Classroom Hacks to Kick Off a Great School Year!

Plan your first day and prioritize what’s most important. For me, getting to know my students’ names is the most important thing. As a person who finds “name games” exhausting, I go a different route. As my students fill out The Daring English Teacher’s ‘About Me’ survey, I take a picture of each student holding up a whiteboard with their name on it. They take it far less seriously than school pictures, so these make great candids to look back on at the end of the year!

This also gives me a minute to connect one-on-one with each student as I take the picture, which is the first step in building a relationship. I study the photos at home and master the names in no time. (Pro tip: keep the student surveys organized by class in a binder so that you can refer to them when needed.)
-Danielle from Nouvelle ELA

When I start a new school year, I know that I need to get organized - it’s not something that comes easily to me. One hack that I came up with a few years ago was the creation of these group work kits. I bought some plastic containers at the dollar store, labeled them as you see in the picture, and filled them with the things my students might need when they work in collaborative groups (which they do a lot). Each one contains sticky notes, highlighters, markers, a glue stick and paper clips. Now, instead of me wasting time passing these things out one at a time, my kids know that they need to send someone to my back cupboard to grab a kit. I can start circulating or conferencing right away, since the kids can form their groups and get ready to work without my assistance. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done!
-Room 213

I avoid spending the first couple of days of classes reviewing the syllabus and rules (I save this until about day 3). Students often spend the first full day of classes hearing the same things over and over in their classes which doesn’t make for the most positive transition back to school and they often tune teachers out by the end of the day. Instead, you might consider incorporating a small group challenge, setting up chart paper stations where students can reflect on general questions to pique interest about your course, or facilitate an activity to develop classroom community. Although setting the tone for classroom management is definitely important and you’ll want to make sure students know your expectations for each of these activities, I tend to disagree with the “Don’t smile until Christmas” advice and instead try to build a positive classroom culture from the start.
-Presto Plans

One of the first things I do when I set up my classroom for the new school year is set up my whiteboard. I like to have a dedicated place in my room where I write the weekly agenda for all of my classes. During the first few days of school, I make it a priority to show the board to students and to explain that if they miss a day they can easily see what they missed by looking at the board. On the agenda board, I include the main lesson for the day, any homework students might have, and important due dates. Another great benefit of setting up a classroom whiteboard is that is keeps me on track.
-The Daring English Teacher

My mum always said: “Start as you mean to go on!” So, whatever my personal goals are for the school year, I try to be extra intentional about them in the first few weeks. If you want to be better at work/life balance, make sure - even in those busy initial weeks - that you set strong boundaries. If your goal is to be more relationship focused with students, spend a solid amount of time talking with them and greeting them by name when you see them around the school. If you plan to be more organized, fill in that desk calendar or planner on day one, and review it before you leave each day. Whatever my personal or professional goals for the year (or at least for the first term/semester), I try to make sure that I am really intentional about them, and that I then actively work at achieving them during those first few days and weeks, to solidify them as habits.
- Stacey Lloyd

Students will start to form an impression of you and your class on day 1. I want my students to feel comfortable when they walk in the room, but also showcase what I value. One hack I use when setting up my room is to make sure I give students a sense of inclusion with which books I exhibit right away. No matter how big or small your classroom library is, select a few diverse titles to display with the full cover. Students will be more curious about the books and more likely to want to check them out, plus, they may see themselves in the cover art and feel more welcome in your room. Even if you don’t have a library, just showing a few diverse titles you’ve loaned from the school library propped on the whiteboard with a message such as “Books I Recommend” has the same effect.
-Tracee Orman

Incorporating Teen Trends Into Your Back-to-School Activities

Pokemon Go was all the rage in 2016. Fortnite in 2017. You get where we are going with this! Getting back into the swing of things of a new school year can be tricky, but we can help! An easy way to connect with your students is to make your back-to-school lessons relevant and relatable. How can you do this? We have compiled a list of several ways that you can easily incorporate teen trends into your back-to-school lessons for the first few weeks (or anytime!) of the year.

Most teens love music and connect with it on a personal level. You can bridge that connection by incorporating music into your daily routines. For example, play an upbeat song between bell work and discussion time to motivate your students. If you struggle to know what's popular with your students, just ask them! The beginning of the year is the perfect time to find out more about them and their music preferences. You can give them a writing prompt asking what their favorite songs are or be even more specific;  ask them: Which song makes you want to get up and dance? Which song could you listen to over and over again and never grow tired of?

Once you have compiled a list of their favorite songs, search the lyrics of a few. You can often find the best examples of figurative language in song lyrics. If the lyrics are appropriate, print them off and play the song in class and ask students to find examples of figurative devices. This activity can be done anytime, but it's for great back-to-school to review figurative language and to gauge your students' learning levels.

Another way to incorporate music directly into learning is to compare popular music artists with writers or subjects you are reading. During poetry and Shakespeare units, I love challenging students to see if they can guess whether the line or phrase is from a song or a poem. I created an entire series with various poets and musicians that you can download here. I'll start out with a presentation and a student handout so the as whole can engage in the activity. It's so much fun to see their reactions when they swear there's no way the line came from an old poet, but it actually did! The next day, I'll display the bulletin board (below) so students can continue to interact with the lines of poetry and songs.

