back to school, english, language arts, middle school, reading, routines, small groups, teacher

8 Things to Do During the First Days of School

Tomorrow is my first day of school, and even though I’m going into my eleventh year of teaching, I still get that nervous/excited feeling, or, as I looked up in Urban Dictionary, nervousited. Many people talk about getting butterflies in their stomach, but for me it’s in my throat. And it’s not butterflies, it’s like I ate a little container of Vicks® VapoRub. (If anyone else gets this sensation, please comment below; I would be very interested to hear this.)

Image result for vicks vapor rub   +    Image result for throat      = nervousitement

Pro Tip: Nervousitement, coffee, and standing in front of a classroom do NOT mix.

Right now, I’m going over in my head what I’m going to do, and at this point I have some tried-and-true things, but there’s always the second-guessing, or thinking how I can improve it, and then at some point, I will throw my hands up like they do on the cooking show Chopped and acknowledge that I am done. It is Go Time.

Image result for chopped cooking show hands up

Here’s what I have planned for the first few days, in the general order they will happen:

1. Learn All My Students’ Names

When my students enter into my classroom, I of course greet them, and make sure they’re in the right place, but then I immediately try to memorize all their names. I don’t like not knowing who someone is, and I feel like it’s important that I know them by name as soon as possible, both for classroom management and relationship-building.

I have a little trick that works for me — I ask each person to come up with an adjective that describes them and starts with the same letter of their first name. I then go around the room, repeat their adjectives/names, and review a few at a time before moving on (kind of like the ABC game or Grandmother’s Trunk). At the end, I go around the room and recite all their names. It’s a very dramatic moment, and I’m always terrified I’m going to forget someone. It has always worked out, though! After that, their names almost all stay in my head, or I can fake it till I make it.

2. Tell My Story

During the year, the students are going to do a lot of writing for me, and a lot of it will be intense and/or personal, given the curriculum and writing contests they will have. Writing is such a personal endeavor, anyway — just launching this blog was difficult for me, and reminded me of how vulnerable we feel when we put our true feelings out there.

Therefore, I need to build their trust in me, and I start that by telling them about my story — where I was born, where I went to school, who is in my family, and some of my likes and dislikes. I tell them my goals for the year, and what my hopes are for them.

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing
This is when I wanted to be Whitney Houston.

3. Classroom Tour

I walk around my classroom and show them where everything is, much like in an earlier post — where to turn in assignments, where to find extra paper, where to look if you’re daydreaming. I also have a little corner where I keep pictures and knick-knacks from each year I’ve taught, which make me still feel connected to my former students, and a reminder that I will feel the same way about my newbies eventually.

4. Syllabus

I hand out my syllabus with a brief description of what we’re going to cover this year, and then the rest is pretty much all of the important routines of my classroom for the students’ reference, interspersed with memes. I very briefly tried this summer to change the syllabus into an infographic, but couldn’t fit all the memes, so opted not to. Does anyone have tips for using those?

5. Student Survey

I give out a fun yet informative survey, which allows me to get a glimpse of my students’ preferences, their feelings on language arts, and their sense of humor. I got pieces from the blog Love, Teach, Pinterest, and my own warped humor. After they hand it in, we talk about some of their answers and have a good time. Here’s the document, if you’d like to see: Questionnaire

6. My Philosophy on Language Arts, Teaching, and Life in General

I made a slide presentation entitled “Why I’m Gonna Teach What I Teach” to further my students’ buy-in to my class. It might seem a bit lofty, but I have had students mention later in the year that the presentation helped them change the way they looked at grammar, writing, and language arts in general. Some of the topics I cover are:

  • What makes writing special — We are the only creatures that can write and record our thoughts and experiences, so we have a responsibility to all humans to do this as best as we can.
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy
  • How reading complements writing, and vice versa
  • Why we will do so much writing — When training for a marathon, you build up your stamina and gradually add more distance until you’re able to run the whole race. Writing, likewise, takes a lot of mental stamina, so it’s important to “exercise” at least a little bit every day, and build up to their research paper and other important assignments
  • Why grammar is important
  • Why reading is important — especially independent reading
  • Why confusion and mistakes are healthy and necessary for learning
  • My experience as a reader and writer — Why I feel like I’m qualified to teach them language arts
  • The overall themes of our class:
    • People are capable of almost anything.
    • There is a story behind every person.
    • The world around you should be observed, as well as taken care of.
    • God has put you on this earth to do good.
    • Love one another.

7. Writing Diagnostic

After giving my students the themes for the year, I have them write an essay on at least one of the themes, detailing how it already applies to their life. It could be a personal experience, or just their general thoughts on the subject. This will tell me how much they’re able to write at one time, mistakes or issues that are common to the class, mistakes or issues that are specific to a student, and how well they can think on the spot, by themselves, without outside help or preparation. After I read these diagnostics, I will conference with each student individually, and together, we will decide on a writing goal they will have for the quarter.

8. Read Aloud

At the beginnings or ends of classes, I will go ahead and start our read aloud book or story, which I’m still debating…right now it’s between The OutsidersDrums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie, or The Dangerous Game. After reading Donalyn Miller’s book Into the Wild, I also want to read a book that I loved from childhood (probably The True Story of the Three Little Pigs), and then assign them to bring in books they remember fondly, and read them aloud to their small groups. I feel like starting in this way will be a great way to foster a fun and close reading community from the get-go.

Image result for the true story of the three little pigs

Ok, now I’m probably going to relax by reading The Zombie Survival Guide before I go to bed. How do you feel before the first day of school? What are things you do to start off the year?


6 thoughts on “8 Things to Do During the First Days of School

  1. As a homeschooling mom, I do so much to prepare for school and so little haha. We never have an official start day because we school year round. So at some point we just switch over to next year’s books. Sounds like you’re really prepared and I hope your start to the school year goes great!

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