10 Suggestions for the First Day Back

Many of us go back to work this week after enjoying some rest and relaxation. We hope our students had the same opportunity to relax with family and friends; but, unfortunately the sad reality is that many of our students will come back to us exhausted and anxious. As a result, we have to be ready for what they need and deliver it with empathy and compassion.

Here are some suggestions for the first day back. Please feel free to revise and modify for what your students need.

  1. Collaboration and Conversation.  Many students haven’t had a chance to visit with friends over break. Perhaps they have been working at their job, taking care of younger siblings or running a household. Give them time to connect with their friends first. Modify the “Relevant” lesson for students.

    1. Give students in-class time to create a bulleted list of the Top 10 things they did, read, or watched during break. If they had to work, what do they do? How many hours did they work? If they watched their siblings, did they play games, if so, which ones? Did they read a book or watch a movie, if so, which one? If they took care of the home, what were some of the chores they had to do?

    2. Get them writing for three minutes and talking for five. They will be more apt to focus on the upcoming learning after they have had the chance to collaborate and converse with their friends.

  2. Utilizing the F.R.A.M.E. (Focus, Reach, Ask and Analyze, Model and Instruct and Encourage) approach, give your students time to settle in. Take the first 10 minutes to incorporate a highly structured method to begin class. If you’ve never utilized F.R.A.M.E. before, the start of the new year is a great way to begin this routine. Your students will appreciate the structure and be able to solely focus on what’s next.

  3. Current Article Discussion. Locate a current article from Vale Middle School or Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week. Vale’s articles are geared toward middle school readers and some are quirky and fun. I do not recommend students complete the canned questions; it becomes a worksheet and that’s not the goal of this particular suggestion. Gallagher’s articles are meant for strong high school readers. If possible, use articles (Environment, Technology, Economy, Politics, Emotional Health) that will introduce the day’s lesson.

    1. Print one Vale article and one Gallagher article.

    2. Students choose a partner; each duo chooses an article.

    3. Students read it and choose a sentence stem from Gallagher’s One Pager to write a brief reflection.

    4. Each pair discusses their reflection and shares their reflection with the whole class.

  4. Debate This. Let’s get our students talking about a subject close to their hearts...their phone. This particular article explains a way to give students an opportunity to use their phone but not at the expense of the learning.

    1. Distribute the article to each student.

    2. Students annotate the article for Questions, Comments and Vocabulary.

    3. After annotation, students gather in groups of three. Each group gets a large piece of butcher block paper and markers.

    4. Students create a T chart of pros and cons and each group lists the pros and the cons using the article as a foundation.

    5. Students debate their pros and cons with the class.

  5. We’ve All Been There. Even the most quiet, “compliant” and balanced student has felt anxious and frustrated.

    1. Distribute this article about Mike.

    2. Students read the article and put themselves in the place of the teacher or the student.  

    3. Utilizing the Time for Reflection handout, ask students to complete it from the lens of the teacher or Mike.

    4. Create two groups: Teacher and Mike. Gather the Teacher group and give them time to share how they completed the Reflection handout. Gather the Mike group and give them time to share how they completed the Reflection handout.

    5. All groups come together to share their comments.

  6. My Teacher, My Friend. All teachers know that in order to be successful, they must create an “academic family” first. Like any family, your students learn respect, empathy, compassion and stick-with-it-ness in your classroom. But, how does a teacher, perhaps a new teacher, learn how to build that academic family while maintaining a foundation of learning?

    1. Distribute this article to your students and ask them to do a quick-write about a similar experience from their academic career.

    2. Did they have an experience where the teacher wanted to be everyone’s friend, but was unable to maintain a sense of structure?

    3. If students are unable to relate to this experience, ask them to create the qualities of their “perfect” teacher.

    4. Students share their experience (being keenly respectful of names) or the qualities that help define their “perfect” educator.

  7. What Have You Learned? Our students have special gifts and talents that we often don’t see. The gift of music, dance, rap, design... . The list goes on.

    1. Distribute this article and ask students to write a parallel analogy. What does their gift teach them about who they are or how does their talent contribute to their academics?

    2. Make this a quick-write; 10-15 minutes of quiet time to create and compose.

    3. Students share their written analogy with a friend.

  8. Who doesn’t love a good podcast? In this podcast, Abby and I discuss how to create note-taking stations. Instead of diving right into content, consider using a current event article (Vale or Gallagher) to begin the learning. Also, in the interest of time, instead of four stations; use two. Encourage conversation among groups. Students have the opportunity to practice note-taking while sharing the content of the article.

  9. Using a movie wisely. Robert Ward explains how to use a movie with purpose. Consider using a portion of a movie - maybe 15 minutes or so - as a way to begin conversation. Ideally, use a portion of a film that has a connection to the day’s lesson..

    1. As students are watching the movie, encourage students to use one of the graphic organizers as a way to gather their thinking.

    2. After the film, create groups of four; students show the graphic organizers they used and demonstrate how they used them.

    3. Students discuss the content of the film, and how note-taking helped them stay on track during the film.

  10. Mix and Match. You have a plethora of ideas from www.peggrafwallner.com.  Please feel free to use and apply for your students.

As we begin the New Year, please let me know how I can support you and the important work you do.