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Live-Blogging My First Day Activities

August 2, 2012

This title is sort of a lie – I just finished making my first-day presentation / series of activities within the last hour. I want to remember what I was thinking as I made it, so here goes:

Things I was considering about the first day:

  • What are the procedures that I’ll be doing for the rest of the year that I want them to see on the very first day?
  • What kind of classroom culture do I want and how am I emphasizing it on day one?
  • What are the things I just need to tell them on the first day?

Reflective Thought: I remember this whole process being totally stressful last year (which, btw, was my first year teaching, so I was doing all of this for the very first time). I think it had to do with two things. (1) I had just read the Harry Wong book and it freaked me out. I got the impression that if I don’t get these first few days PERFECT, then I’m screwed for the rest of the year. This isn’t true at all, although it helps to have some sort of significant break in the middle of the first quarter so you can have a better second-chance first day.

Here’s the more interesting thing: when I was a first year teacher, I had no idea what procedures I would be using the rest of the year. I had so many plans and no concept of which ones would stick. Looking back at the presentation I gave last year, I gave each person in the group a role (recorder, organizer, material manager, etc) – something that’s completely reasonable if I’m going to use group roles the rest of the year. But… I didn’t. That’s absolutely something I abandoned. I think that’s where so much of my stress from my first year came from – I didn’t want to introduce something and say “we’re doing this!”, and then have it fall by the wayside – I lose the trust of my students when I do that. This is also why I think I feel so much more comfortable this year – I know myself better as a teacher, so I know which routines I’m going to be doing every day and which ones can wait a week to be emphasized. There’s no way I could’ve known this my first year. So to all the first year teachers: if you’re stressing out about your first day, maybe it’s because you don’t want to promise things that eventually fall apart. And that’s absolutely honorable, but (maybe) unavoidable. Just take comfort that next year, it should be easier – and not in that intangible way that some teachers say ‘the second year is easier – it just is’ – but because you know your routines and you’re confident that the ones you do on the first day are ones that matter.

Anyway – my answers to those questions above:

  • Procedures: Bellwork, Exit Tickets, Attention Signal, Hand Signals (thumbs up/down, fist-to-five), Cold Calling/Pull Names from Cups
  • Culture: Talk to the people next to you, math every day, high expectations for participation, work bell-to-bell, classroom norms (Respect & Effort)
  • Need to Know: Classroom Rules, where they sit, information about me, a syllabus

So – if possible – I want my first day to have all of these things!

Below: An outline of my first day and some of my materials. I’m happy – I think I hit my goal.

An Outline of my First Day:

Action: I greet students at the door but tell them to line up at the back wall by birthday month and day. Reason: get them to talk to each other

Action: Give an arithmetic problem – students raise their hand if they have the answer – if correct, they and a partnet choose their seat. Reason: We do math every day, even the first day, even first thing. Now you know where you sit. Source: Dan Meyer.

Action: Put bellwork on the board. There’s a time limit. The questions involve talking to your neighbor. Reason: Introduce bellwork routine, get them to know their neighbor

Action: Go over bellwork by cold calling / pulling popsicle sticks. Reason: Yes – I’m going to call on you randomly. And expect an answer. Get used to it.

Action: Introduce myself. Reason: to introduce myself and model the next activity where they introduce themselves to each other in a similar way.

Action: Give them my Group Personality worksheet. There are four corners – in each corner, they put something that it unique to that person. In the center, they put something every person in the group has in common. Reason: Get to know your group.

Action: As they do this, walk around to each group and fill in my seating chart template. Monitor groups and model respect and participation. After the first pass, go back through and pass out a personal survey to be completed before the end of class. Reason: Create my seating chart, learn names, show groups that if I give an activity then I expect everyone to participate

Action: Regroup using my transition signal. Practice a few times if necessary Reason: Now you know my transition signal.

