These are all resources that I use or have used at the beginning of the school year. Please enjoy!
I am happy to provide these resources completely free of charge.
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Dogs and Turnips
Need a great way to introduce group work norms? Want to kick off a Nature of Science unit? This activity is great for upper elementary to high school and promises lots of giggles!
Penguin Personality Test
An introvert friendly icebreaker that my middle school students love. All the students need to do is draw a penguin.
Pig Personality Test
A super fun, almost no prep, INTROVERT FRIENDLY* ice breaker to try with your students. Takes between 15 and 20 minutes and always yields good conversation and giggles!
* as introvert friendly as any ice breaker can be (haha)
Student Information Form
We use this form at the beginning of the year to quickly and privately collect valuable information from our students, like names, pronouns, and other essential background information.
This is a fun, low-pressure way to introduce students to three Google Slides skills - inputing a text box, inserting a picture or gif, and working collaboratively with others on the same slideshow.
My First Week Plan
I have three goals for the first week of school: get to know each other, get to know the vibe, and get started on some science.
As a seventh grade teacher, I'm lucky. My students have already gotten over the sixth grade nerves and are finding their footing in middle school.
They can usually stomach a few days of getting-to-know-you activities, but they are ready to get down to business by the end of the week. The most important thing for me (and for them) is to set the tone for the year: PRODUCTIVE FUN.
Typically, this day has a lot of special things that need to happen. Lockers, handing out lunch cards, going over the school rules and safety -- you get the idea. As counterintuitive as it may seem, I usually plan this day last, as things tend to change at the last minute. At my school, we run a skinny schedule, with extra time in homeroom and abbreviated content classes.
My go-to for this day is my Back-to-School Ciphers activity. I like this because it takes as long as I need it to and doesn't suffer from being cut short. When time is brief, I give one puzzle to each group, let them get to work, then save time at the end to reveal the answers with a great flourish. If I end up with more time, I can put all the ciphers in a mysterious manila envelope, whip up a quick answer sheet, and let the groups of students go to work.
At my school, this is usually the first full class period. I start by getting kids into their assigned seats and listening to them complain for the rest of the hour. I tell them that they must sit in these seats for this period, but if they have any problems, they can talk to me after class. What they don't know is that they won't be sitting in those seats for very long.
Have you ever been in a classroom with a runny nose and only then you realize you have no idea where the tissues are? Or the lost and found? Or the bathroom passes? I can't recommend a Classroom Scavenger Hunt quite enough. Students are up and moving, trying things out in your classroom, and making note of the important safety features of this 1950s era chemistry classroom (in my case). I give time for most students to complete their work, then I review the worksheet and give the required-by-law science safety talk. If there's any time left at the end of class, we play a quick game like Secret Word or Elevensies.
This gives me an opportunity to observe my students in productive struggle. I can see social dynamics, who is going to be a slow starter, who is a leader or helps others, and who going to need a pep talk about trusting themselves later in the year. I really like doing a free-movement activity after I make a seating chart so I can see who needs to be moved away from whom.
We start with our new and improved seating chart and then get down to group work. Yes, you guessed it. It's Dogs and Turnips day! This activity requires a little bit of prep, but if you laminate everything, you can use it year after year. I printed each table's set of words on different color of cardstock, and I don't regret it. When I find a random word on the ground, I can easily figure out which table it came from, because all my tables are also colored coded. 🤪
We start out the class period by discussing the benefits and drawbacks to working in a group. Then, we make a group work Y-chart (Looks like, Feels like, Sounds like) together as a class. I pass out the envelopes and away we go! Near the end of class we share out our sentences, discuss as a class, clean up, and reflect on how it felt to be working in a group today.
Usually by today, kids are over the back-to-school excitement. Exhaustion is kicking in. Kids are ready to do something REAL. I start introducing some soft content, as well as other rituals and routines for my classroom. One activity that I really like doing at this point is the M&M lab. I can introduce the scientific skill of observation, as well as the Group Work Job Tags, and clean up directions and expectations.
I start class the first Friday of the school year with this Student Information Form. After this, we typically talk a little bit about assumptions, which leads us into another nature of science activity called Goat by the Water. The purpose of the activity is to help students separate facts, which come from observation, and conclusions, which are inferences based on observations.
And there you have it!
You may have noticed that I didn't say anything about going over rules and... well... I don't. We do go over expectations and complete (or review) a Looks like, Feels like, Sounds like Y-charts before each different type of activity throughout the year. I reinforce our school rules (Be Responsible, Be Respectful, Be Ready to Learn) as needed, but mostly we run on vibes.
I know some of you are physically sickened by this admission. Please know that I have set hard, democratically-derived rules in the past with some groups. I've been teaching for seven years now, and I have never thought to myself, gee, I wish I spent a portion of a class period drilling my classroom rules. It's more efficient and logical for me to review expectations before activities than to depend on my students to have memorized the gospel of my classroom on the first day of school. But you do you, boo boo.
I have one classroom rule: "Try to solve the problem yourself."
I really stress autonomy and productive struggle (there's that phrase again!). I find that most seventh graders are grateful for the opportunity to practice being grown-up (under my careful supervision, of course).