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The First Day of School: A Fail-Safe Guide for Teachers

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Photo of Holly (Teach Starter)
Updated | 8 min read

Although the first week of school isn’t here just yet, we know you’re on the lookout for fun and engaging lessons to share with your class. Teachers know that they may need to be extra flexible this school year, but you can still plan a ton of awesome, quick, and easy first-day activities! So what should you do? You want first-day activities that are quick and easy to organise, and will give your new kids a first day to remember.

I distinctly remember my first day as a teacher, I planned enough to last the whole first week and was a bundle of nerves that morning. The first day of school for teachers can be a stressful one! Every year after, meeting my new class and getting through that first day was exhausting and liberating all at the same time. The nerves were always there, but I began to feel somewhat comfortable with how the first day would run.

Welcoming Your Students

#1 Welcome Note on the Classroom Door

Parents and students will arrive at your classroom door at least 15 minutes prior to the start of the school day, especially on the first day! I found having a poster-sized welcome note displayed outside of the classroom was extremely useful. It helped both parents and students, giving them confidence in knowing how the morning was going to run as soon as the classroom door was opened.

Young girl at school / A3pfamily

I always made sure that the note explained that parents were most welcome to come in and help settle their children. However, it also gave the parents the opportunity to leave once their child was settled at their own desk.

It doesn’t need to be fancy, a handwritten note on butcher’s paper is perfectly fine! I used bullet points to make it simple and clearly outlined what would happen when the door opened for the day.

 #2 Name Tags and Desk Plates

As students entered the room, I would welcome them and help them find their name tag. This greeting ensured that the parents knew who the teacher for their child was straight away and the students felt welcomed.

My students were then kept busy with their parents sorting out their school supplies and finding their own desks. Having prepared desk plates for each student helped to make this a smooth process.

This usually freed me up to welcome students and do a quick check to see if there were going to be any students who may not cope well with the separation from their parents. It also gave me a chance to help out students who had come straight from before school care or whose parents were settling in other siblings at that time.

Ensuring students have name tags and their names on the desks filled them with confidence and a sense of belonging as well.

I always kept them in a container for relief teachers to use during the school year on days when I was away from the classroom. This was always welcomed by the relief teachers, as they instantly knew the names of the students in my class.

#3 Get Sorted!

It’s often easy to forget that students are likely to arrive with a school bag full of books, stationery and other miscellaneous items such as USBs, headphones, photocopy paper, tissue boxes etc. Having a plan for how you are going to sort all of these items as soon as they walk in is key!

I used to go through the book list and create tray labels for every item. I would place them on baskets or just on a table in the corner of the classroom.

So, I welcomed the students and parents and together they sorted their items around the classroom. This also made my job a lot easier when sorting through other items throughout the day.

Fun First Day of School Activities

#4 Desk Activity

Name tags collected, belongings put away, it’s now time for the parents to say their goodbyes and settle their children at their very own named desk. Have a fun desk activity prepared for this moment.

Colouring sheets are perfectly fine, or why not create a word search with the names of the children in the class to keep their minds off the daunting fact that their grown-ups are now leaving for the day!

Use our Word Search Generator to easily create a customised word search.

#5 Icebreaker Games

Try incorporating a couple of fun icebreaker games into the day to break up the sorting, general procedures, and routine chats.

It’s a fantastic opportunity for you to get to know the students and their personalities, identifying those that are leaders and those that prefer to sit back and watch.

For some awesome ideas, head to our blog: 12 FUN “Getting to Know You” Icebreakers for Kids.

#6 All About Me Activities

We have some fantastic first-day activities that are fairly simple and will ease your students into school life again after several weeks off!

I would always complete the first activity with my students as well! They loved hearing about me, what my hobbies were etc. It also provided them with a clear understanding of what they needed to do when they began the activity on their own.

#7 In This Class We…

If you really want your class to work as a team this school year, then you need to work together to form behaviour expectations for the year.

Using our In This Class… – Expectations Posters, encourage your students to write down what each of these things means to them:

  • excellence
  • respect
  • kindness.

Then, use their responses to create a wonderful classroom display!

Your students will love that they’ve already contributed to a whole-class activity. Even better, they will be motivated to demonstrate the class expectations as they will have a clear understanding of what these expectations mean.

Listen to teacher Ash Curmi talk about expectation setting on the Teach Starter podcast.

Remember to reiterate your collaborative rules and expectations throughout the day.

For example, explain the packing up routine and lunch procedure just before lunchtime, reinforce bookwork expectations during writing time, and remind students of respectful language as the need arises!

Relationships and trust are important. Get to know your students and settle them. You have the whole year with them, so don’t panic and bombard them with information on the very first day.

#8 Scavenger Hunt

You may need to do a tour of the school, especially if you have new students in your classroom. This can be done as a whole class by using our QR Code School to Library Scavenger Hunt.

This is a fun activity that will allow for new students to walk around the school and for older students to reacquaint themselves with the school grounds and where their new classroom is located.

In this scavenger hunt, they will end up in the library, so why not organise to have a back-to-school story picked out to read to them while they are there.

#9 Ask the Students Questions

I would always have a few questions for students written on pieces of butchers paper scattered throughout the room. Just like the image below by Adventures of a 3rd Grade Teacher.

The students had a goal, to place a sticky note on each question by the end of the day.

It wasn’t a forced activity that they had to do within a designated time. They just need to make sure they answered each question by the end of the day. We then looked at the answers and discussed them as a class (usually the next day).

