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How do you kick off a new school year?

Educators share their strategies to break the ice and get students ready for a new year of learning.

With bubble wand in hand, blonde wig and paper crown upon my head, and yards of satin and lace draped around my ample body, I twirl into the classroom creating gigantic bubbles for students to burst.  I am Glinda the Good Witch floating to Munchkin Land inside a bubble. The Wizard of Oz is my metaphor for the learning experiences my students and I will share in my English class. As Glinda, I promise to guide and protect them throughout this journey. I firmly assure students that there are no flying monkeys or Wicked Witches to harm them, but laziness and apathy can be powerful foes. The hour continues with a getting-to-know-you activity based on Oz and a conversation about my Oz memorabilia.  After the first day, I want my students to know that they definitely are not “in Kansas” this year.
--Candice Stapleton, Muskego, Wisconsin

Success begins at home: thoroughly clean your home before going back to school. Set aside a special corner, shelf, desk, or room (if you can) for all your school work and materials. Once you start the school year, you will not have time to clean your home thoroughly or organize a special work area. My first year as a teacher, I did not do this and I ended up with a living room full of cardboard boxes with teacher stuff spilling out of them.
--Maria Sanchez, Sacramento, California

We have six feeder schools to our high school, so many of our kids don't know one another and tend to clique with their eighth-grade buddies. To avoid that in seating, I buy two decks of cards. The first deck I split up and tape to each desk; the second deck gets passed out randomly at the door. Students find their seat when they find their match.

We then move into the “Something” interview.  I hand out a paper that says “Five Things:  Something everyone knows about me, something most people know about me, something some people know about me, something a few people know about me, and something no one knows about me.” I split the kids in half and number them off—they then find their matching number and interview that person using these five prompts. After the interview, they introduce that person to the class. This ends up breaking down barriers, gets the kids thinking about how people perceive them, and gives many of us the few laughs we need to break the tension of the first day!
--Laurie Jones, Tulare, California

A student number system is a lifesaver. Students are given a number that corresponds to their place in the alphabet. From day one, students know their number and use it to line up. The number also corresponds to their place in the grade book.  As students hand in papers, I call out their numbers.  Eventually, they just know when to come up and hand them in because they are so used to the number system. Once I have the papers in order, they are easy to record in the grade book—just flip through and you are done recording grades in a flash. 
--Kelli Whisenhunt, Denton, Texas

On the first day of teaching high school in a very small town in Nebraska many years ago, I wanted to find a way to break the ice and connect to the students. I asked students to introduce themselves by saying their names and then telling me something that would help me remember them tomorrow when they return to class. A young man who was sitting near the door, watching the clock and very anxious to leave, stood, said his name, and added, “I'm a cross-dresser on the weekends,” just as the bell rang. He slipped quickly out the door while the rest of the class giggled and watched my reaction.

The next day, he tentatively entered the classroom, wanting to see how his “shock factor” story went over.  I threw him a pair of panty hose wrapped in plastic egg packaging and we went on with class. With his sense of humor, he soon became one of my favorite students, but wow, were his parents embarrassed when they heard the story through the grapevine!
--Nicole Badgley, Arnold, Nebraska

On the first day of school, I used to seat my students in alphabetical order, pronouncing each name distinctly and giving each a Spanish name. Then I told them we were going to play “Test the Teacher.” They were instructed to scramble their seating. Of course, I didn't peek! Then I attempted to repeat their names in both languages. Fortunately, I was usually able to do this. If I made an occasional error, it seemed to bring us a little closer, making the students feel much more comfortable with their new teacher.  The students realized we teachers aren't perfect, but we do our best. They truly appreciated my effort to learn all of their names and loved the recognition that came with it...and it set the tone for the entire year.
--Ruth C. Walters, Connellsville, Pennsylvania

For my seventh-grade humanities classes, instead of asking students to write about their summer vacations, I read the first chapter of Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations. Then I ask the students to write about their “great expectations,” hopes, and dreams. I usually get great writing samples and a portrait of each student to start our learning journey together—and my students usually want to hear more about the adventures of Dickens' hero, Pip.
--Ron Kincaid, Petaluma, California


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