Back to School Activities for Upper Years Students

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Written by Alison Smith

If you search the web for back to school activities, you’ll be swamped with heaps of ideas for early years students. But what about back to school activities for upper year students?

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.

For the upper years students, the excitement of the first day of school is perhaps a 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

During my time in the classroom, I quickly worked out that during the first week of a new academic year connection is more important than content.

In our classrooms, we can develop connectedness by focusing on four areas:

  • relationships
  • belonging
  • inclusion
  • active participation.

In this blog, I’m going to share back to school activities for upper years to ensure that positive connections are made in your classroom. Choose from one or more of these suggested back to school activities for upper years to get your new school year off to a flying start.

Positive Teacher and Student Relationships

When it comes to back to school activities, perhaps there is nothing more important than building positive relationships between yourself and your students. Developing a positive teacher-student relationship takes significant time and effort, however, the benefit on both the teacher and the student is immeasurable.

Here are some 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. Make your life easier by using our PowerPoint Templates to create and share a slideshow all about you as part of your back to school activities.

I used our Bright Chevron – PowerPoint Template.


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 new teaching resource has been created specifically for upper years students. It requires upper years students to interview another member of the class and to record their findings on an easy to use template. Encourage your students to add a splash of colour and perhaps attach a student photograph to create an eye-catching classroom display. 

Not only will this back to school activity help your students to develop their speaking and listening skills, but it will also help new friendships to blossom. By encouraging your students to get to know each other and to widen their circle of friends, your students will begin to feel a sense of belonging.


The Spider’s Web Icebreaker Game

Our [FREE] Icebreaker Game Cards are perfect to use during your first week of school as a back to school activity.

I love The Spider’s Web Icebreaker Game as it is a great way to reflect on how different we all are and how at the same time, we are all connected. This fun icebreaker activity promotes inclusion and helps to create a sense of belonging for your students.

Follow these easy step to play the spider web game:

  1. Ask the students to sit in a large circle.
  2. Give one student a ball of string.
  3. The student must say their name and share three interesting facts about themselves.
  4. They then throw the ball of string to another student, keeping hold of one end.
  5. Once every student has had a turn, the class has created a large spider’s web.
  6. The students must then work together to untangle to the web and recreate the original ball of string.

Autobiographical Poems

Getting to know your students takes time. However, it is important to give your students a chance to tell you a little bit 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. Your students will relish the opportunity to tell you about themselves and to express themselves through poetry.

This worksheet is one of my top picks because it includes a writing scaffold for students to use when writing an autobiographical poem of their own. Writing an autobiographical poem is pretty easy to do and won’t require much teaching instruction. In fact, in just a few simple steps, your students will experience poetic success that they can be proud of.

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

One of the most important things to do at the start of the school year is to establish a classroom culture that includes clear expectations. Creating a classroom contract should be somewhere near the top of your list of back to school activities.

Don’t forget that the key to successfully implementing your classroom contract is student involvement. By involving your students in the decision-making process regarding expectations for classroom conduct, you give your students an opportunity to find their voice and to understand their rights and responsibilities. These expectations might include expectations regarding behavior, work standards, mutual respect and responsibilities in the classroom.

Follow these simple steps to empower your students and make them accountable:

  • As a class, discuss what a classroom would look like without clear rules, regulations and high expectations.
  • Arrange your students in small groups of 4-6. Provide each group with a large piece of paper and marker pens.
  • Use our Cooperative Working Role Cards to allocate roles to each student.
  • Encourage each group to brainstorm and record their ideas for classroom rules. Monitor and support your students as they complete this task.
  • As a class, share the ideas.
  • Eliminate and refine the ideas until you have created a list that is agreeable to the majority.

Play Team Building Games

First, download our brand new Teamwork Poster to make your classroom buzz with positivity. Next, play games that encourage teamwork.

Playing team building back to school games encourages students to learn the vital skills of compromise and collaboration.  Make sure that you include a few team building games to bring your class together by working as a collective unit toward a common goal.

