50 Activities for the First Day of School

50 Activities for the First Day of School 
By Walton Burns
(Alphabet Publishing, 2016 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Renee Bogacz

Ask any student who has been in school for a few years to describe what the first day of school is like and they will likely give an answer that sounds something like this: On the first day of school, my teachers go over the rules and expectations and hand out textbooks.

For students who do not have to change classes, this can likely be accomplished in the beginning part of the day, and then some fun learning can probably take place later on. For students in a more departmentalized setting, where they change classes every hour or so, the first day of school can be a tedious routine of teacher after teacher handing out a syllabus and reading the rules to the kids.

As teachers we know that it is important to lay out expectations early on, but we also have to admit that even we would not want to spend an entire day listening to rules. It can be challenging to do all of the necessary first day activities while being engaging as well.

All that said, if you’re looking for some things to do to make that first day more meaningful for your students, you should consider reading 50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns.

Establishing expectations and building rapport

Burns puts together a short but powerful book of ideas that teachers can use the first day of school. As he explains in the introduction, day one is a good day to establish rules and expectations, but it “…is also an opportunity to build rapport with your students and between them, while they are still looking for their place in the class.”

The best teachers know that their classrooms run smoothly all year long not because of the lengthy, detailed set of rules they share but because of the relationships and culture created by setting a positive tone from day one. Burns points out in the introduction that many of these activities are also good to use at any point during the school year if a review is needed or a new situation pops up that needs to be addressed.

Activities are divided into the following categories:

  • Getting to Know Them
  • Assessing and Evaluating
  • Setting the Tone

What’s nice about having the activities divided into these categories is that they lend themselves to be used for more than just the first day. A teacher could easily use these activities across the first week or two of school, allowing a couple of days for kids to get to know each other and the teacher, a couple of days assessing students’ prior knowledge about the subject area, and a day or two setting the tone for the class.

And there is enough variety in the activities to be able to use more than one across a short amount of time.

Anticipating teachers’ needs

Burns does a nice job of anticipating teachers’ needs. At the end of the table of contents, he offers a website where teachers can go to download free copies of worksheets and templates mentioned in the activities. He also offers variations on activities for older or younger students, ESL/ELL students, or different subject areas.

Additionally, he offers up resources for activities where he took an idea or modified an idea to use in the book. Providing the resources for some of the activities gives teachers additional places to go to if they need more inspiration or clarification.

Some classics, some variations, lots of links to more

The book includes classic activities such as “Two Truths and a Lie” where students write down two true things about themselves and one thing that is not true and have the class try to guess which one is the falsehood. There’s also the familiar needs evaluation survey, where students can answer survey questions about their study habits, attitudes about a subject area, or goals for the year.

There are some classic games, such as “Simon Says” and “Mother, May I?” that Burns adapted to be used to help students learn about routines and procedures in a class. The there are the really fun activities that would likely have universal appeal across all grade levels and subject areas, like “Snowball Fight,” where each students writes one interesting thing about themselves on a sheet of blank white paper and crumples it up. Then the kids spend a short amount of time throwing the papers around the room, finally taking one, opening it, reading it aloud, and trying to figure out which student wrote it.

50 Activities for the First Day of School is a short, easy-to-use resource for teachers trying to find creative ways to accomplish the necessary and sometimes mundane tasks that need to be done at the start of every school year. It is easy to find something that can be used right away, and most activities can be adapted to fit any subject area or grade level.

This is a book with practical ideas that will stand the test of time.

Renee Bogacz has been a teacher for more than 25 years. She has transitioned from English language arts to being the instructional technology resource teacher for her district. She has a passion for integrating technology into teaching and learning but keeps her original love for language arts alive by reading and writing about education topics. She recently accomplished one of her long-desired professional goals: becoming a Google Certified Educator. You can follow her on Twitter @mrsbogacz where she shares professional resources and the exciting things happening in her school district.

You can read Walton Burns’ MiddleWeb article, “Don’t Break the Ice, Build Your Community,” here.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

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