Activities and tasks for the first days of school

Inspired by Algebra’s Friend I’m sharing some first days of school activities. They are not in any particular order. I’m always looking for new ideas so please share what the first days of school look like in your classroom.

Five Day Seat Challenge. This is a perfect opportunity to learn and observe how students interact with each other–who are the leaders, followers. Who overly dominates, who is overly non-compliant? Last summer I shared this article with the Edmodo community and a teacher, whose name I’ve forgotten, took the time to create the 5 PowerPoint slides. The challenge increases in complexity each day as the directions become slightly more complicated.

seat challenge

How it works. Students enter the classroom with instructions displayed on the screen; the teacher simply observes the dynamics. When the last person is seated and raises his/her hand, we talk about what worked well and what were some of the obstacles.

The next one is courtesy of Sam Shah.

This task focuses on constructing a viable argument and critiquing the reasoning of others. Half the class is given either a triangle or rectangle. In total silence they follow about a dozen oral and written directions which are given, alternately, and only once.

triangle directions
I used it last year and some students were spot on while others struggled with their listening skills. Sam’s site includes several debriefing questions.

4 Square is great puzzle that helps students explore how they think and how one is conditioned to think a certain way. I don’t know I where I saw the puzzle initially, but below is a slideshare.

Formative Assessment Lesson. Within that first week of school I’ll want to get some “data” on where students are at in terms of problem solving, misconceptions, and the mathematical practices so the Boomerang lesson


and others from the MARS website–are a great resource not only for first week, but for every day of the year. I mentioned it in a previous post, but Algebra Tales does a better job of providing an overview of the task.

Again, please share your activities.

6 thoughts on “Activities and tasks for the first days of school

  1. Thanks for the shout out! I’m going to reference your activities when I write my first-week activities blog soon. I also like the idea of collecting data on my students’ problem solving ability early in the year. I have found a lot of interesting tasks at; if you change the 7 in the web address to 5, 6, and 8 — it will bring you to those grade level tasks. I couldn’t find a common website that lists all of them.

    1. I took a peek at the wiki link–as opposed to wikileaks 🙂 and they have some good stuff. Like you, I am kind of surprised they didn’t put the other grade level links on the left rail. Also, your post I referenced has quite reflective–so much so I added your blog to my feedly reader. Thanks for your refreshing ideas!

  2. WOW, Mary! Your activities are awesome! I’m looking them over to see what I can borrow! What level will you use these with?

    Thanks for including the link to my blog … I appreciate the shout out!

    1. Hey Beth! Believe it or not I used all but the formative assessment lesson with my 6th grade standard, and 6th grade advanced students. I move to 7th grade in the fall so my standard and pre-algebra students will experience the formative assessment lesson.

      I like what you’ve done with your station review and I appreciate the kind words you said recently.

      You are doing fabulous work with your original posts and the makeovers too.

  3. There’s nothing quite like the first day of school. Maybe this is proof that I was destined to become a teacher, but the sense of anticipation that comes along with any first day has always been a way in which I measure the stages of my life. For as long as I can remember, the first day of school has felt like far more of a significant and meaningful “fresh start” than New Year’s Day, my birthday, or any other alleged momentous occasion that connotes a new beginning. Be it kindergarten or college or anywhere in between, the first day of school is the one real opportunity we are given to markedly decide that we want to be perceived in a distinctly different way by peers and teachers alike, and intend to leave our lesser qualities in classrooms of the past. The mindset that comes with a new outfit, new set of pencils and folders, and a new classroom dynamic has tremendous power to inspire self-improvement.

    All of that being said, I can’t seem to think of any particular first day that stands out from the endless stream of formulaic going-over-the-syllabus-and-what-did-you-do-this-summer agendas. Even though I can think of plenty of examples of feeling less than impressed with a teacher on the first day and then soon coming to love the class, as a teacher, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure to make a first impression. I love the ideas you’re presenting, in that the students are encouraged to have fun getting to know one another and the first-day fall-backs are clearly avoided. As a student, I always am incredibly skeptical of icebreaker games, and more often than not they feel belittling or childish. These activities don’t come with that risk, in that there is a collective task at hand to be accomplished.

    1. The “housekeeping” rules, grading policies, behavior, expectations, etc. need to be attended to, but I try not to make that the focus.

      What our school needs to do is a better job of sharing information that parents/students share with their teachers. What I mean is that parents and students get multiple getting-to-know-you questionnaires from different teachers. Why should they fill out several when one will do?

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

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