I was always surprised at how quickly the first day of school would fly by. One minute I’m greeting students, the next, I’m exhaustedly sitting at my desk wondering where the day has gone, why my feet are so tired, and how I could have gone the entire day without doing anything of things I had planned.
Over the years, I learned to prioritize what I wanted accomplished the first day of school so that I didn’t forget to do the most important things. In my opinion, the non-negotiables for the first day of school are:
Collecting School Supplies on the First Day of School
My school rarely had an Open House before school started, so my students usually brought a backpack full of school supplies on the first day of school. One of my priorities that first day was to collect all of the school supplies.
Over the years, I have experimented with a variety of ways of dealing with school supplies (communal supplies, every kid keeps their own supplies, etc.). Regardless of how I was going to deal with the school supplies in the long run, I always wanted to collect them that first day before students could clutter up their desk with broken crayons and half opened bottles of glue.
When students first entered my classroom, I would ask them to find their seat, put their backpack on the back of their chair, and begin the word search at their desk. (The morning of the first day of school, I would always place a sharpened pencil and word search on everybody’s desk so that students had something they could do independently as soon as they arrived.) Then, when I was ready to deal with the supplies, I would:
1. Give each student a page of color coding labels.
2. Ask students to write their initials on each of the labels.
3. Have students stick a label on each of their school supplies.
4. Have student place their school supplies on the ground next to their desk and then continue their word search.
Then, I would go around and collect the supplies and move them to a table or the corner of the room. Later in the week I would teach the students how they were to store supplies in my classroom, and I would redistribute the school supplies to the appropriate students.
Building Community on the First Day of School
My 2nd priority for the first day of school was building community. Although building a positive classroom community is a year long task, it is essential to begin that process on day one. I would always have several activities planned to help students feel more comfortable with the classroom, with their fellow students, and with me.
Asking students some “Get to Know you Questions” and having students answer them with a partner or small group is a good way for students to begin talking to each other in a non-threatening setting. And answering those questions yourself is a great way for students to get to know you better!
Establishing Daily Routines on the first day of School
My final, and most important priority on the first day of school was to begin establishing daily routines. Beginning to set expectations and practice routines from Day 1 is extremely important. If you don’t establish a routine, the students will create their own. There is not enough time on the first day of school to practice ALL of the routines and procedures you will have in your classroom, but you can definitely begin by practicing the ones that will occur daily. The first day of school, I would always practice the following routines:
Most of these procedures would come up naturally during the day, and I would make sure I taught my expectations explicitly before students were expected to do anything. For example, I would begin to teach students the routine for taking a bathroom break about 10 minutes before we left for the bathroom (read about things you should consider when setting up bathroom routines). Then, we would have a chance to practice that routine while we went to the bathroom. And since dismissal is usually the craziest part of the day, I would always leave plenty of time before we actually dismissed to practice that routine. And I would try to practice it several times that day before it was actually time for dismissal.
For more tips on setting up procedures in your classroom, check out my classroom management page.
Fitting it All Together
So what does a typical schedule look like that first day of school? Since all classrooms have different schedules for things like recess, lunch, and specials, it’s hard to say exactly. I always allotted plenty of time for practicing procedures. If I ever had any extra time, I would throw in an extra community building or ice breaker activity. Below is a rough outline of the order of my first day of school – and yes, school for me always started at 9:00!
You can’t stop practicing procedures on the first day of school, though. You’ll be reviewing those procedures all year long!
Here’s 17 Fun Ways to Review Classroom Procedures with Upper Elementary Students.