Five Step Game Plan for Teaching the First Day of School: Middle and High School

Five step game plan for teaching the first day of school.The first day of school is the single best opportunity to lay a foundation for the rest of the year. For new teachers it may feel overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be!

My first year, I was so nervous on my first day of school! To be honest, I still get nervous on the first day. But I have learned a lot, after making a lot of mistakes!

It is time to conquer the first day of school with these five bell-to-bell steps!

  • Set expectations before students enter the room – start in the hall
  • Use a seating chart
  • Assign something to do as soon as students come in
  • Give an Open Note Quiz on what they learn
  • Do a fun group activity!!

Set Expectations Before students enter the room

“Hello! You need your Binder, pencil, and cell phone. Leave the rest on the lockers, and wait outside the door!”

This sign is taped to the door greeting my students on the first day of school.  They do not come in as soon as the first bell rings – they have to wait. Why should they wait outside the door?

For a few reasons. First, it gives you a chance to take a deep breath on the inside of the room! Just like a coach before the big game, I give myself a pep talk that goes something like this,

“Woohoo! This is going to be a great year! These kids are awesome! They are excited to be part of this class – even if they don’t know it yet! Today is going to be a great day to start off a great year!”

And with that – I take the plunge outside my door to see all of the (usually) nervous and unsure faces of my soon-to-be new favorite group of students.


Waiting outside also allows them to begin making their own mental transition between ‘summer’ and ‘school’. They are likely just as nervous as you (at least I like to think they are) and they can use this extra minute to take a breather themselves.

The second (and most important) reason for them to wait outside on the first day of school is to begin setting expectations. There is a certain way you want them to enter the room every day, so teach them on day One! Don’ even give them a chance to start a bad habit.

By holding them at the door for at least a minute after the first bell, most of the class will be outside and waiting before you come out, giving you a chance to greet them all at once.

“Hello amazing students. I am your teacher, Mrs Parker. Welcome to the first day of school!

Then tell them your expectations for entering the room. For my class, I remind them what things they should have out (listed on the door sign), where their book bag should stay (outside), and tell them they will enter the classroom quietly, go strait to their seat, and begin working. Starting today, and for every day after.

And one more thing.

Shake each student’s hand as they come in.

Every day. Starting today.

I first learned the value of hand-shaking from the amazing book The First Days of School by Harry and Rosemary Wong. I HIGHLY recommend this book!

Shaking my students’ hands has been the single-number-one-most-effective teaching strategy for classroom management.

So, on this first day of school, call their name one at a time, tell them where to sit, and shake their hands as they come through the door.

Use a Seating chart on the first day of school

A seating chart is important on the first day (and week) of school. It solves so many problems before they have a chance to start. For example…

  • Johnny and Jake are best friends and will talk the whole time – but you don’t know that yet.
  • Lori and Bonnie are fighting for the affections of Patrick, and will wink and flirt with him, while giving each other dirty looks, all class period – but you don’t know that yet.
  • And Kenny has an accommodation for him to sit up front – but how do you direct just one student to sit in the front while the rest get to sit where they want?

You don’t have to worry about it – you have a seating chart.

My first seating chart is organized by first name, alphabetically from the front of the room to back. BONUS – this helps me learn their names faster!

There are several ways to get students into the seats you want them to be in. I have tried a lot of ways….some have been a lot more successful than others!

My first try was to invite students into the room by name one at a time from an alphabetical list – and direct them to their seats by pointing into the room.

You can imagine…by the middle of the event, with 15 students inside the room and 15 outside the room, it gets difficult to point past the talkative teens and get kids where you want them to go.

So the next year I differentiated my direction-giving by providing students with a drawing of the room, and pointing to their name as they go in, so they could see on the drawing, and hear my directions, on where to go. This..did not help.

The next year I put students’ names on the desks! I taped an index card to the corner of each desk, with the name of the student who sat there for each period. This helped a LOT getting students to their places, but, it was very labor intensive to make new seating charts!

I change up the seats every two weeks…I did this twice before I decided that spending 60 minutes taking off the old cards, writing out new cards, and sticking them on desks was way too much time.

So I scrapped that system.

And started using numbers.

Each desk now has a number so when I tell a student where to sit, I give them their number, and they find their desk. The numbers stay on the desks permanently, no more re-writing index cards.

Give Them Something To Do When They Come In

So now you have students coming into the room, one at a time, moving to their seat, and….

And what?