Action: Hey – did you notice how smooth that was? How respectful we all were? How we were participating. I want this to be what you expect from this class – what becomes normal in here. This leads into our class norms: respect and effortReason: Hey, notice how you were doing a specific activity and then I generalized it to something bigger? I’m going to do that a lot. Also, now you know what’s expected of you.

Action: Here are the class rules. Reason: You need to know them.

Interlude – Norms & Rules. This last summer, I stumbled into a speech about norms versus rules that I really liked and will try to repeat tomorrow. It goes something like this: there are things in this classroom that I will consistently enforce – you can bet on it. These are the rules – they are specific. They are measurable. I can point to you and say ‘you are breaking this rule’. And then there are things that are bigger than rules – things that we can feel but have a hard time identifying. Things that you can expect when you enter this room – that become normal. These are bigger ideas – harder to define – things like respect or integrity or perseverance. There are a lot of small things that encourage these attitudes, and there’s a lot of small things that discourage them. I don’t want to try and list all of them. Instead, I want us to call these our class norms. They’re harder to define than a rule, but they’re also more important than a rule. I’m expecting your behavior to fall in line with these norms until it becomes completely normal for you to behave this way in this room (and, hopefully, outside of it too). End speech.

My two norms are respect and effort. Over the summer when I had a smaller class and an amazing camp culture, I had groups of 3 come up with individual behaviors that they thought were important and share them with the class. Big surprise – they were all things like “respect the people around you”, “listen when someone is talking”, “help each other out” – things like that. From there, we generalized each of those specific behaviors into our classroom norms, which is when I gave the speech about the difference between individual actions and statements about culture. In my high-needs public school where I don’t have as much buy-in from my students, I’m not confident enough to do this yet. End Interlude

Action: Are we finished with the survey (thumbs)? If not, how many more minutes (show on hands)? Reason: Yes – you need to participate with your hands. Everyone.

Action: As students finish, hand out the syllabus. Have them underline phrases they are confused by and circle phrases they think are important. Reason: Active reading skills foreshadow some of our problem-solving strategies, and they need to know this info

Action: End class with an exit ticket with questions that can be answered from the syllabus. Reason: Exit ticket procedure and hold them accountable for the info on the syllabus.

That’s it. Here’s the SMART presentation I’ll be giving at the same time.

All Resources in one place:
Group Activity
Personal Questionnaire
Seating Chart Template

Disclaimer: This works for me because everything I do is based in some procedure or classroom culture norm that is important to me. If you and I are the same teacher, maybe you can steal all of this. If not, then you’ll probably need to adjust – it doesn’t make sense for you to use an exit ticket if you’ll never use it again the rest of the year. I’ve really liked reading a lot of first-day procedures for ideas on activities, but at the end of the day, I needed to decide what things reinforce the things I’ll continue to do throughout the year and what things would just end up being transient.

Happy Blogging


  1. Daniel, you sound uber-prepared & have thought through some big questions. I think the discussion of rules vs. norms is an important one to have. I’ve basically moved to the same two norms as you (respect & work hard), but I don’t spend much time talking about rules since they’re basically the same ones across the school and I don’t have a specified list of consequences pre-made. I also talk a lot about the fact that the class is a team: the more we help and support each other, the stronger we are as a group. And some vaguely psych-sounding stuff about active learning & growth vs. fixed mindset.

    The other day, @delta_dc linked to post of his from 2011 that described what I thought was an interesting 1st day activity: Instead of kids reading the syllabus, they formulate questions about the class & teacher in groups. I’m thinking of doing that this year. I’m also going to steal your “Group Personality Worksheet” and some of the questions off your survey. And I’m probably going to have an interesting math problem of some sort that can be done algebraically (or not) for students to work on in groups so that the norms & mindset discussions can be grounded in doing math. Thanks for the post! Hard to believe that this is only your second year teaching.

