5 First Week of School Activities Your Upper Graders Will Love

Upper elementary teachers, you may be asking any one of the following questions: What do I teach the first week of school? What should I do on the first day of school? How can I welcome students to my classroom while teaching some essential classroom routines? If you find yourself pondering these questions or if you are currently staring at your blank planning book (trust me, I’ve been there), then this blog post is for you!

It’s just about that time of year again… back-to-school season! This time of year always brings a sense of hope, anticipation, and unfortunately some stress. In this blog post, I will share some ideas on how to have a fun-filled first week of school.

PLUS, there is a freebie to help you get started.

I LOVE the start of the school year. It is a time when both teachers and students can simply enjoy being together. I cannot wait to meet my classroom family this year!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE LOVE LOVE summer. Even as I write this, I am feeling rejuvenated and reinvigorated…slippers, feet up, tea, pup alongside me…life is good. However, a part of me is still excited about that first day of school. The smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the aroma of books that have not been read in a while (or even better, brand-new books you picked up over the summer), and the sight of an organized classroom just waiting for students to arrive…so exciting!!! Now, you may have guessed by now that I am that teacher, the teacher that enjoys summer by reading teaching blogs (or by writing them :P), researching best practices and teaching tips, and creating a classroom wishlist for the upcoming school year. However, I want to acknowledge the other type of teacher, the teacher that truly enjoys summer and unplugs from the hustle and bustle of teaching for an entire two months. Good for you! (I am trying to find that balance. It is a work in progress for sure.) Regardless of the category you fall into, regardless of if you are reading this the day it was posted or as you are on your way to school for your first day back, my hope is that you will find some easy-to-implement ideas to help you and your new classroom family truly enjoy your first week together.

Whether you are a first-year teacher or have been teaching for years and years, there is one question that all of us have on our minds right around now…

What do you do the first week of school?

I would actually extend this question to include the first TWO weeks of school. I have taught both primary and upper grades, and in every grade, I do not start the curriculum until the third week of school. Upper grade and middle grade teachers, in particular, seem to have some concerns with this idea. I hear you! I am you! Trust me, if you have never waited this long to start your curriculum, I know what you’re thinking…

  • Without my curriculum, how will I know what to teach? Won’t that be wasted instructional minutes?
  • I teach all of the subjects. Without curriculum, I am going to have to spend hours and hours planning and prepping those first two weeks.
  • I am a (insert grade level here) teacher. There are WAY TOO MANY standards that I need to cover. I will not be able to teach them by the end of the year if I give up any instructional time.

First of all, I hear your concerns. For several years, I have spent the first two weeks of school without using the curriculum, and even now, the above thoughts run through my head almost every school year. That brings me to why I wrote this blog post. I want to share what I have learned over the years in terms of how to make the first couple of weeks of school fun, engaging, and stress-free. PLUS, if done right, you will set up your kiddos for success for the remainder of the year. You will find that your classroom runs smoother, your kids are regularly engaged and demonstrating on-task behavior, and your spending less time pulling your hair out.

Read on, and you too will go through this transformation.

Activity #1: Student Bingo

This is not your traditional BINGO game. Rather than calling numbers or words and having your students try to get five in a row, Student Bingo encourages discussions and creates a safe environment for your students to get to know each other. Here is how it works: each student receives a Bingo sheet with discussion topics in each box. For example, “Find a student who has the same favorite subject as you.” Once the student finds someone who likes the same subject, s/he writes that person’s name down. The first student to get five in a row or fill-in the Bingo sheet wins. (You could also play for first or second place if you wish.) These ready-made Student Bingo sheets will save you some time.

Now for the why…Why is Student Bingo perfect for the first day of school? The beginning of the year, although exciting, also brings with it some first day of school jitters. This is true for teachers AND students, but it is especially true for certain groups of students…new students, shy students, students who were virtual in 2020, students with anxiety, the list goes on and on. The beauty of planning an activity like Student Bingo is that it provides an opportunity for students to talk to other students without having to think of what to say. Many students that are shy or nervous about speaking to their peers are worried about their thoughts/comments being judged. With Student Bingo, they are simply reading from a worksheet. They are getting to know their peers without having to initiate the conversation. Then, after playing the game, they now have things to talk about at recess or lunch. The teacher is essentially providing an opportunity where students can learn how much they have in common with each other. Trust me, this game is a MUST-DO for the first day of school.

