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Your first week back to school: planned!

Updated: Jul 27, 2023

August can feel like a giant Sunday complete with the Sunday Scaries, but with the right planning, you might actually look forward to the first days of school. Back to school can be a magical time when the stress of planning and knowing how to structure your classroom are off your shoulders.


So, here are your plans for week one, ELA teacher friends! Enjoy!

Your first week of school planned.

Back to School Day One: Building Community


The first day of school can be incredibly boring for students when they sit through class after class reviewing the syllabus. Switch things up in your classroom by focusing the first day on building community and getting kids on their feet and talking! You can still hand kids the syllabus to read and get signed at home, but sprinkle the review of it throughout the first weeks so kids can experience your classroom policies as you review the different elements over time.

Back to School Day One: Build Community in your classroom

To build community, give students the following passage:


The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups. Of course one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities, that is the next step; otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo things. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important, but complications can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will just become another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one can never tell. After the procedure is completed one arranges the materials into different groups again. Then they can be put into their appropriate places. Eventually they will be used once more, and the whole cycle will then have to be repeated. However, that is a part of life.


Tell students they have 60 seconds to read the passage, then hide it or have students flip it over. Ask students to recall what they just read. Most of them will not be able to make sense of the passage out of context. After a few minutes, reveal that the passage is actually about doing laundry.


Share the passage a second time now that students have context. Tell students they have 60 seconds to read the passage and watch the light bulbs go off. Hide the passage after 60 seconds, and ask students to recall what they read. Students will be able to recall the passage in detail. Explain that a passage is easier to understand when we have context. We're all learning and growing; the key is to build schemas so we have more "folders" of information in our brain to connect to.


Reading the laundry passage helps build community because it shows that we are ALL learning and growing. Explain that the key is that we're all working to get smarter!


Back to School Day Two: Give Students a Voice

Back to school day two: give students a voice

Part of my Back to School: Building Community activity, the second day focuses on giving students a voice. Students finish five sentence starters writing their answers on sticky notes:

  1. I can't do this yet, but by the end of the school year, I will...

  2. I will learn and grow from this failure:

  3. I will strengthen my brain by...

  4. My strengths are... I will use my strengths to empower others by...

  5. A teacher who supports my learning will...

After writing their answers, students stick their post-its on posters with matching numbers hanging around the classroom. Then, students count off in groups, 1-5, and stand by the poster of the number they were assigned (ones stand by poster one, twos stand by poster two, and so on).


Students read through their classmate's answers and work as a group to synthesize what students have in common. Last, groups share their answers with the class.


Students quickly notice that they all have goals, failures, strengths, and needs. This activity also helps teachers to see exactly what students need from them right off the bat! No guess work! I always work to listen reflectively and share how I will work to support students when they share their synthesis of poster five.



Back to School Day Three: Vision Boards

Back to School Day 3: create vision boards with goals for student learning

Vision boards are a visual representation of goals. You can have students create vision boards by cutting and pasting words and pictures from magazines, or students can create vision boards in Google Slides by copying and pasting pictures from online and adding text boxes to answer the following prompts:

  1. What is your goal or vision for getting smarter this school year?

  2. When you envision this school year, what is something you can’t do yet that you hope to accomplish by the end of the year?

  3. What failures did you encounter in the past that you hope to learn from? How do you envision overcoming these past failures?

  4. Create a vision of how you will strengthen your brain this school year.

Share your own vision board with students as both a model and a way to get to know you better as a teacher. End class by sharing and discussing vision boards. If you have extra time, students can complete this simple Design Your Own Bookmark activity to round out the class in a fun way!


Back to School Days Four and Five: Reading and Writing Autobiographies

back to school days four and five: students write reading and writing autobiographies

My grad school professor started the semester asking us to write our reading and writing autobiographies. I loved this activity so much, I brought it to my 7th grade classroom! Here's how:


Tell students to complete a close read of the following excerpt of an interview with author Ray Bradbury:


“Three things are in your head: First, everything you have experienced from the day of your birth until right now. Every single second, every single hour, every single day. Then, how you reacted to those events in the minute of their happening, whether they were disastrous or joyful. Those are two things you have in your mind to give you material. Then, separate from the living experiences are all the art experiences you’ve had, the things you’ve learned from other writers, artists, poets, film directors, and composers. So all of this is in your mind as a fabulous mulch and you have to bring it out. How do you do that? I did it by making lists of nouns and then asking, What does each noun mean? You can go and make up your own list right now and it would be different than mine. The night. The crickets. The train whistle. The basement. The attic. The tennis shoes. The fireworks. All these things are very personal. Then, when you get the list down, you begin to word-associate around it. You ask, Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word? Do this and you’re on your way to being a good writer. You can’t write for other people. You can’t write for the left or the right, this religion or that religion, or this belief or that belief. You have to write the way you see things. I tell people, Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.”


After reading, ask students to write a list of ten things they dislike and ten things they like about reading and writing. Tell students their list items must be nouns. An easy way to ensure they're listing nouns is to start list items with the word "the." For example, they might dislike the frustration, the time, etc.


After listing ten things they dislike and like about reading and writing, have students add annotations to their list by answering the following questions: Why did I put this word down? What does it mean to me? Why did I put this noun down and not some other word?


Next, prompt students to write about themselves as readers and writers by tearing down the things they dislike and celebrating the things they love about reading and writing. Allow students to choose to write a short poem or 1-2 paragraphs about their experiences. The goal is to paint an honest picture of themselves as readers and writers.


Share reading and writing autobiographies as a class and use them to better understand how the students in your class have been shaped by their previous experiences.



Week one is over. Now what?


Class Structure: I start every class with a standards based bell ringer. This gets students in my class, settled, and warmed up for the standards based work they will do each day.


ELA reference sheet: This sheet is an essential tool that basically saves me when kids ask they same basic grammar questions over and over. I refer them to their reference sheet!

Writing: I use digital reading and writing journals to simplify my school year. You can check out this Ultimate Writer's Notebook here. This writer's notebook includes everything students need to write informative, argument, research, and narrative pieces from brainstorming to mentor texts to revision stations.


Reading: For most of the school year, students read independently using this Independent Reading Journal. Students keep an individual book shelf, and my 7th grade students build a whole class book shelf. It's so much fun to see our book shelves grow! We also use journals to write back and forth to each other about the books we read. We even write to the authors of our books (and sometimes they write back!).


You're not alone this school year! As a fellow teacher with 23 years in the classroom, I haven't just been there, I AM right there with you experiencing the ups and downs of teaching. Reach out if you have questions! I love connecting with fellow educators!













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