#10 Summer Snapshot

Students love to share what they’ve done over the summer!

This summer may have been a little different for some students! Help them share what they’ve been up to with our Summer Snapshots template.

Once they’ve finished the suggested drawing prompts, your students can create some of their own original hashtags to share with the class.

#11 Let Students Explore Their New Classroom

For students, one of the most exciting things about the first day of school is getting to know their new classroom! Once they have settled into their desks, give your students the opportunity for a physical movement break with our Classroom Scavenger Hunt – PowerPoint Presentation.

This is the perfect activity to acquaint your students with their new classroom. Each slide in the PowerPoint provides a prompt to find something in the classroom. The best part is, the slides are editable so you can customise the presentation to suit your class.


But remember to ask your students to think about where they got things from so that they can be returned afterward! Or, why not task them with drawing a picture of each item instead?

#12 Getting to Know You T-Shirt

Of course, it’s not all about learning what your students like at school. You can’t have first-day activities without getting to know your students’ interests out of school too!

This awesome Getting to Know You T-Shirt activity is just the creative lesson you need to get your students to share their interests.

Have the class introduce themselves to each other by sharing their T-shirts! They may find some new friends who share common interests that will set them up for the year to come.

#13 Would You Rather? Writing Task

Ahhh: a good ol’ fashioned writing task!

There’s nothing like asking a student’s opinion to get them writing. You can do just that with our fun Would You Rather…? Question Cards! 

Provide your students with a card to prompt them to write an opinion piece, or better yet – a story!

We have plenty of writing templates, such as this Narrative Writing Planning Template. Give one to your students and see what creative stories they can come up with.

Don’t forget: this will help you assess their handwriting, spelling, and narrative writing skills too! It’s a win-win!

And, that’s a wrap! Except for this one, final tip…

What to do if it all goes haywire!

If I felt the students were getting overwhelmed, I would read them a nice book about beginning school! Here is a great list of 36 books for the first day of school for you to choose from.

I had a handful of books ready to go on my desk, so I could grab one and just start reading to them. It’s such an overwhelming day for everyone involved. Reading books brings a sense of calm!

What is one thing you do on that first day of school? Let us know!

Share these first-day activities with your teacher friends who are teaching in person or online!

We hope you enjoy your first day of school!



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  • Annie Owusu

    Thank you for these great ideas. I am a graduate teacher and I am on year 3. Would the cute attention grabbing phrases be suitable for year 3?

    • Sara Crawford

      I too am a graduate teacher and I am starting with a year 4 class this year. These ideas are so helpful and I have made a class word search and all about me puzzle pieces. Thanks again :)

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Thanks for your lovely feedback Annie! Yes, I would say the attention-grabbing phrases would be appropriate for a year 3 class. But, to make sure it's something they like - why not get them to vote on their preferred phrase for the term?

  • Melissa Messenger

    Thanks for the great ideas.

    • Janeen

      Hi Melissa It's our pleasure to provide you with resources like this! So glad the blog is useful for you. Cheers Janeen

  • Holly (Teach Starter)

    Hi Jude, thanks for your great ideas!


    Thank you for the tips! Love the note on the door for parents to read prior to entering. I also made the word search :)

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      You're most welcome, Rebecca! Glad this blog was helpful...

  • Jill (Teach Starter)

    You're very welcome Kerry-Lee. I hope everything is going well with your new career. Please let us know if there is anything we can help with along the way!

  • Jill (Teach Starter)

    You're very welcome Emma. All the best for the school year!

  • Kerry-Lee Sheard

    Thank you Thank you Thank you! I am a graduate teacher and this is so very very helpful!

  • Zuriette Du Plessis

    Thank you very much for all these creative ideas. I have done one or two of these activities in the past and found the kids were very involved in it. They love to share about themselves and to see it displayed. The "All About Me" bunting is a lovely classroom decoration.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Hi Zuriette, Thanks for your comment! So glad you found these ideas useful.

  • Emma

    This has been super useful! I feel so much more prepared and relaxed now that I've read through this and got some ideas and tips. Thank you for posting this! :)

  • Lisa Neil

    Well done on very practical and useful ideas Kristy. I'm looking forward to using some of them with my Year 3 class this year!

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Thank you for your kind feedback. I'm glad that you found this blog article helpful!

  • Kristy Valler

    What are some of your favourite books about beginning school?

  • Lynn Francis

    love the word search that can be created with students names. awesome.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Isn't it great Lyn? I did it every year and the students in my class always loved it! They especially loved finding their own names.

  • Kristal Williams

    i love 2018

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      It's going to be a great year!

  • Karen Weekes

    I really love the ideas! As an experienced teacher it gave me a new look on the beginning of the year transition. Thank you.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Thanks for your lovely comment Karen. I'm so glad as an experienced teacher you have still found this blog to be helpful and refreshing! Best of luck for the 2018 school year.

  • Joeanne Bugeja

    Teacher Starter provides great ideas for experienced teachers too, thank you!

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      You're most welcome Joeanne. I'm so glad you have found this blog helpful!

  • Justine Byrne

    Thank you for this article! I absolutely love all of your ideas!

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      You're most welcome Justine! I'm so glad that you have found my ideas to be helpful. Happy 2018!

  • Talia Townshend

    This blog is fantastic! As a second year Graduate, I found this extremely helpful in preparing for the new school year. The activities and ideas are great. Thank you so much.

    • Holly (Teach Starter)

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Talia. I am so glad that you have found this blog to be helpful as you continue your career as a teacher.Best of luck in 2018!

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