  2. I think this is AWESOME! You put a ton of thought into the 1st Day of School. I am now borrowing Cough *STEALING* Cough a lot of these. I have been using a similar template for the first day of school, but some of the things u are doing is fanastatic. I love how you have the kids pick their seat.
    I like what dan does to highlight the syallbus, I am going to keep doing this, but this is an excellent though out plan for the 1st Day. I know people will copy this.

  3. This looks AWESOME! Are you sure this is only your second year? I love that you put a timer on most of the activities – keeps them on their toes. Discussion of rules vs norms is great – something really for the students to think about – what is “normal” for the class. I am always looking for quick “icebreakers” for when I switch groups, and I will definitely use your “Group Personality Worksheet.” Exit Ticket based on syllabus makes THEM responsible for reading the information instead of listening to you go through it. (I have done a “Syllabus Scavenger Hunt” in the past. I think I will bring that back this year 🙂 )

    Finally, the BEST part of it all is that you thought through what you really wanted to get out of the first day, and you have a REASON for every activity you chose!

  4. I love the format of your seating chart template – what do you use the small boxes for? I can see a few ways they would be super useful to me, but curious what you have done as well.

    I also really LOVE the idea of having students interact with the syllabus, instead of just bringing it home for a parent signature (middle school…).

  5. Thank you for sharing. Your thoughtful plan will ensure a successful school year.

  6. So I have a question. You’re not having your students get the textbook for your class right? So when you let them retest on a subject are you making them do problems before they can retest? If so, what are you using for the problems? Are you going to make them up yourself?

    • Julia,

      Even though my students aren’t getting the textbook, problems from the textbook or variations of them are still going to show up in my class. In fact, problems from several textbooks will show up in my class. For the assessments, I’ll make sure the essential concept remains the same while the specifics of the problem change. Maybe there will be a different picture, or different situation in the word problem, or different numbers. That’s my plan, at least. This is also why I’ve been searching for good problems – PCMI, Park Math, James Tanton, Discovering Geometry, Paddy Paper Geometry, the CME Geometry Textbook, and the Core+ textbooks have all been primary sources.

  7. roybot permalink

    This is awesome. Going to be “borrowing” lots of it for my first day, which is Monday. What is your transition signal?

    • “Ladies & Gentlemen, can I have your attention at the front of the room please”
      sometimes followed by…
      “I realize you are in the middle of an activity, but please pause for a moment so I can clarify a few things”
      and sometimes including…
      “I know I have your attention when your pencils are down and your eyes are up here”
      and usually ending with…
      “It looks like I have this group’s attention, thank you… and now I have this group’s attention, thank you… waiting on just a few more people…”
      And now I should be good to go. I notice that if I turn my back to the board right after doing this, a few students may end up going right back to whatever it is they were doing, so I try to look in the direction of most groups (or, if possible, every student in the eye) while speaking before I turn myself away from them.

  8. Kathryn (@MsKLaster) permalink

    What a thoughtful, thorough plan for your first day! I love that you included the rationale for each of your activities. I promise, the 2nd year is so much better than the 1st, and you certainly sound (over)prepared for anything on day 1. I also like your distinction between rules and norms. Thanks for sharing your plans!

  9. Your first day plan is so thorough and well thought-out! I absolutely love it! I also like the norms of respect and effort. I do not like listing out rules and instead go for overarching norms. Last year I used integrity, responsibility and respect. I think I like respect and effort even better. Thanks for sharing your plans and resources!

  10. Wow! I am impressed by your planning – and you’re only in your 2nd year… Bravo! I expect we will see great things from you as you continue to grow and learn!!!!

  11. Laura permalink

    Thank you for sharing these ideas.

  12. Michelle permalink

    Thank you so much for your post! I have taught for 4 years, but this is my first year teaching in a major public (charter) school as the sole math teacher for 7/8th grade. (Previously I was a special education teacher and co-teacher for math.) This has all been so helpful! Have a great year!

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