5 Literacy Activities for the First Week of School

Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development…

Kofi Annon

As many of you know, I am a literacy mentor along with being a classroom teacher. The quote above stresses the importance of literacy. Students are more likely to complete high school and attend college if they are reading at grade level by the third grade. Now, this is not to say that students will drop out of high school if they are below grade level. As educators, we have the tools to support all students, including our intervention kiddos.

I wanted to start out with the importance of literacy because this will be my primary focus this school year. I was fortunate enough to be part of a professional development conference around the science of reading this past summer. Therefore, I want to share what I have discovered with you all this coming school year.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that I feel strongly about pushing off the curriculum until at least the third week of school. Having said that literacy can and should be part of your back-to-school activities. In this blog post, I will go over 5 different ways that you can easily incorporate literacy into your first week of school plans.

You may be wondering…”What literacy activities should be included?”

The short answer is anything you want! Let me explain…

Think about the literacy strategies that you will regularly use during the school year. Keep in mind that literacy is not just ELA but also includes science and social studies. It can even include math! Math vocabulary is an important part of a literacy classroom. Once you have created a list of strategies you want your students to be familiar with, try to incorporate those strategies into some getting-to-know-you and classroom community activities.

If you are looking for a place to start, I will share my top 5 literacy activities in the list below.

1) Notice Wonder Infer (and Sometimes Evidence)

This simple chart (download your freebie below) can be used for almost anything! I have used it in grades K, 1, 4, 5, and 6. Students are taught to make observations, ask questions, and make inferences. An evidence column can also be added to justify those inferences. I use this strategy during the first day of school. In my class, as soon as kids walk in, they wander around the classroom jotting down what they see. They also jot down some questions they may have. Depending on the grade level you teach, you may want to consider asking them to make inferences based on their observations. This allows students to act on their curiosities regarding the classroom and also gives them the opportunity to practice a skill that will be used throughout the year. Make sure to teach them the following vocabulary words before starting this activity: notice, observe, wonder, question, and infer.

2) Think-Pair-Share/Turn and Talk/My Partner Said

Other popular teaching strategies are Think-Pair-Share, Turn and Talk, and My Partner Said. If you are not familiar with My Partner Said, it is a great idea for students who are reluctant to share out in class. Sometimes, especially with shy students, it can be difficult to share out in front of a group of kids. It is somewhat less daunting to share someone else’s ideas instead of sharing your own. If you plan on using any of these strategies, teach the kids during that first week. In my classroom, I also use a Group Share, where the team leader leads a conversation and then summarizes the group’s ideas during a class discussion. All three of these tactics are heavily practiced during the first week of school. It could be as simple as getting to know each other (i.e. student interviews) or as involved as team design challenges.

3) Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are, in my opinion, a MUST for the first week of school. For me, I use Thinking Maps in every subject. Therefore, I want my students to be familiar with them BEFORE starting the curriculum. The key here is to help students get to the point where they can choose their own graphic organizers based on the lesson objectives and/or target skills. How? By using academic vocabulary! I teach my students to look for specific academic vocab when selecting a graphic organizer. Take a look at the table below for a list of vocab and organizers.

Graphic OrganizerPictureVocabulary
Circle Mapdefine
Bubble Mapdescribe
Double Bubble Mapsimilar
Tree Mapsort
Flow Maporder
Multi-Flow Mapprediction
cause and effect
Brace Mapparts
Bridge Mapanalogies
how things relate
Graphic Organizers and Vocabulary

I use graphic organizers when we discuss positive character traits, how to be successful in class, and when learning how to collaborate. Sometimes we make class charts; other times we do a gallery walk where we add to several organizers; students also use these graphic organizers when working independently, in pairs, or in small groups. The possibilities are endless!

4) Read Alouds and Vocabulary

This may be an obvious choice, but picture books are a must for any back-to-school season. Although I believe that picture books and mentor texts should be included throughout the year, they are ideal for teaching SEL, especially at the start of the school year. What you may not have considered is including vocabulary in these read-alouds. When I plan a read-aloud, I first preview the book and choose 4-5 vocabulary words. I then assign a motion to those words to help students remember their meanings. Students do the motions every time they hear those words during the read-aloud. (Consider having students help choose the motions, especially once you have done this routine several times.) I included a list of books and vocabulary words in the table below should you need a place to start. This procedure can be used for any subject and with any book later in the year, so it’s ideal to practice this routine at the start. Looking for some book recommendations AND downloadable freebies? Check out this post.

BookCoverTheme/Target WordVocabulary
by Jenn Larson
“All Because You Matter”
by Tami Charles
“I Am Love”
by Susan Verde
“All Are Welcome”
by Alexandra Penfold &
Suzanne Kaufman
“After the Fall”
by Dan Santat
Learning from Mistakes
Back-to-School Read-Alouds, Themes, and Vocabulary

5) Various Listening and Speaking Skills

I have found that most literacy classrooms target reading and writing very often. However, listening and speaking skills are often neglected, yet they are so important to success in any field. Back-to-school season is the perfect opportunity to introduce some of these speaking skills! Consider using Flipgrid so students can watch themselves practice these newfound skills. Whether it is tone of voice, pacing, eye contact, volume, or even nonverbal communication, I would encourage you to include mini-lessons on them in your back-to-school plans.

As you can see, literacy does not have to wait until you begin your curriculum. It can start as soon as day one! I fully believe that the first few weeks of school can either make or break your entire year. It is so critical to focus on those routines and procedures to ensure you have a successful year for your kids. This includes the routines you will use to support your literacy instruction.

As always, feel free to shoot me an email at melody@learning-n-progress.com if you want to brainstorm together. Next month, we will focus on the science of reading. I will introduce you to all 5 components and teach you what they look like in both a primary-grade and upper-grade classroom. Until then, keep learning!

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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.

3 thoughts on “5 Literacy Activities for the First Week of School

  1. I love these literacy suggestions! My students benefit so much from the graphic organizers. Thanks for the great post!

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