After spending many wonderful and insightful years in the classroom, encountering the joy, curiosity, and occasional chaos that define middle school, I’ve shifted gears to focus on supporting fellow educators through my writing and consulting.

I still vividly remember the thrill and nervous energy that accompanies the start of a new school year. That first day, with its clean slate and infinite possibilities, can truly set the tone for the months ahead. It’s a day filled with anticipation for both the students, who are ready to learn, grow, and make new friends, and the teachers, who are eager to inspire, guide, and connect with a new group of young minds.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that the key to harnessing this day’s potential lies in carefully chosen first day of school activities. These are more than just fun and games (although fun is definitely a key ingredient!); they’re crucial opportunities for you to begin building a positive classroom culture, establish connections with and among your students, and lay the groundwork for a successful year of learning.

In this post, I’d like to share a collection of my favorite first day of school activities for middle school students, curated from my years in the classroom and ongoing exploration and research in the world of education.

Each one is designed to engage students, foster a sense of community, and ignite a love for learning that will carry them through the school year. Whether you’re a new teacher or a seasoned veteran, I hope you find these ideas both inspiring and practical.

First Year of School Activities for Middle School

Here are some practical first day of school activities to use with your middle school students:

1. Icebreaker Games

Two Truths and a Lie: Each student shares three statements about themselves – two truths and one lie. The rest of the class then tries to guess which statement is the lie. This encourages students to share something about themselves and fosters communication among the class.

Human Bingo: Create a bingo card with different characteristics or experiences in each square (like “has a pet,” “has been to Europe,” “loves to read”). Students then mingle, trying to find classmates who match the descriptions on their bingo card. This not only helps students get to know each other but also encourages conversation and interaction.

Scavenger Hunt: This can be particularly useful if you have things in your classroom that you want to familiarize students with. You could list various items or features around the classroom or school, and students need to find and document (maybe even with a selfie!) each item on the list.

2. Goal Setting

Starting the year with a goal-setting activity can be very motivating for students. Provide a template or let them design their own vision boards.

You can ask students to list down their academic goals (like “Improve my math grade by one level,” “Read five books this semester”) and personal goals (such as “Join the school’s drama club,” “Learn to play a new instrument”). Encourage them to be specific with their goals.

Vision boards can be a more creative approach to this. Let students cut out images and words from old magazines or print from the computer, which represents their goals. They can then glue these onto a poster board, creating a visual representation of their goals for the year.

2. Classroom Rules Discussion

Instead of just giving the students a list of rules, engage them in the process of creating them using a student-centered approach.

Ask students what kind of environment they think would be most conducive to learning. What behaviors should be encouraged? Which ones should be discouraged?

As a class, work together to turn these ideas into a list of “class norms” or rules. This gives students a sense of ownership and responsibility for their classroom culture.

3. Personalized Name Tags

Giving students the opportunity to create their own name tags can be a fun and creative first-day activity.

Provide each student with a cardstock rectangle for their name tag. Provide markers, colored pencils, stickers, or other art supplies.

Instruct students to include their name prominently on the tag, and to fill the rest of the space with drawings or symbols that represent them, their hobbies, favorite books, favorite subject in school, etc.

Once everyone has finished, you can have a sharing session where each student presents their name tag to the class and explains their chosen symbols. This not only makes them feel a part of the classroom, but also helps their classmates (and you) get to know them better.

4. “Get to Know Me” Presentation

This activity encourages students to share a bit about themselves and their lives outside of school.

Students prepare a short presentation (maybe 3-5 slides) about themselves. They can include information about their family, their hobbies, their favorite books or movies, what they did over the summer, etc.

Encourage them to include pictures or other visual elements in their presentation.

Depending on your class size and schedule, students can present on the first day, or you can spread the presentations out over the first week of school.

5. Interview Each Other

Pairing students up for interviews can be a fun and interactive way for students to get to know each other.

First, provide a list of questions that students can ask their partners. These could include questions about hobbies, favorite and least favorite school subjects, favorite books or movies, interesting experiences, etc.

Have students pair up, and give them a set amount of time (5-10 minutes per person) to interview each other.

After the interviews, you can have a few pairs share what they learned about their partner with the class. This not only encourages active listening but also allows the entire class to get to know each other better.

This activity also sets a precedent for students working in pairs, which can be a common setup for future class activities.

6. Interactive Quizzes

Using tools like Kahoot or Quizizz can be a fun, interactive way to get students engaged and also assess their prior knowledge.

You can create a quiz related to the subject you will be teaching, which can help you understand what students already know, and where gaps might be. For instance, if you’re a history teacher, you could have a quiz on historical events or figures.

Alternatively, a general knowledge or fun facts quiz can be a light-hearted way to ease into the school year, particularly if students are feeling nervous.

These tools also allow for competitiveness, as students can see their names on the leaderboard. This can be motivating and engaging for many students.

7. Group Project

Group projects are a great way to encourage cooperation and teamwork.

For a subject-related project, you might divide students into small groups and have them create a poster or a presentation on a specific topic. For instance, in a science class, each group could be assigned a different aspect of the solar system to research and present.

Alternatively, a more creative, fun group project might be creating a class mural or designing a dream school. This can help students bond over shared creativity and problem-solving.

Remember to establish group norms and expectations to ensure that all students participate and collaborate effectively.

8. “A Letter to My Future Self”

This introspective activity allows students to reflect on their present state and their hopes for the future.

Instruct students to write a letter to their future selves, reflecting on their current feelings, goals, and expectations. They might write about their hopes for the school year, what they’re nervous about, or what they’re looking forward to.

Seal the letters in envelopes, and store them away until the end of the school year.

Reopening and reading the letters at the end of the year can be a powerful experience for students. It allows them to see their growth over the year and reflect on how they’ve met or adjusted their goals and expectations.

9. Syllabus Quiz Game

To make the review of the syllabus more interactive and engaging, consider turning it into a game.

After going over the syllabus and class policies, divide students into teams and ask questions based on the syllabus. Each team gets a point for a correct answer.

You could use a tool like Kahoot or Quizizz to create a digital quiz, or simply ask questions aloud and have teams write down their answers.

This approach encourages students to pay attention to important details in the syllabus and ask any questions they may have.

10. Classroom Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt can be a fun and active way to familiarize students with the classroom and the school.

Create a list of items or locations for students to find. These could be things in the classroom (like a certain book or supply), or locations around the school (like the library or the nurse’s office).

If appropriate, students could take pictures of each item/location with a phone or digital camera.

You could also turn this into a team competition, with the first team to find all items winning a small prize.

11. Reading and Discussing a Short Story or Article

Using a text relevant to your subject on the first day can set the tone for the kind of work you’ll be doing in class.

Choose a short story or article related to the subject you’re teaching. Try to select something engaging but not too challenging, as this activity is more about sparking discussion and less about testing comprehension skills.

After reading, lead a class discussion on the text. Ask students about their thoughts, their reactions, and any questions they may have. You could also ask more specific comprehension or analysis questions.

This activity not only gets students immediately involved in academic work, but also gives you a chance to assess their reading and discussion skills.

12. Student Surveys

A student survey can be a great way to learn more about your students and their learning preferences.

You can include questions about their favorite and least favorite subjects, their hobbies and interests outside of school, their learning style preferences (like visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning), and any past experiences they’ve had with the subject you’re teaching.

Make sure to review these surveys early in the year, as they can provide valuable insight into how to best teach and motivate each student.

There are many online tools you can use to create and distribute these surveys, such as Google Forms or SurveyMonkey. However, a simple paper survey can work just as well.

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