Teen Trends Back-to-School

One way to grab the attention of your students is to explore books that may have been released since school has been out and/or sharing some titles of books that will be released in the coming months! Talk about anticipation! :)

Here are a few YA books that came out recently:
  • Girl Gone Viral by Arvin Ahmadi 
  • The Haunted by Danielle Vega  
  • We Walked the Sky by Lisa Fiedler
Here are a few YA books that will be coming out soon:
  • Frankly in Love by David Yoon
  • The Beautiful by Renee Ahdieh 
You can also see what your students are interested in by displaying these Genre Reading Cards around a few tables in your classroom (or in the library). Simply, set out the different genre cards, select a few books that fit within each genre, set a timer for 2-3 minutes and let your students explore the various titles. Follow-up with a brief discussion on their favorite books they may have already read (or discovered) through the stations. This is a quick and easy way to see what genres they are interested in or may be interested in exploring this school year.

Whether it's the World Cup or the Super Bowl, chances are many of your students are fans of sports or are familiar with at least one sport. Using this FREE survey at the beginning of the year, ask your students which sports or teams are their favorite. (Click HERE to get an editable digital copy of the survey ready for distance learning!) Once you have an idea about their favorites, you can incorporate them into your lessons. For example, if you are writing a sample sentence for a grammar lesson, name-drop a player from one of their favorite teams. My students are usually divided between being either a Chicago Cubs or a St. Louis Cardinals baseball fan, so a sample sentence may be: "Anthony Rizzo and Dexter Fowler sat down together to have pizza after the Cubs defeated the Cardinals last night."

Every two years, you can integrate the Olympics into your lessons. Re-word the titles of your activities or assignments by using Olympic-themed names. Instead of calling it a class discussion or a "think-pair-share," call it the "Opening Ceremony" or "Passing the torch of knowledge." A quiz can be called a bobsled competition or a vault competition for gymnastics. Award the top three scores with gold, silver and bronze medals. If you teach multiple sections of the same class, have your classes compete for the overall winner. Awards points for the class with the fewest tardies, the highest scores on quizzes or assignments, and/or the liveliest discussions. Better yet, have your students create the areas for competitions and what they'd like to call them. They can even pick which country they would like to represent (or create their own country).

Some students may not like traditional sports, but love video and online gaming. The popularity of videos such as Minecraft and Fortnite paired with the rise of schools adopting eSports as official extracurricular activities indicate that our students still love gaming. Instead of fighting it, try to embrace it by giving students opportunities to utilize both the skills they learn through games with academic skills.

For example, I asked my students to recreate a scene from Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. One group built Rome in Minecraft and reenacted one of the scenes live as the class watched. My head was swimming a bit, but it was pretty amazing to see what they created together and how they adapted it to the text. They learned more about the play from that one assignment and had so much fun doing it. This particular assignment may not work with other games, but if you allow your students the possibility of incorporating their favorite game into a project, you may be amazed at the ideas that they come up with.

I don't know about you, but one of my favorite things as a student was when we were able to follow-up a book with a movie. As a visual person, I always appreciated when I saw a book come to life after reading it (even though most people prefer the book over the movie). Watching the movie after reading the book can lead to a lot of fun class discussions. Here are a few fun prompts that you can use to follow-up after your are done reading and watching!
  • What did you like better, the book or the movie?
  • Why was the book better than the movie?
  • Why was the movie better than the book?
  • What did the book have that the movie didn't?
  • What did the movie have that the book didn't?
A great way to grab the attention of your students would be to plan a unit around an upcoming movie release based on a book. This might be an older book or perhaps, a newer one. Regardless, your students will think it's pretty cool that they are going to be able to watch a movie. I realize it's not possible for all classes to be able to watch a movie in a theatre, but it's a fun and quick field trip if you can make it work! Movie theatres usually give a discount on larger groups and I usually try to work in a price that includes popcorn and a drink for everyone, too. If you think money may be an issue for some students, it does not hurt to ask your administraton for some assistance. They will, almost always, find a way to make sure everyone in your class is able to participate.

You can also plan a unit around a particular theme of a movie coming out (or already in stores), if you're looking to take a break from reading for a few weeks. Once students gain a better understanding or appreciation about a particular theme, you can show them a movie where they can explore that theme even more. This way, if taking your students to a movie theatre isn't an option, then show a movie in your classroom instead!  

Note: You can ask your students which movies they may be interested in watching at the start of the year, then surprise them with the themed unit based around that film!

One of the easiest ways to incorporate both social media and pop culture all at once is incorporating current events into your classroom. You can do this on a local, national or international level. You can simply ask your students to start talking about what's happening in your town, in the world, or even more specifically, with their favorite movie actors, singers, bands, etc. What's the gossip with their favorite celebrities?

Once your ideas have been shared and topics have been listed, you can use this list as a means for an impromptu writing activity, as an essay topic, etc. The possibilities are endless. If you're interested in checking out more ways on how you can incorporate pop culture into the classroom, click HERE.

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