school.

Plus, we've added some of our favorite remote- and social distancing-friendly activity ideas toward the end.

1. Prodigy Math

Try Prodigy Math — a curriculum-aligned game-based learning platform for grades 1 to 8 — to engage your class while reinforcing lesson content and teaching essential skills.

Borrowing hyper-engaging elements from video games, students use Prodigy Math to compete in math duels against in-game characters. To win, they have to answer sets of skill-testing math questions. It's a great way to get kids excited about learning on the first day of school and beyond.

Prodigy uses adaptive learning and differentiated instruction principles to personalize learning.

Use it on the first day of school to get valuable student insights, pre-teach upcoming concepts and understand learning progress all year round.

And while all that's happening behind the scenes, your students will have a blast playing this game:

Plus, there's a Placement Test that starts gathering insights as soon as students start their first math battle, and automatically runs every January and August

The Placement Test determines the math content students see in-game and places students at the grade level that’s right for them. It’s the baseline that all their other math work in Prodigy builds on.

See how it works

2. Find a friend

The “Find a friend” game is a fun activity designed to help students become comfortable with their new classmates. To play, students must first receive worksheets containing a list of topics — such as sports, foods, games, and so on — from which they must pick their favorites.

Image source: First Grade Schoolhouse, Teachers Pay Teachers

Distribute the worksheet to students, and allow five minutes or so for everyone to indicate their favorite categories with a pen or pencil. You can create your own worksheet or access free printables such as the one above.

Then, have students find fellow classmates fitting the description in each box. This will give them a natural talking point as they meet one another — helping them find what they have in common and sparking friendly interaction.

Note that:

  • Students can list each classmate only once on the worksheet
  • Students should spell names correctly; when they find a friend to add to their sheet, they should ask the friend how to spell their first name
  • You can use this chance to have students show you their best handwriting, setting a good precedent for the school year

3. “Who’s new?” word search

Use a free word search generator such as Discovery Education’s puzzle maker to create a word search using the names of your students as the hidden words. Print copies to place on each desk.

Students will enjoy searching for their names along with those of their classmates. After 10 minutes or so, students naturally begin helping each other — kindling conversation and facilitating introductions.

4. Thanks for the compliment!

This lighthearted, confidence-boosting icebreaker encourages students to share compliments about one another.

To start, every student gets a blank piece of paper taped to their back. Then, each classmate thinks of a compliment to write down on the back of every other student.

After the entire class is finished, have students remove their papers and read all the compliments they received in front of the class.

Review with your students what a compliment is (and isn’t) to be sure all compliments are appropriate.

5. Let's decorate

Invite students to help decorate the classroom — sending the message that their opinions are valued, their voices are heard, and you welcome their presence.

Split the class into four groups and designate each group to a wall. Distribute materials such as markers, posters, tape, and pieces of chart paper. For a personalized touch, have each group come up with one common goal they wish to accomplish in your class, and to summarize it in one word.

Next, have students write their words in big letters on the chart paper, ensuring each group has a unique goal.

Once the class is finished, hang them on each designated wall, encouraging your class to embrace the responsibility of making sure they all achieve the goals they set for the end of the school year.

6. “Would You Rather” Questions

Lead, guide, and stimulate healthy debate among students with a set of questions that are sure to get the classroom talking.

Consider a few examples of “would you rather” questions, such as:

  • Would you rather play outdoors or indoors?
  • Would you rather see a firework display or a circus performance?
  • Would you rather go skiing or go to a water park?
  • Would you rather everything in your house be one color or every single wall and door be a different color?
  • Would you rather visit the international space station for a week or stay in an underwater hotel for a week?

To keep the class on the same page, consider preparing a few questions on a printable such as the one below.

7. Group contracts

Write group contracts containing guidelines, and have everyone sign them to foster effective student group work and good behavior in the classroom.

Group contracts — an important feature of cooperative learning— should be based on expectations students and teachers have for one another.

You can collect the class’s thoughts by talking about what the ideal group member does, and how he or she behaves. Once you’ve come up with the contract, brainstorm with students to come up with consequences for breaking expectations.

Image Source: The Creative Colorful Classroom

For example, in the flexible seating contract above, students agree to use the learning space appropriately. If they break the contract, students agree “that my teacher will move me to a spot that will better meet my needs.”

8. Student surveys

Use surveys to collect and assess information about a broad range of topics that will help you get a feel for your new students and guide them to success this school year.

Consider asking questions about preferences for seating arrangements, group work versus individual work, and noise levels in the classroom.

Use this information to get a better sense of trends in the classroom. See if you can use the information to differentiate instruction, assessment, and evaluation to improve the learning environment.

One of the qualities of a good teacher is the capacity to use different teaching strategies — especially ones that are responsive to different students’ unique learning preferences.

For example, consider taking a survey of how students like to learn, asking the following yes or no questions:

Five middle school students sitting at a row of desks playing Prodigy Math on tablets.
Endless engagement. Adaptive content. Standards-aligned.

Join millions of teachers using Prodigy to make math and English fun, differentiate instruction and help students love learning!

See how Prodigy works

9. Classroom scavenger hunts

Send your students on a classroom scavenger hunt, helping them to get to know each other and their new learning space.

