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Not Another Syllabus! TEN Refreshing Back to School Activities to Try

Not Another Syllabus! TEN Refreshing Back to School Activities to Try

Not Another Syllabus! TEN Refreshing Back to School Activities to Try

When students enter our classrooms on the first day of school, we know that more often than not, they didn’t necessarily choose to be in our class. The first day of school is our opportunity to make them feel lucky to be in our class. Wouldn’t it be awesome if our students went home after the first day/week of school and bragged to their parents or friends about how awesome your class was?! Sure the syllabus needs to be reviewed, the rules are important, and the seating chart matters. But if they’re doing that in six other classes, are they really going to remember ours?

We have the opportunity to start building relationships the first day… why not start there and save the rules for another day?

Create a Selfie Padlet Wall

I love this idea from Catlin Tucker – create a Padlet wall and have students submit a “selfie” and answer some questions about themselves. Even though students may not have laptops the first week of school, students can use their phone or desktop computers to add their post. It’s a great way for you (the teacher) to put faces with names to study later; it’s also a fantastic way for students to get to know each other.

Station Rotation Survey

I’m also a big fan of Laura Randazzo’s “Non-Cheesy Icebreaker for First Day of School” activity. The activity has students answer a set of 8 questions on 8 different sticky notes, then they go around the room in stations and post their answers and discuss common themes with their group. At the end, a classroom discussion emerges about common struggles, hopes, fears, goals, etc. This activity has students collaborating, moving, thinking about their future, goal-setting, and more. Plus you get to see how students interact with each other, who the leaders are, who the shy ones are, etc.

Write a Letter

Have students write a letter to you. This one is a personal favorite of mine. I still have every single letter my students have written me on the first day of school, and I still read them from time-to-time. You can give them a template with some sentence starters or a list of questions you want them to answer, or you can let them free-write. You get to see their writing style and get a quick snapshot of who they are. The letters are also really helpful to read occasionally throughout the year when you are struggling to connect with a student or need some insight into their personalities.

Have students write a letter to themselves. Similar to the letter to you (their teacher), students can write about their goals, their fears, promises to themselves, etc. You can file them away and revisit them with a student if he/she is needing a little encouragement throughout the year. Then you can return the letters to them at the end of the year and have them talk about what they accomplished, what they still need to work on, etc.


If you’ve ever been to an Escape Room and loved it, you’ll love doing a Breakout with your students! BreakoutEDU just released four new awesome Back to School breakouts, and there are tons of free breakouts on their website. There’s also a wonderful BreakoutEDU Facebook group where teachers share games they’ve designed and ask questions to each other.

Make a Fingerprint Collage

I came across this idea on Twitter and fell in love with it! Have students brainstorm a list of things that are important to them, things that make them unique, then have them copy those words onto an outline of a fingerprint to hang on the wall or put on the inside of their notebook or binder. Read all about the activity on this blog.

Do a Classroom or Campus “FlipHunt”

What do you get when you mix a scavenger hunt with FlipGrid? A FlipHunt! Check out this blog post explaining the concept and see some examples that you can borrow. Or check out this blog post from FlipGrid with LOTS of examples! Sounds like a super fun way to get students up and moving while exploring new learning and amplifying student voice!

Best Class I Ever Had

I love this quick and easy activity. On one section of the whiteboard write: “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it “What the teacher did” and below that “What the students did.” On another section write “The worst class I’ve ever had” and then the same two items beneath. Then ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department, or teacher, and begin filling in the grid based on what they call out. If there’s a lull or not many comments about what the students did in these classes, have some descriptors ready based on your experience with some of your best and worst classes. When both sides have a thoughtful collection of descriptors, move to the best class section of the board and tell students that “this is the class I want to teach, but I can’t do it alone. Together we have the power to make this one of those ‘best class’ experiences.” This can lead into a discussion of class norms or expectations if you wish.

Four Corners – Get to Know You

This is an excellent activity to get students moving around and discussing ideas. Check out this slide deck and make a copy if you wish. Essentially you lace the letters A, B, C, and D in the four corners of the room. For each slide, have students stand in the corner that best represents their answer. As the questions get deeper, have those standing near each other discuss why they chose that answer. (This set of slides was originally designed for a teacher PD, so you may have to change a few slides to work with students.)

HyperDoc / Self-Guided Tour of Classroom

This might be something better suited for after students receive laptops, but it’s a fun lesson either way! Check out this template and make a copy if you’d like, then make the necessary changes to fit your class. If you need help, feel free to reach out to your nearest Digital Learning Specialist!

Looking for more ideas about the first days of school? Check out this article “What NOT to Do the First Day of School.


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