First-Week Activities My Math Classes Loved

A MiddleWeb Blog

Whew! Week One is officially over. I have learned my students’ names, laughed with them, learned with them, and practiced my expectations.

While it seemed like these first few days flew by, it took a substantial amount of prep work to be ready. First of all, I spent many, many hours searching through blogs and my twitter feed looking for activities for the first days of school.

There are so many good ideas out there! I actually had trouble narrowing down my list – I wanted to do more than I had time for. I’m so grateful to all the teachers who were willing to share their resources and ideas for the beginning of the year.

So, while this is a post about what I did the first few days of school, it is also a big thank you to all the teachers who I “borrowed” ideas and activities from. I hope some of their ideas are also helpful to you if you’re just starting school.

Reflect on Your Personal Philosophy

I think when you start preparing for your first week of school, you need to decide what is important to you. The first few days and weeks really do set the tone for the rest of the year.

For me, it’s important for my students to know what my classroom procedures are. I know a lot teachers don’t want to use the first days discussing procedures, but it works for me.

I remember being a student and how uncomfortable I felt when I didn’t know what the teacher expected. I do try to be brief, and I give my students a doodle syllabus to help them focus as we discuss the procedures.  I take about 10-15 minutes to go over the procedures and norms, and I will repeat them many, many times over the coming weeks.

Teaching students the value of working together

For some of my students, it’s very important to spend time on activities which emphasize the importance of cooperating and the advantages of learning together.

The activity Number Trouble created by Sara VanDerWerf did both of those things. It was one of the best activities I’ve ever done!

Her task requires student groups to look for the numbers 1 to 100 on a handout – it’s harder than you think! At the end of the activity students reflect on the benefits of group work and what productive group work looks like. (*Be ready to take photos of your students while they are working – they won’t even notice you!)

I can’t recommend Number Trouble enough. If you are looking for a low-prep, worthwhile beginning activity, this is it. After this activity, I overheard a student say, “I think this is going to be a good class!” So, big thank you to Sara VanderWerf!

Jump right into the math

I also teach a statistics class, and I feel more comfortable if we jump into the math from the very beginning. So in this class I played SKUNK (also known as Greed). It’s a game which involves probability, chance, and risk, and it will work great with middle grades kids.

Briefly, all students stand up, then the teacher rolls two dice (I roll the dice on my Smartboard), and students accumulate the points that appear on the dice. As long as a student is standing, they can accumulate points. They may sit at any time. If a student is standing when doubles are rolled, they lose the points they have accumulated. The round is over after doubles are rolled or all students sit down.

After we played one game, my statistics students took the points they earned and we used their graphing calculators to create a 5-number summary.

Student photos

I have a hard time with names, and I really wanted to learn my students’ names quickly this year. So I brought my instant camera to school and took pictures of my students (in pairs to save film). For the first few nights, I took the pictures home and quizzed myself until I had learned all their names.

I learned names so much faster this year! And my students really enjoyed having their picture made and watching the pictures develop. I also used their pictures to make a fast and easy bulletin board – which saved me quite a bit of time.

Getting to know my students

I always want to get to know my students and start building relationships with them as quickly as I can. So I began looking for an activity that would tell them something about me, but I also wanted to learn about them. I found exactly what I was looking for on Sarah Carter’s blog, M+A+T+H = love.

One of her ideas for the first week of school is to give students a quiz asking them questions about their teacher such as: How many siblings does Mrs. Russell have? What kind of car does she drive? I took Sarah Carter’s questions and tweaked them for me.

I was unprepared for how much my students would enjoy this. Be careful what you ask them to discover though! I asked them how long they thought I had been teaching, one student replied “100 years.” I also asked them what year I was born in. I received answers ranging from 1969 to 1995.

Carter’s follow-up to this activity is for students to make a quiz about themselves that the teacher takes and the student grades. My students really spent a lot of time making up “good questions,” and they loved grading the teacher. In the process, I learned so much about them. So thank you, Sarah Carter!

Easy prep, big payoff!

I did several more activities, but those that I mentioned above where the ones that were universally liked by my students. In addition, they required little in the way of prep and paid big dividends in terms of student enjoyment and learning experiences.

So I feel we are off to a good start, and I’m ready to get down to business!

READ ON to learn what Michelle did
to kick off math class in 2018 and 2019.


Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell (@michel1erussel1) is a math teacher at Florence (AL) High School. She began her career as a student teacher in middle school and has taught students from 7th to 12th grade. She currently teaches high school math, including Algebra, Pre-Calculus, AP Statistics, and Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. In her free time, she enjoys reading books about math education and following other math teachers on social media.

2 Responses

  1. Lizzy says:

    Love all of these! Thank you for sharing :)

  2. Julie R McCrary says:

    Thank you! I am teaching 4th grade for the first time this year (in a new school system). I am excited to do your activities!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.