Provide a print-out of classroom items to look for, leaving a space for students to write a brief description of where they found each item.

The completed scavenger hunt sheets can serve as an easy reference for students in the first weeks of school to ensure they know where to find everything in your classroom.

You can make the list of items yourself, or use a free printable such as the example below.

Image Source: The Creative Colorful Classroom

10. Two truths and a lie

Encourage students to write down three statements about themselves, with one of the statements being false.

After giving students five minutes or so to write their sentences down, have them read them out loud one by one — and enjoy the entertainment as fellow students try to guess which of the statements is a lie.

This activity also serves as a simple, early way to get a gauge of the skill levels of your new students: As your new students write out their sentences, you can walk around and see which students need help might need help with written communication.

As they read out their sentences, you can also gauge verbal communication skills.

Be sure to give students an example by sharing your two truths and a lie first. Students always love learning about their new teacher too!

11. Class time capsule

Create individualized time capsules on the first day of school. Fill them with items such as personal letters about what students plan to accomplish throughout the school year.

Letters can include expectations, clubs they would like to join, and desired grade point averages.

You can also take pictures of your students on the first day, print them out, and put them inside the time capsules.

On the last day of school, return each student's time capsule and allow them to see how much they have learned, grown, and achieved throughout the school year.

12. Tall Thomas

Encourage students to think of an adjective to describe themselves. The adjective must suit the student and must also start with the first letter of their name — for example, “Tall Thomas,” “Funny Frankie,” or “Smart Sam.”

A student stands at the front of the classroom with her teacher, talking to her classmates, who are seated.

Encourage students to try and memorize every name to add a skill-testing element to the activity.

Have the class stand in a circle, and then have one student state his or her new nickname. Then, have the next student try to name the previous name before saying their own name.

Make sure to keep the activity lighthearted and fun. Feel free to stand in the circle and join the fun to further engage with your students!

13. Don’t answer

Ask your class to stand in a circle. Have one student engage with another classmate, and pose the other student a question about his or her personality. To clarify, give students a few examples: “What is your silliest habit?” or “What is your pet peeve?”

However, explain that the student who is asked the question may not respond — with the student to their left answering for them. Note that the answer doesn’t have to be right and that each student can make their answers as imaginative or creative as possible.

14. Draw a Self-Portrait

Provide a self-portrait worksheet such as the one below as an easy beginning-of-year activity. When everyone is finished, have each student present their self-portrait to the class as a formal introduction to their colleagues and to yourself!

15. Be unique

Have everyone stand in a circle. Encourage each student, one by one, to say something they believe to be unique about themselves. For example: “My name is Jason, and I have two brothers” or “... and I speak three languages.” If another student also has two brothers or speaks three languages, they must sit down.

The goal is to stand as long as possible and therefore to share very special things about yourself that no one else typifies.

16. Six word story

Get students to explain what they did over the summer using only six words, writing the statement down as a complete sentence on a piece of paper.

Then, have students exchange papers with a classmate, with that colleague also adding a comment comprised of only six words. You may choose to rotate the papers to adjust the length of the story to your preference!

17. The question web

This activity helps students learn interesting facts about one another. Have your students stand in a circle. Next, take a ball of yarn or string and hold on to the end of it while passing the ball to another student.

Young students sit in rows, raising their hands to answer the teacher's question.

Ask this student an interesting question such as “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?”

Once they have answered the question, have them pass the ball of yarn to another student in the circle and ask them a question. When all your students have had their turn, explain that the web they created represents the uniqueness of your classroom — and that their participation makes the classroom a special place for learning and creativity.

First day of school activity ideas for remote learning or social distancing

Create your own virtual background

If possible, have older students create their own virtual background on whatever video conferencing tool you use. They can even make it themed to a favorite hobby, video game, book, movie, etc.

Create a Google Classroom banner quilt

Have your students collaborate on a blank Google digital classroom quilt square or add their names to a Google Classroom banner template to use in your traditional or online classroom.

Set up a fun Kahoot quiz

Kahoot! is a game-based learning platform that makes it easy to create, share and play learning games or trivia quizzes in minutes. Whether you make the quiz about yourself, fun facts about your school or students, or even subject-based questions, your class will have a blast.

Go over online learning best practices

This doesn't scream "fun" but, at the start of a school year, it's always a good reminder to review classroom rules — especially with the challenges that learning online poses.

This could include things like routines and procedures for online learning, how to get the teacher’s attention, turning the camera or microphone on and off, changing video backgrounds, or anything else that's relevant to your specific class.

Final Thoughts: first day of school activities

It’s important to pair fun and kindness with clear and firm expectations — so think of the first day of school as your chance to demonstrate your ability to conduct activities that are both enjoyable and orderly.

See which activities on this list appeal to you most, and try them out yourself as a memorable back to school introduction!

And whether it's with Prodigy Math or any of the other first day of school activities listed above, we encourage you to get involved, too! Play with your students.

It's a perfect way for you to truly learn about your new students and for them to learn about you!

Prodigy Math makes it easy to engage students all year long with fun, adaptive math practice. Get teacher tools for differentiation, assessment and gathering insights when you sign up for your free teacher account today!

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