August 31, 2014

Back to School Ideas for the Classroom: What to Do for the First Day

We all scramble every school year to find balance between getting our classroom management and discipline procedures up and running and providing those first day of school activities that go the extra mile in style. This article covers both in detail.

Last year, I wrote an article on strategies to start the school year off right. It covered ways to set a serious academic tone while having a stylish classroom. While that article is still more than worthy of a serious read, I actually have a few other ideas for the back to school scramble. Many of them are my own supplemented by specific online instructional pieces, others are ideas straight from some of my internet colleagues. Enjoy!

Make sure your bulletin boards mean business.

I like to have great looking bulletin boards too, but quite frankly many teachers spend valuable time on them every week or month that could be going into lesson planning, extra attention for students or just plain having a life. Let’s face it, if you’re balanced and rested your students will respond accordingly. Try some of my year-long bulletin board ideas or some of the tips the article Twelve Bulletin Board Ideas for Older Classrooms. Your room will still look great, and the students will know you value their work and take classroom time seriously.

Throw a New Year’s party.

I actually found this great back to school idea from YesITeach.Org. They actually suggest picking up New Year’s themed party supplies on discount the January prior to that school year. The year number will match the back to school year, and it’s a great way to start off with the right attitude. (I’ve also seen this work really well as a penny pinching tip for high school seniors. They can do this to have their graduation year theme supplies at the end of the year for a fraction of the cost.) For individual teachers, I think this would be a great idea for the end of the first day, after you have finished establishing discipline. Or, you could try it as a school wide event outside in the playground as the kids get off the bus.

Scavenger hunt in the library.

This also comes from YesITeach.Org. The media person hosts a scavenger hunt in the library to find things like a particular fiction book, a multi media resource, etc. I thought this was a fabulous idea to review library skills and include a room that is often left out of these back to school welcome ideas for students. Larger classes might need to be broken down into small groups with slightly different scavenger hunt paths, but the idea is sound enough and can be used when each new class has their first library period.

DIY school book covers.

They need to be done anyway, right? And this way you can work it in with that day one activity that always brings groans . . . the old erasing all of the pencil marks from the reissued text books trick. Now when you hand out books for mark erasing, you can incorporate DIY cover ideas or hand out an ideas list for some of the tougher ones to motivate the students to go the extra mile at home.

Personally, I recommend a combination of both. Do one or two throughout the day in class, and hand out the ideas list for them to get excited about covering their books from other classes or subjects. Some of the cooler ideas I found while surfing the web? A decoupage tie-dye style cover project from Kaboose.Com, a felted book cover from CraftBits.Com, instructions for embroidered book covers from Craft Stylish, and tip or two from Family Fun Magazine.

Other ideas I’d suggest would be paper collages, colored pencil sketches and modern designs and using multiple colors of duct tape to add waterproof striping over the top of plain paper shopping bag book cover. It’ll last all year, won’t harm the book and still provide room for individuality in the form of color choice and diagonal versus vertical or horizontal striping.

Pimp those lockers, kids!

Once students start breaking into middle and high school, locker decoration and individualization come into play. One way to put a little fun into the first day or two of school and still be providing support for those kids who have trouble with organization and clutter is incorporate activities for decking out their lockers. If other teachers are game, you could even turn it into a grade level or school wide contest. A few ideas?

Construct a pen holder out of a small painted can or covered box with a magnet on the back. Those who like straight advertising and product packaging art will find this project from Not Martha exceptionally quick, as you won’t have to even decorate the tin if you don’t want to.

Make some magnets with the students to help them organize their notes, forms and book club orders. Plenty of things can be turned into locker door organizers by simple slapping a magnet on the back. Seashells, gem colored glass stones, fun rocks or even these photo and word magnet projects. Also, a magnetic mirror is a great multipurpose locker accessory. Students can check their hair or lip gloss and use it to hold notes and permission slips. Another cool online project find was this article on gemstone colored retro style magnets. Very groovy.

This article from Cosmo Girl has ideas for covering corrugated cardboard to line the walls of your locker and provide instant bulletin board space, as well as a supply list and instructions for installing removable extra shelving that won’t damage the locker’s interior. All Free Crafts has this project for making your own denim locker organizers, and Kaboose.Com has instructions for making a desk or locker organizer from a Pop Tart box.

Art gallery.

Personally, I find it extremely important to value their art work and set a higher standard for myself when it comes to how I display and incorporate it into their classroom environment and daily routine. This article from Scholastic suggests unifying thrift frames with spray paint for extra artsy “oomph”. Another way to cheap it out and still have lots of visual drama is to back the standard 8 ½ x 11 inch white paper art projects with larger pieces of dark blue or black construction paper. This is sort of a poor man’s matting job that looks great on a dime.

Larger art sized paper projects can be backed by cutting darker colored butcher paper to provide a three to five inch border around the piece. I’ve done this for things like buddy and self portraits in charcoal, larger pieces done in the style of particular famous artist and collage style projects.

The idea is to get this up and running on day one and have at least one wall dedicated to display rows and columns of the work. It’ll make open house night a breeze.

Related Readings: Other articles on LessonMag.Com you might find helpful at back to school time include Ten Tips for First Year Teachers, Six Strategies for an Inviting Classroom and Four Hot Tips for a Smooth Running Classroom. Over on Wise Bread, you might want to check out my piece on DIY school gear and other savings ideas.

Photo Credit: McKay Savage

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