The first week of school can be a planning nightmare. You have new students to meet, school protocol to follow, and important lessons you need to get in.
I know the challenge because I lived it. It’s taken me ten years, but going into year 11, I finally have a winning first week full of engaging ELA activities and lessons to meet all of those back-to-school needs. Today, I’m sharing my ELA back-to-school plans for a winning week one.
Before we start, let’s talk about my schedule and how you can adapt it to your school. My classes are approximately 40-minutes. (I say approximately because our schedule can vary between 40 and 50 minutes year to year.) So, if you’re on a block schedule, you can assume the activities will take 30-40 minutes to add up to however long your block is.
All of the activities here are adaptable, so if you need more or less time, you can make it work.
Day 1 and Day 2: Stations
I’ve tried so many first day activities (really, I have!). They often ended up being awkward or boring for me and/or students, or I would literally lose my voice from talking so much. (You know when you haven’t talked that much all summer and then go back to school on day one and lecture about the syllabus? Yeah, that was me, and it was not good!)
My winning plan for day 1 and day 2 is stations. Trust me, this is a winner! These aren’t just any stations though; these are specially curated stations to hit ALL of the essential lessons and responsibilities for week one.
So, what are you going to add to these stations?
Here are some ideas.
- A student inventory: Have students answer questions about their likes, dislikes, reading habits, who they want to work with, etc.
- Reflection: Have the students write a short reflection on just about anything (what they did during the summer, their favorite book, what they hope to learn). This is a great way to collect a writing sample.
- Syllabus: Have students review the syllabus. I found this way to be much more engaging than the typical lecture/slide show. You can give them some guided reading questions or reflection questions to provide accountability.
- Introductions: It is really important to me to learn students’ names quickly, call them what they want to be called, AND pronounce their names correctly without ever putting them on the spot. So, here’s a really special way to learn students’ names without making them nervous or feel uncomfortable: FlipGrid. FlipGrid is a free app that students can use with their cell phones to record a short introduction video. If they’re camera shy, students can record an audio-only introduction. This way, you learn students’ names and revisit them later if you forget a pronunciation.
- Record keeping: Need to hand out books and collect book numbers? This is a great way to do it!
You can add more stations to fit your needs too. If you only want to do this for one day, cut it down to three stations. If you want to make it two days, make five to six stations.
One of the best parts of this activity is that you can walk around and “meet” students one on one while they’re working. It’s much less pressure for them, and you’re far more likely to remember their names (and keep your voice).
If you want to save yourself time, check out my ready made back-to-school stations with everything you need to set up your stations, including a literary lenses twist that is a foundation of my literature courses.
Day 3: Email Etiquette
If you want to avoid all of those “wut did i miss?” emails, then this is a necessary lesson for week one. But, it doesn’t have to be a stern, condescending lecture. After reviewing email etiquette, challenge them to put what they learned to the test. Give them some fun/challenging scenarios to test their email etiquette.
Here are some ideas:
- Email your aunt to thank her for sending you blue socks for your birthday AGAIN this year.
- Email your teacher asking her to give you an extension on a project due to an illness.
- Email your guidance counselor to ask about scholarship opportunities.
Make sure you tell them to copy you on the email! You can also check out my full lesson here.
Day 4 and 5: Close Reading and Annotation
This two-day lesson is one of the most important lessons of the year because it serves as a foundation for every lesson to come. I wrote all about how I do this lesson here.
In short, students spend the first day connecting their close reading skills in the real world to academic purposes. On day two, students practice different close reading strategies to find one that works for them. Make sure you check out my blog post for all of the details.
- Beers, G. K., & Probst, R. E. (2016). Reading nonfiction: Notice & note stances, signposts, and strategies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Burgess, Dave. (2012) Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
- Porter-O’Donnell, C. (2004). Beyond the yellow highlighter: Teaching annotation skills to improve reading comprehension. English Journal, 82-89.
- Wong, H. K., Wong, R. T., & Seroyer, C. (2009). The first days of school: How to be an effective teacher. Mountain View, CA: Harry K. Wong Publications.
I hope my plans are something you can use and adapt to your class to make your first week a little less stressful. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram where I’ll share more lesson ideas in the coming weeks. Happy teaching!
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