Let me guess, you’ve searched the web for back to school activities, and found heaps of ideas for early years students. But what about back to school activities for the upper years?
It’s important to remember that upper year students need back to school activities as much as the preppies! In fact, they may even need them more.
So why do upper-year students need back to school activities?
Well, for upper-year students, the excitement of the first day of school may be thing of the past. Changing class and adapting to a new peer group may feel a little more complicated and daunting. It is crucial that we help our students to develop the emotional intelligence that they need to successfully navigate the challenges, relationships, and experiences they encounter throughout their school years and later in life.
Connection Not Content
Now, this is important…during the first week of a new academic year connection is more important than content. So these back to school activities have a focus on building relationships in the classroom.
The trick is to develop connectedness by focusing on four main areas:
- active participation.
Positive Teacher and Student Relationships
Building positive relationships in the classroom is an ongoing process and needs to be tweaked and adapted over time. But my point is that you can lay the foundations for a great year with some careful planning and consideration.
Here’s how it works…the key components for building a positive relationship with your new class:
- Display a positive mindset.
- Teach with passion and enthusiasm.
- Provide structure in the classroom.
- Make learning fun.
- Show interest in your students’ lives outside of the classroom.
- Treat your students with respect.
- Create a safe and secure learning environment.
Tell Your Students a Little Bit About You
What could be more surprising than finding out your teacher has a life outside school? A great way to make a connection with your new students is to share a little bit about yourself. Perhaps you could tell your students about your family, your interests and why you love being a teacher.
All About Me with a Twist
It’s typical to include some kind of an ‘All About Me’ activity during the first weeks back at school. Your upper year students will love our new Getting to Know You Biography Template! This engaging activity will encourage new friendships to blossom and help to create a sense of belonging.
So how does it work? Students interview another member of the class and record their findings on an easy to use template. Students can then add a photograph to their own biography and hey presto, you’ve got an instant classroom display!
The Spider’s Web Icebreaker Game
Our Icebreaker Game Cards includes a set of 20 icebreaker games to help your students get to know each other. I particularly love The Spider’s Web Icebreaker as a back to school activity. This game encourages students to reflect on how we are different and how we are connected.
- Ask the students to sit in a large circle.
- Give one student a ball of string.
- The student must say their name and share three interesting facts about themselves.
- They then throw the ball of string to another student, keeping hold of one end.
- Once every student has had a turn, the class has created a large spider’s web.
- The students must then work together to untangle the web and recreate the original ball of string.
It is important to give your students a chance to tell you about themselves as part of your back to school activities. For a brilliant back to school activity for upper years students, download our Writing an Autobiographical Poem Worksheet.
This worksheet is one of my top picks because it includes a writing scaffold. Begin by modelling how to write the poem, then complete a shared writing experience before asking your students to have a go independently.
Remember our mantra – connection not content. Don’t get too heavy on the outcome, just view the activity as an opportunity to get to know your students. You could also use this activity as a baseline writing sample.
Create a Classroom Contract
Next up…make sure that you spend time establishing clear expectations with your students. A great way to do that is to create a classroom contract as part of your back to school activities.
Here’s the important bit…the most effective classroom contracts are student-led. That is to say that your students should be involved in the decision-making process regarding expectations for classroom conduct. These expectations might include themes regarding behaviour, work standards, mutual respect and responsibilities in the classroom.
For an essential guide to creating a student-led classroom contract read my blog Student-Led Classroom Contract | Upper Years.
Play Team Building Games
Playing team-building back to school games encourages students to learn the life skills of compromise and collaboration. So, be sure to include a few team-building games the first week of a the school year. To get things off to a good start, display our Teamwork Poster in your classroom.
We have a huge collection of active games to choose from. Just head to our Brain Break Active Games Resource Pack. My top pick for a back to school activity is Shazzam! because it’s based on the familiar game Scissors, Paper, Rock.
For more team-building activity ideas that are linked to literacy and numeracy learning, read Emma’s blog Learning Through Play | Active Learning Games.
Have a Class Discussion
Most upper-year students love a good classroom discussion! Guided classroom discussions provide students with the opportunity to develop the essential skill of active listening as well as developing speaking skills.
Keep the subject of your classroom discussion light with our Would You Rather…? Question Cards. These hilarious questions have been tried and tested, resulting in some brilliant debates.
Plan Some Buddy Time
There’s no doubt that the first few weeks of school is a busy time. However, if you can find time to coordinate an introductory buddy activity, your new class will be buzzing with self-esteem.
A buddy program can strengthen the school community and help to promote a sense of belonging for all students involved. Buddy systems provide students with the opportunity to practise the values of:
- valuing difference
Hold a Class ‘Pow-Wow’
Now, here’s yet another important bit…take the first five minutes of every day to have a class pow-wow. A class pow-wow is where you and your students get together to discuss how everyone is feeling. I know what you’re thinking…how am I going to find time to do that? But I reckon if you really try, you can find 5 minutes and when you do, your students will get an extra boost to feel valued and heard.
Connecting with students can lead to improved learning outcomes and it can play a huge role in creating a holistic and nurturing teaching environment.
Having a class pow-wow provides can help to inform your teaching approach for the day. It helps everyone to connect and to reset. So give it a go this year!
Hats off to you for giving your back to school activities so much thought. Remember connection is everything.
I hope that one or more of these back to school activities make it to your classroom and that your students enjoy the buzz of knowing they have a mindful, nurturing and inspiring teacher like you.
For more back to school activities check out our Back to School Must-Have Collection.