10 Lessons to Teach at the Beginning of the Year

The bloggers of the Secondary English Coffee Shop are sharing our favorite lessons to teach at the beginning of the school year.  Read below to get ideas for your first day, week, or even month of school!

One of the very first lessons I teach my high school English students is about email etiquette. While this soft skill might not be one of the hard-hitting, content-driven, frequently-tested concepts in our content area, knowing proper email etiquette is a crucial skill for our students. Especially as our older students begin applying for jobs, college, and internships, this is a life skill that they take with them beyond the classroom.  - The Daring English Teacher

Are you bored of the same, "Write about your summer" activities the first week back? I was! So I came up with a more creative way to have students reflect on their summer adventures by answering the question: What if your summer was a movie? You can have them do everything from just writing a title and a plot synopsis, to designing the storyboard, writing a scene script, or even making the movie poster! I do find this works best (and generates the least inappropriate titles ;-)) with middle school students, and it is a fun, engaging, creative way to start the year. - Stacey Lloyd

At the start of the year, I always try to incorporate a fun writing assignment that teaches students the writing process, but also allows them to show their creative side.  One fun lesson/assignment that works well for this is having students invent their own school!  Each student creates a school from scratch.  They decide where the school is, what they will learn, how they are evaluated, who the ideal student is, who the teachers would be and the list goes on.  They write a narrative "day in the life" piece from the perspective of a student on the first day and develop an advertisement to recruit potential students.  The project also allows you to get a glimpse into the students' interests and what they think a perfect school would look like.  The best part about this lesson is that it comes with a hand-drawn video to introduce the project (created by John Spencer) that hooks students in and gets them excited to design their school. - Presto Plans

I like to teach my 9th graders to embed supporting quotes properly, and it feels like a year-long process! 😉 The first time I expose them to this concept is when we read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I give students a quote, and they build the frame and the claim. Then, they work on building a strong connection between their claim and the chosen quote by brainstorming and writing in pairs. This approach is super scaffolded, but it provides a strong foundation for more source-supported analysis down the road. - Nouvelle ELA

At the start of the year I like to get to know my students and get an idea of where they are with their writing skills. One of the first activities we do is Personal Narrative Writing. Students get to share a little bit about themselves and I get to see how they work through the writing process, how well they can peer edit, and how they problem solve through editing and revising. Because I work with the students through the writing process step-by-step it's a non-threatening way to start off the year. - Addie Williams

I find the year to go much more smoothly if I start with the proper way to cite in writing. Teachers in other content areas expect the students to know this skill, so going through exercises and giving them a flip chart to use for the rest of the year has been beneficial for not only my class but for others. - Tracee Orman

Students arrive in our classrooms with mixed abilities as writers, so it's important to get on the same PAGE (ha) with an Editing Checklist that makes your expectations clear. This flipbook can be used for ANY genre (informative, argumentative, AND narrative), and it includes pointers for document formatting, citations, and grammar! I can't wait to use this to help my students become better independent editors and see better final drafts come in. - Secondary Sara

Like many teachers, I enjoy starting the year with short stories. If you are looking for a creative way to teach the elements of plot, as well as the basics of writing a short story, then I recommend this short story writing flip book. This short story flip book is not only fun to make, but it’s also a convenient size that can be stored in a desk, binder or interactive notebook for quick reference when writing! - The Classroom Sparrow


Whether you are using reading workshop or teaching a full class novel, students need to do some literary analysis, something they struggle to do well. After years of reading poorly done responses and essays, I realized my students were just blindly following a formula without really understanding what they were doing. So, I created a series of lessons and activities designed to help students understand the process. I use them at the beginning of the term, so students have both the language and understanding for everything else that follows. You can read all about it on this blog post. Room 213

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