Activity #2: The Meme Game

For those of you who have been using the Fun Friday Nearpod games that were posted last year…the wait is over!!! If you have not had the chance to check out our most popular Fun Friday games, make sure to check out this Nearpod resource or all-inclusive year-long bundle. I have created several ice breaker games and Fun Friday activities, but BY FAR, our most popular game amongst upper-grade students is the Meme Game. Due to popular demand, we now have a Nearpod resource entirely dedicated to the Meme Game. It includes slides for EVERY MONTH OF THE YEAR. Your students are sure to love it!!! First, let’s learn how to play…

In this digital activity, students complete a meme by either adding their own text or finding a funny picture. This can be played either in person using student devices (i.e. Chromebooks) or during virtual instruction. There are two ways to play this game: You can give the text and ask students to post a picture OR you post a picture and ask students to write text to go with it. Both ways are super fun and super hilarious! PLUS, on Nearpod, the teacher is able to approve posts in real-time, so you will be able to make sure all posts are school-appropriate. Want to learn more about how this game works? Click here to watch last year’s webinar recording.

Activity #3: Classroom Walk-Through

About halfway through week one, I start to slowly start preparing my students for how the classroom will run the rest of the school year. Notice, I still have not mentioned academic goals. That will come later. I simply start to plan activities that address our classroom routines and procedures.

Now, in order to get the most bang for our buck, we have to find ways to sneak in some routines and procedures with our first week of school activities. I am not a huge advocate of going over classroom rules on day 1. It is not that I don’t understand the NEED for rules. It is just that I have found there is way more buy-in if students feel they have a say in their classroom environment. So, rather than dive into a classroom rule list or classroom constitution, how about do a classroom walk-through? For me, I use a strategy called “Notice and Wonder” for pretty much every subject during the school year. I actually expand on this popular strategy by adding “Infer” after “Wonder”. On the first day of school, I incorporate a “Notice, Wonder, Infer” chart with a classroom walk-through. Allow me to explain…

There is something very magical about the first day of school. When students walk in, they are walking into a home away from home. They want to feel welcomed, wanted, and excited. Even though your bulletin boards may be a work in progress and the desks are empty, I whole-heartedly believe the classroom should be colorful, decorated, and give a sneak peek into what your kids will learn that year. To me, your students’ first look into their classroom should be like a movie preview. It should ignite excitement and curiosity. Let’s hone in and take advantage of their natural curiosity! After doing an initial ice breaker (see activity #1) and a fun game (see activity #2), I usually schedule a classroom walk-through. (This can also be done first thing on day one. Either way works great!) I give each student a Notice/Wonder/Infer table and ask them to walk around the room jotting down bullet points. What do they notice in the room? What initially caught their attention when first walking into the room? What questions do they have about what they see? What inferences can they make about what we will be learning? After briefly going through each column, I turn on some timed classical music and allow them to explore the room at their leisure, with clipboards, and worksheets in hand.

NOTE: This is also a great opportunity to practice using music in your classroom. I won’t go too deeply into this topic, as it could almost be a separate post entirely, but I recommend having a timed playlist of classical music that will signal your students to quietly walk around the room. You could use this same playlist for gallery walks and brainstorming activities.


Activity #4: All About Me

Ahhh…a first week of school classic. Even though this activity has been a bit overdone (in my opinion), I cannot write a post about first week of school activities without including this one! I totally get the value of these activities…Students can share themselves with their teacher and peers, thus reinforcing the idea that they are important. Plus, it is a great way for you as their teacher to learn about them as individuals.

