Here in Europe, the summer sun is finally setting and swimming costumes are starting to be replaced with school uniforms once again. As classes begin to kick off and teambuilding comes the fore-front, I thought I’d suggest some back to school activities that you might want to try with your classes to get your school year off to a bang!
1. Everything I’m Not
Have you ever been in a work or social situation where someone has asked that awful question, “Tell me something about yourself,” and your brain has gone blank? It’s a terrible question really; do you want to know my deepest darkest secrets or shall I offer you something banal such as what I had for breakfast? And yet so many activities and lessons revolve around this whole getting to know you stage. Students with anxiety or those of a more shy nature may find this type of question makes them want to crawl up and hide under the desk. So, why not turn it on its head. Instead of asking students to define themselves why not ask them to define what they are NOT. This sometimes is far easier (and much more fun). While we explore what we are not, we inadvertently give hints about who we are. Ask students to design a poster or brainstorm words or images that represent what they are not. Ask students to compare their posters and find similarities. Scaffold language of agreement and disagreement to help students discuss each others’ pictures and allow students time to reflect on their choices, they may feel there are more things they would like to add after talking to others in the class.
If you are teaching online or in a hybrid classroom here is a Google Jamboard template you might use.
2. Class Blog
A class blog is a great way of encouraging students to be more conscientious about their work. Producing work for an audience often can motivate even the most apathetic of students to strive a little harder. A great way to foster community from day one and set the tone for the year is by setting up a class blog. For younger children where there are safeguarding issues, there are many sites and platforms where the blog can be private such as Edublogs, Seesaw or Padlet to name a few. In your first lesson you can spend some time introducing the idea of a blog, get your students to come up with a blog name and vote on it, write short biographies to go on the ‘About Us’ page, decide on features for different pages such as star student, wow work or review pages, and draw up guidelines for what work will be published, how often and by whom. Working on a task with a real aim will give students the opportunity to work on language of negotiation, modals and help develop critical thinking skills while motivating them to produce something which can be an ongoing project and showcase throughout the year. As a bonus, it’s also very little prep and virtually totally student-oriented. Great!
3. Dear Future Me
It’s no secret how much I enjoy writing projects and I love how they can tap into students’ creativity. One of my favourite activities for first lessons is asking students to channel their future selves and write a letter asking questions they would like answers to in a year’s time. It can be anything from what happened with that problem you had to what things did you say no to this year that you wish you hadn’t. As well as asking questions I ask students to write a paragraph about what is important to them at that specific point in time, and also invite them to make predictions about the future if they want to. These letters then all form part of a time capsule which will then get unearthed and reopened at the end of the school year usually with lots of hilarity as students laugh at the predictions, compare how much has changed and answer the questions from their past.
4. Our Class Spokesperson
Another nice task which can be good to carry out in a first lesson is to elect a class spokesperson. This election exercise is a great guise for getting students to get to know each other as all classmates have to talk to everyone to understand why they should (or shouldn’t) represent the class as the class spokesperson. Give students prompt questions and some time to think and discuss their ideas with a partner, such as What makes a great leader? What qualities do you need to be a spokesperson? When have you successfully negotiated a desired outcome? (Obviously graded to the correct level) Once you’ve given your students some much-needed thinking time, let them loose to talk to each other. Emergent language can be boarded and each new conversation will see your students confidence growing until they have become masters of pitching themselves. Ask students to then vote for two people who left an impact on them and then invite the top three to pitch to the entire class of why they should be spokesperson. Have an open debate on the merits of their pitch and then decide on the first spokesperson. As a class decide on all timeframe for their role and discuss how and when communication will take place.
5. What a Theme!
It’s amazing how English music has (rightly or wrongly) reached the far-flung corners of the world, allowing a whole world of people to sing along to, in many cases their own interpretation, of English lyrics. Our students’ encounters with music is often an opportunity for them to look at text in great detail as they furiously Google lyrics to understand what their favourite songs are about. I am always amazed by how many of my teenage students are able to quote songs word for word without even batting an eyelid. What a great opportunity, therefore, for exploring some authentic language that really resonates with your learners. Ask students to think of their favourite song in English (or if it’s in another language perhaps they could work together to try and translate the lyrics) and write or draw what the song represents. Ask students to then present their songs to each other or in small groups and ask them to explain why the song is so important to them. You can then create a class playlist, test music knowledge through Youtube music quizzes or lyrics trainer, ask students to write reviews of their favourite albums or design alternative album covers, as well as celebrating all the language that they have unearthed from their unconscious wealth of English!
What are your go-to first day back activities? I’d love to hear them!