It's that time of year again, and some of you are getting ready to go back to school. To help you with that transition - and hopefully save you lots of time - we're sharing our go-to resources for the first days of school.Some of my favorite activities and diagnostic tests are listed in the blog post 7 Ways to Get to Know Your English Classes.
In addition, I love getting started with public speaking by doing our “15 Minutes of Fame” project, because it’s the least scary, most fun speech we do all year; it becomes a group bonding experience as well as an individual confidence booster! Plus, the real-world relevance draws in students who might not normally care about ELA.
One of my all time favorite lessons to teach at the start of a new school year is my email etiquette lesson. Teaching email etiquette at the start of a new school year is a great way to dive into content and teach your students all about proper email communication -a skill they’ll be using a lot as more and more schools switch to a 1:1 classroom. When I first start this unit, I briefly use the included presentation to directly teach the essential content. Then, the fun begins! As a whole class, we review really bad email examples (all inspired from student emails I’ve received in the past) and point out the errors and suggest ways to correct them. From there, I like to assign my students an introductory email where they briefly introduce themselves to me while practicing all of the email etiquette they just learned. You can read more about how I teach email etiquette in this blog post.
Because I always begin with reading workshop, most of my mini-lessons at the beginning of a semester focus on literary elements. I use these lessons to introduce or review the ways writers use them in fiction writing:opening lines, setting, point of view, tone, characterization, theme and author style. After each mini-lesson, students explore each concept in the novels they are reading.
I usually begin my new classes with some sort of getting to know you activity, but as I don’t enjoy the pressure being put on me to answer personal questions in an oral group setting, I avoid giving similar types of activities to my students! For this reason, I created a DIGITAL back-to-school flip book. The various parts of the flip book comprise a different element, such as goals, favorites, a quick questionnaire, this or that prompts and two truths and a lie component. This resource is a great way to make connections with your students during the first few weeks of school. Also, because this is paperless, students who want to share this with their friends or new classmates, can easily do so!
After the first week get-to-know you activities, I like to get my students to write a personal narrative essay. Having them write about their own lives at the outset gives me insight that will be useful throughout the rest of the semester. By giving them the choice of what to include, I can immediately learn more about each of their unique perspectives and backgrounds without being too intrusive. It also gives me the opportunity to examine their individual writing abilities and serves as a benchmark from which I can plan some of my curriculum. I share information on how to write a personal narrative, do an activity that allows students to consider brainstorm different topics to choose from, and provide them with a planning page to scaffold the process for students who might need more support.
I read Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain in early 2020, and it totally transformed the way I want to start off the semester. Now, I’ll start with this Asset-Based Profile activity. Students begin by reading a story about three gamers. They assess each gamer’s soft skills (creativity, flexibility, problem-solving, etc.). Then, they move on to examine their own character traits. I will have students present their profiles to help build classroom community. If you want to know more about this activity, check out this blog post about using Asset-Based Profiles to help students value their soft skills.
I love to find ways to connect with my students at the start of the year and one of the best ways I have found to connect with kids is through music. My goal at the beginning of a new year or semester is not only to get to know the students, but also to assess their writing skills and identify early on where I need to focus future lessons. One of the ways I can do this is through my Soundtrack of My Life (or Summer) activity which is available in both print and digital formats. This resource asks students to create the music that best represents their entire life or just their summer (I let them pick which one they want to do). Not only is it fun to hear them talking about their music picks, but I can easily share their favourite songs with the class as they’re working.