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

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First Day of School a Fail Safe Guide

Written by Holly (Teach Starter)

What do teachers plan and do on the first day of school?

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.

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So here is a snapshot of my top ten things that you can organise and do on the first day of school….. as a teacher!

1. Welcome Note on the Classroom Door

You need to be prepared that parents and students will arrive at your classroom 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.

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 butchers 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 desk. Having prepared desk plates for each student helped to make this a smooth process.

Fail-Safe Guide First Day of School

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 laminated the name tags and 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.

Fail-Safe Guide First Day of School

3. Labels, Labels, Labels!

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.

First Day of School a Failsafe Guide

4. Fun 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 mum, dad or carer are now leaving for the day!

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

First Day of School - a Fail-Safe Guide

5. Fun Icebreaker Games

Incorporating a couple of fun icebreaker games into the day to breaks 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.

First Day of School - a Fail-Safe Guide

7. Procedures, Routines and Expectations

Establishing these has to be done. But don’t sit your students down and speak for hours on end about this. Incorporate it throughout the day.

For example, before they go out for lunch, explain the packing up routine and lunch procedure just before lunchtime. There is no point bombarding them with all of this in the first hour of the day!

For me, practising how to get your students attention in the classroom and developing whole class rules are a must on the first day! Make it an enjoyable positive experience for them.

  • We had set class rules and then as a class, we came up with our very own rule.
  • These cute attention-grabbing cards are a fun way to get your students attention easily! Kids love them too, which is a bonus! Introduce these cute phrases to them on their first day too.

First Day of School - a Fail-Safe Guide

The main point is to focus only on the necessary rules, routines and expectations on their first day. Your time is better spent on getting to know the students and settling them. You have the whole year with them, so don’t panic and bombard them with all of this boring, but necessary information on their very first day with you!

9. 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.

A Fail Safe Guide for the First Day of School

10. 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).

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!

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!

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Comments & feedback

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Hi Jude, thanks for your great ideas!

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 23rd, 2020

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

REBECCA GARFIELD · Jan 20th, 2020

You’re most welcome, Rebecca! Glad this blog was helpful…

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 21st, 2020

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

Kerry-Lee Sheard · Jan 21st, 2018

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) · Mar 1st, 2018

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.

Zuriette Du Plessis · Jan 16th, 2018

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

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 17th, 2018

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! 🙂

Emma · Jan 16th, 2018

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

Jill (Teach Starter) · Mar 1st, 2018

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!

Lisa Neil · Jan 15th, 2018

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

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 16th, 2018

What are some of your favourite books about beginning school?

Kristy Valler · Jan 15th, 2018

Hi Kristy,
Cassie has just written this blog which features some gorgeous books – https://www.teachstarter.com/blog/picture-books-activities-about-starting-school/.
Hope this is helpful

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 15th, 2018

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

Lynn Francis · Jan 14th, 2018

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.

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 15th, 2018

i love 2018

Kristal Williams · Jan 14th, 2018

It’s going to be a great year!

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 15th, 2018

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

Karen Weekes · Jan 14th, 2018

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.

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 14th, 2018

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

Joeanne Bugeja · Jan 11th, 2018

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

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 11th, 2018

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

Justine Byrne · Jan 10th, 2018

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

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 10th, 2018

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.

Talia Townshend · Jan 10th, 2018

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!

Holly (Teach Starter) · Jan 10th, 2018

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