New school supplies, friend reunions… the first week of school is thrilling for many students. However, other kids come to class on the first day feeling apprehensive about what the new year holds. As a teacher, it’s your job to recognize these mixed emotions and create lessons that will engage all of your students—eager and reluctant learners alike.
By developing Back to School activities that incorporate summer fun, you’ll bring a personal connection to learning that helps you get to know your students better. Here are some ideas from each subject area to get the school year started.
Skip the traditional “What I Did This Summer” writing prompts in favor of more engaging activities that include hands-on projects, spark creativity, and help students bond with each other.
- Create a brochure. Have your students choose one summer experience or location they visited to create a travel brochure about. Provide your class with examples of travel brochures, and encourage them to be creative with artwork, slogans, and informational text.
- Write and act. Instruct your class to script a commercial which advertises something they did or a place they visited over the summer. Bring in “costumes” to help kids get into character, and encourage them to choose a few classmates to help them to act out their commercials. This is a great way to break the ice and facilitate bonding between your students.
- Play I Know What You Did This Summer. Give students five to ten blank flash cards. The exact number can depend on their grade and skill level. Instruct your class to write clues on the cards about one activity they did or location they visited over the summer. They should write (or draw, in the case of younger students) one clue per card. Next, arrange the class into pairs and have the partners read their clues to each other. Allow kids ample time to read the clues, guess the activity or location, and chat with their partner about their summer experiences.
Start crunching some numbers to get the school year started off right. For older students, these activities can be done in small groups or with a partner. For younger students, you can do the work together as a whole class.
- Distances traveled. Determine how far your class traveled over the summer by adding up the mileage each student traveled. Start by asking each child to name the destination that they traveled to over the summer that is the furthest away from their home. Once you have a list, help your students use an online mapping program, such as Google Maps, to find out how far they each traveled on their trip. Record each distance on the board. Choose a student volunteer to add up all of the distances to find out how far the class traveled overall. To put the total distance into context, consider comparing it to a similar distance. After calculating the entire class’s mileage, determine which student traveled the farthest.
- Time activity. Calculate the number of hours your class spent doing typical summer activities. Choose four to five fun experiences to focus on, such as swimming, going to the movies, visiting a museum, reading a book, and eating ice cream. Have each student estimate the number of hours that they spent doing each activity, and choose a volunteer to record the times on the board. Once everyone has made their estimations, have a student tally up the hours spent doing each activity. Use the final numbers to create a class bar graph so the kids can see how they spent their summer.
Maps are colorful and interesting enough to engage kids, while still being essential for learning geography, location history and spatial skills. Incorporate map fun into these activities for the perfect balance of fun and learning.
- Map it. Start a class discussion about the places students visited over the summer, having each child share one vacation destination. As the students are sharing, record the locations they traveled to on the board. Once everyone has shared, give each kid a map of the United States and a map of your state. Guide your class through locating the places traveled by their classmates and coloring or marking each location with a symbol.
- Real-world mapping. With the list of locations, set up Google Earth on class computers or using an interactive whiteboard to take a look at the places where your class traveled during the summer. Toggle between various “views” of each spot, and incorporate the discussion of different landforms that were visited by each kid.
Warm weather and long days make summer and fall an ideal time to engage in both indoor and outdoor science fun.
- The Sounds of Summer. Ask your students about the different sounds they heard at night during the summer. If they have trouble thinking of sounds, start a list of ideas on the board, such as crickets chirping, music, and fireworks. Play some examples of each to help jog your students’ memory. Research and discuss animals that “sing” at night in the summer.
- Weather. Typically, summer brings hot weather and rain to the United States. As a class, create a KWL chart and discuss why your students think summertime is hot, and why there can be more rain during the summer months. Once you’ve filled out the “Know” and “Want to Know” sections, provide books, computers or tablets that kids can use to answer these questions. During a follow-up class discussion, contrast the summer weather where you live and summer weather in other parts of the country and world. Great questions include: Why do the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere have opposite seasons? When does “summer” happen in Australia?
The transition into Back to School will always bring some anxiety along with excitement. By using these hands-on activities to engage kids and encourage teamwork, you’ll help break the ice, build social skills and start the school year off on the right track.