Tuesday, July 28, 2015

First week of school - What to do?


For many of us the first day of school is right around the corner. Many of you have been busy preparing for that "magical" day. You have your syllabus, you organized your classroom, you may have even written new lesson plans or tweaked some of your old ones. If you are like me, you are ready to start teaching your content. Let's not waste any time.

Although I would love to be able to start day one handing out green-sheets and getting right into the content, I know that my students need a couple of days to get settled into the classroom routines. They also need to get to know me and each other, as much as I need to get to know them. But, what to do? A quick Google search of "first day of school activities" brings out tons of different options.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Party 

or "Teaching students to recognize individual strengths of group members."

As the class enters they find small paper plates (cheap, unlaminated cake plates work best) on their desks. Once students are settled, set the scenario by stating ""You've all been invited to a party. It's like pot-luck, but instead of bringing food to share, you're bringing yourself and the strengths you believe you contribute to the class. For example, you may be a great with computers, a creative thinker, very organized, or able to keep others on task. On one of the paper plates, write down the strengths or talents that you bring to the party. After you have written your strengths, you may also decorate the plate, but do not write your name on it." I give students about 15 minutes to complete this. I also make my own!

Once they are done, collect all plates in the center of the room, and designate one person to pick up the first plate from the stack. That person reads what was written, and asks the author to stand up, share a little more, and then write his/her name on the plate and stick it/tape it on the wall. This person becomes the next to pick up a plate from the pile. We continue until all plates are up on the wall.

If time allows or the next day, we have a discussion about the activity, asking questions such as:
  • How can what you've learned from others be used to allow us to work in class?
  • How can you make the most of the strengths and talents of the class and still allow everyone a chance to try new things or use new talents?
  • Is the class missing any strengths? What are they and how can you build them? What if you can't? How can you overcome not having certain strengths or prevent the lack of them from becoming a class weakness?
The decorated plates from each of my classes not only make a cute Back to School mural, but also  become a reminder of everyone's strengths and can be used to guide students when trying to determine who is the best person for a team task.

Snowflakes 

or "The importance of clear communication and active listening in order to accurately express ideas and instructions or to receive messages from others."

Each student receives one piece of 8x11 paper, this may be white or colored. I tell the students to follow the directions they are about to be given, without asking any questions or looking at their neighbors for "correctness". Each student is working individually. I proceed by giving the following directions quickly, without demonstrating or clarifying in any way.
  1. Fold the paper in half and tear off a top corner. 
  2. Fold it in half again and tear off the top corner. 
  3. Fold it in half again and tear off the left corner. 
  4. Rotate the paper to the right three times and tear off the bottom corner. 
  5. Fold it in half again and tear off the middle piece.
I tell the students to unfold their papers and compare their snowflakes with those around them. Of course they find that most of their creations do not match each other. I follow up this activity with a class discussion asking questions such as:
  • Why is it that even though everyone received the same directions, not everyone's snowflake looks the same?
  • What would have changed if you could have asked questions? Why would asking clarifying questions in class be important?
  • Have you ever told someone one thing only to have the person hear and do something different? What happened, and how did you deal with it?
  • If you are the leader of a group, what steps can you take to make sure that others clearly understand what you're trying to tell them?
  • How can you improve your communication skills when it becomes obvious that others are seeing things differently than you intended?

 

Post-it Towers

or "Teamwork is a strategy to solve problems."

I divide the class into groups of four and hand out 15 Post-its to each group. I tell students, "Your team must build the tallest Post-it note tower. Your tower must stand alone (no leaning your structure against anything). No glue, tape, string, staples or any binding material that is not the sticky part of the post-it. You have 15 minutes." At the end of the 15 minutes, I ask students to measure their towers, compare the different structures and declare a "winner". 
I follow up this activity with a discussion centered around questions like:
  • Did you have a plan before you started building?
  • What were the skills that helped you or would have been helpful to succeed in this activity?
  • How effectively did your team communicate ideas during the activity?
  • If you could do it over again, what would you change/keep the same?
  • What are some important teamwork agreements we can implement the next time we do an activity?
During the discussion, I write down the "Teamwork Agreements" on chart paper, and finish off by having student sign their names. The Teamwork Agreements stay up as a reminder to students of how we have agreed to work together in the classroom.

What about you? What do you do that first week of school?



Resources:
Edutopia's Back to School Pinterest Board
NCSU - Team Building Exercises for Teens