The summer has flown by, and it's time to go back to high school. Students are excited about friends, school activities, the latest news—did I mention their friends? There are also new teachers and new courses. But for many kids, the first day of school is definitely more about friends than academics, and maybe with good reason.
On the typical first day of school, the teacher takes attendance, assigns seats, hands out books, distributes a curriculum, reviews class rules, and maybe hands out an assignment. If a student is taking five to seven classes and hears this same drill in each one, you can't blame them for thinking it's going to be a long year. When students get home at night and their families ask what they did in school, it's pretty likely that the answer will be "Nothing."
Further Reading: 5 Activities to Make Your Classroom Morning Routine More Productive
It doesn't have to be this way. Instead of wasting critical teaching time, you can engage your students in your subject on that very first day, and give them a taste of how interesting and even exciting your course will be. Remember: You only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Making Day One Count
One freshman English teacher I know gives students a sheet of paper and asks them to write exactly 77 words about what they hope to get out of her class. Then she anonymously reads their responses out loud. She keeps the responses until the last day of school, when she hands them back to students so they can see if they accomplished what they hoped. Then she gives the next day's reading assignment and hands out books.
In another example, a science teacher I know has a creative way to engage kids from day one. When students walk in to class, they find Popsicle sticks, glue, and markers on the tables. Working in random teams, students have 30 minutes to design and build a contraption that has the (imaginary) power to improve people's lives.
For the first day of history class, another teacher initiates an impromptu debate on whether Swiss cheese is better than cheddar. He first explains the rules of debate, and randomly picks the first teams. In math class, another teacher puts students in groups of three, and gives them six minutes to come up with as many answers as possible to the question, "What is math good for?"
You get the picture. There's time after the activity to hand out books and talk about tomorrow's assignment, but the bulk of the period should be spent on teaching and learning (and maybe a little fun!).
Setting the Right Tone
The teachers who chose to do something exciting on opening day were part of our school-wide initiative to improve the first day of classes. Some teachers protested, however, saying it's important to talk about rules and expectations on the first day, so we didn't make it mandatory to do something different. But the teachers who were comfortable thinking outside the box had a lot of fun and began to establish a rapport with their students on day one. While students were surprised that they were expected to actually participate in an activity on their first day, they all seemed to enjoy doing so.
Further Reading: A Back-to-School Checklist for Busy Teachers
As the year rolls on, there will always be days when class just isn't fun, exciting, or entertaining. But learning and fun shouldn't be mutually exclusive, and what you do when your students come back to high school can give them hope. It requires putting some effort and creativity into first day activities and showing students that you want them to like learning and enjoy your class. After all, what teacher wouldn't want their students to go home the first day and say, "I think English (or math or biology or Spanish) is going to be great!"?