Your upper year students will love to play a game of Shazzam! This active game works in a similar way to the old favorite Scissors, Paper, Rock. It’s a game for the whole class, divided into two teams where Wizards beat Knights with a powerful magic spell, Giants beat Wizards by stomping on them and Knights slay Giants with their magic words.

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 learn essential life skills including the importance of active listening. Too often we listen only to reply, waiting for our turn to speak. By creating an atmosphere of understanding and encouraging students to listen with the goal of understanding, we can improve their communication 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.

You could either do this as a whole class activity or arrange your students into small groups. Your students are bound to get to know their new peers and make connections with one another with this back to school activity.


Plan Some Buddy Time

 A buddy program can strengthen the school community and help to promote a sense of belonging for all students involved.

There’s no doubt that the first week 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.

Buddy systems provide students with the opportunity to practise the values of:

  • respect
  • care
  • valuing difference
  • responsibility
  • friendship
  • inclusion.

Why not use our Free Download: Friendship Flower Template as an introductory activity and then check out our Buddy Activities Collection for heaps of great activity ideas to carry you through the year!

For more information on the benefits of setting up a buddy system read our blog read 10 Awesome Buddy Program Activity Ideas.


Hold a Class ‘Pow-Wow’

Don’t underestimate the positive difference it makes to use the first five minutes of every day to check in with your class. It’s important to take the time to connect with your students every day.

Connecting with students can lead to improved learning outcomes and it can play a huge role in creating a holistic and nurturing teaching environment.

Try to put everything else on hold and invest five minutes into having a class ‘pow-wow’.  During your pow wow take the time to ask you class a few simple questions about how they are feeling or what’s going on in their lives out of school will make your students feel valued and heard.

What’s more, by having a class ‘pow-wow’, you will gain valuable information about the classroom vibe each day. Knowing a little about what’s going on for your class can help to inform your teaching approach for the day.  For example, you may decide to add a little more structure if your students are feeling unsettled or give more support to a particular student who is dealing with personal issues.


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.

Starting a new school year is massive for everyone, students and teachers alike. We are here to help. Good luck, you won’t need it.

For more back to school activities check out our Back to School Must Have Collection.

Share your successes on Instagram #teachstarter.


Comments & feedback

  • Joanne Lakeland

    Fabulous resource. You have packed so much into this and it looks great. I’ve been teaching for many years and often use the same “getting to now you activities” year in and year out, but you have given me a few some fresh ideas. Thank you.

    Comment by Joanne Lakeland on January 9, 2019 at 3:10 pm


    • Alison Smith Alison Smith

      Hi Joanne, thank you for you positive feedback and your lovely message. I loved writing this blog.
      Have a great evening and all the best for the academic year ahead.
      Alison

      Official comment by Alison Smith on January 9, 2019 at 7:56 pm


  • Joanne Lakeland

    oops spelling mistake: Sorry – should have been know not now! I’m still in holiday mode.

    Comment by Joanne Lakeland on January 9, 2019 at 3:13 pm


    • Alison Smith Alison Smith

      Enjoy every second of the holidays! Thanks again, Alison.

      Official comment by Alison Smith on January 9, 2019 at 7:57 pm


  • Stephanie Lindorff

    Thanks so much, this is fabulous. I have created a Powerpoint to start the year with lots of your activities on it! Much appreciated you sharing this with us!

    Comment by Stephanie Lindorff on January 12, 2019 at 9:15 am


    • Kristian Kristian

      Hi Stephanie,
      Thank you for your lovely comment. I am so glad you are enjoying our resources.

      Official comment by Kristian on January 16, 2019 at 2:17 pm


  • Naomi Timms

    Love it! Thanks for sharing. I am planing to use the poem activity as an opening English task, for fun and to see where the kids are at as I don’t know any of them! I will also use the “would you rather…” to get to know my kids – both for my sake and them – thanks!

    Comment by Naomi Timms on January 17, 2019 at 8:59 pm


    • Kristian Kristian

      Hi Naomi,
      Thank you for your lovely comment. I am so glad you are enjoying our resources.

      Official comment by Kristian on January 22, 2019 at 11:51 am


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