If you are anything like me, you totally understand the value of these activities, but at the same time, you would like to do something different. This is especially true for you upper grade teachers out there. By the time students have entered your classroom, they have had several first days of school, and thus, have completed several “All About Me” worksheets. I am not by any means discouraging you from using these worksheets. They are a strong way to start the school year. However, I wanted to share a few ideas on how you can put a twist on this classic back to school activity:

  • Student Interviews – Pair students off and give them interview questions. Then, have each student fill out an “All About _____” worksheet. Thet way, they are creating a worksheet about their partners.
  • Flipgrid Introductions – Have your students record a quick video introduction on Flipgrid. I highly recommend giving them a list of questions to answer (name, siblings, how long they have been at your school, favorite subject/sports/hobby/food/movie/game, etc.) Then, the rest of the class can watch the recordings. You could even have them jot down notes if you want them to practice a particular way of note-taking. Tell them they can use these notes for a game later (see activity #5). Look! You are already prepping them for the rest of the school year. You can read more sneaky ways to incorporate classroom procedures in my upcoming Classroom Routines and Procedures post, which will go live 8/21/21.
  • Student Guess Who – A digital version of this game is also included in the Nearpod Fun Friday games mentioned earlier. Basically, students draw a picture of themselves and then draw clues about themselves. You can either choose one randomly and guess who it is as a class or post them to the wall and have students guess on their secret worksheets. I, personally think this game is ideal for Nearpod even if teaching in person. Watch this video to learn more about this game.
  • Time Capsule – Ask students to create a time capsule that best represents them. Ask them to include pictures of their favorite food/subject/sport, etc. These capsules can be elaborate or as simple as a shoe box or paper bag. The point of this activity to have students share about themselves in a more hands-on way. EXTENSION: Save these capsules and re-open them at the end of the year to see if any of their favorite things have changed. You would be surprised how much can change in one school year!

Activity #5: How Well Do You Know…?

This game is a great way to end the first week of school. I recommend playing after students have had some time to get to know each other. For me, I usually play Student Bingo on the first day of school, assign Flipgrid the second or third day, and then play this game on day 4.

Once students have introduced themselves, I have them jot down a fact about each student. I then use those facts to write questions about the students. This can be played on a variety of platforms, but I have found Nearpod to be most engaging. I use Time to Climb on Nearpod. For those of you who have not used Nearpod before, it is an interactive, digital resource where students can draw, type, and even record their own voices. One of the interactive features is a game called Time to Climb. In this game, students race up a mountain by answering questions, in this case, questions about each other. The best part? They will be able to see their peers racing right alongside them! This game can be played in the classroom simultaneously, individually, or during live, virtual meetings. Want to help students get to know YOU, THEIR TEACHER? No problem! Simply write questions about yourself. Students of all ages love getting to know their teacher.

Watch this Teacher Tidbit to learn how to create your own Time to Climb game OR check out these pre-made Nearpod games. (Please be aware that the resource says it is best for grades 1-4, but honestly, my sixth graders LOVED them last year!)

Well there you have it: a fun, no-stress first week of school. As mentioned before, I feel strongly about holding off on curriculum until the third week of school. So, now you may be wondering…

What do you do the second week of school?

Don’t worry, I am not going to leave you in the dust. Check out the blog posts linked below for even more ideas!

Other Blog Posts to Help You Get Ready for Back to School

Setting Up Your Classroom: 10 Must-Dos for Any Upper-Grade Teacher Who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned classroom reveal?!
10 must-teach classroom routines and procedures to start the year off right Includes Ideas for the
Second Week of School
5 Goals of Reading Workshop:
Is Reading Workshop Effective?
Instill a love of reading in your classroom. Trust me, this is a MUST-READ.

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Published by Learning N Progress

I am an elementary teacher who specializes in differentiated instruction and intervention. I have taught grades K-6, including intervention and gifted students. I am here to help other educators make differentiated instruction easy to manage and effective in reaching EVERY student in their classes.

4 thoughts on “5 First Week of School Activities Your Upper Graders Will Love

  1. Love the classroom “Walk Through” ideas with clipboards, music, and making inferences!

    1. It definitely helps get students excited and curious about what they will be learning! I have also used this idea for a school tour. I will definitely be doing both this year to help students as they return to campus.

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