What will they do when they come in?

They need something to do, or they will find something to do on their own! And that usually means talking and cutting up!

This is true EVERY day but it is especially true on the first day of school.

Students are naturally curious about the class they just walked into for the first time, so take advantage of this – leave an Introduction letter on their desk from you telling them about the class.

Make it a short letter, one page tops. Include some of your expectations, the grading system, and some interesting topics you will study that year.

And have an About You page on each desk-  something to tell you about themselves. Ask them about their hobbies, what they did for the summer, what they want to be when they grow up, their favorite subject in school.

It’s a good idea to integrate the Introduction letter into the About You page – ask them to tell you which topic from the letter they are most excited to learn about.

I used to do this on a piece of paper, but now I use a Google Form – it saves a tree and it allows me to do some awesome things later (Google Forms are great for so many things!).

Again, its important to set exceptions – while they are still in the hall, tell the class that as they come in, they will go to their assigned seat, and begin working on this assignment. As an extra measure of instruction, write on the board exactly what students should be doing (reading the Introduction letter and filling out the About Me page) as a visual reminder.


Explain the Daily Routine 

Success!  Everyone is in the room, in their assigned seat, reading the  Introduction letter and working on the About Me page.

Now it is time to tell them (a little) about you – they are very curious. Use PowerPoint, GoogleSlides, or a Prezi, something for them to read and see while they hear you speak. Tell them who you are, show them a picture of your family, let them know why you became a teacher. 

The rest of this presentation is about them.

  • What topics will they study in this class?
  • How much homework will they get?
  • How many tests will they take?
  • What is the grading system?
  • What happens if they turn in something late?
  • What if they are late to class? Absent for a day?
  • How can they get extra help if the need it?

Have answers (or approximations!) to all of these questions before the first day of school begins! Again, you are laying a foundation, starting off the right way.

That being said, its never too late to change something that is not working! If something needs to change in the middle of the year – change it! The learning process for a teacher is just like learning process for a student – a lot of trial and error.

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Quiz on what they learned – open note

You just poured your heart out to your class – explaining your expectations and all the important things they will need to know to be successful.

You want them to hear you – really pay attention.

And they will, because their first quiz will be on your First Day of School presentation!

On the very first GoogleSlide (or PowerPoint slide, Prezi opener) let them know that when you are done talking, there will be an OPEN NOTE quiz on what they have learned about the class.

I love this – for a few reasons.

First, and most obviously, it increases the motivation for them to pay attention! And they do!

Second, you begin seeing their different personalities from the start. Some of your students will pull out a piece of notebook paper and write down every word you say. Others will just lean back and listen – but they will all listen.

Third, it gives them success on the first day. I make sure to really emphasize the answers to questions as I go through the presentation. When they take the quiz, it should be easy!

Some students are used to doing well on assessments – for others this ‘First Day of School Quiz’ may be just the confidence boost they need to give your class a try.

Make this quiz on a Google Form! Google Forms are my favorite time-saver/life saver!

Julianna Kunstler has a great tutorial on how to make self-grading GoogleForm quizzes.

Finally, as the students are taking the quiz, you have a bit of time to get ready for…

Fun First Day Of School Activity!

Your students have been sitting now for the majority of the class period. Its time to get them up and moving.

There are SO many options for a First Day activity. Its great to do these in groups, so students can collaborate, chat, and begin getting to know each other.

What you choose to do depends a lot on how much time you have. My school is on a 90 minute block schedule, so typically there is about 40 minutes left for an activity.

If you have less time, try a few Minute To Win It activities. These are super fun, and super fast, activities that are designed just to get students thinking and problem solving. English Teaching 101 has a list of fun Minute to Win It games for the classroom.

STEM activities are also great for this time. I have used the marshmallow tower challenge with great success, as well as the cup stacking challenge. STEM Activities for Kids has a great list of first day of school STEM ideas.

First Day of School Tennis Ball STEM Challenge
STEM Challenges are great activities for the first day of school!

And I love this idea from Jen Siler’s Classroom – it gets students moving around, communicating, collaborating, and getting to know each other in a fun way (even for high schoolers!).  Her activity also works to solve the next question –

How do you put students into groups?

In my room, each desk number is also one of six colors. So students are automatically grouped by color.

Or you could put color dots, or numbers, or letters, on the Introduction letter you left on their desks when they came in. They will have been wondering the class period why there was a pink circle on their handout, while their neighbor had a yellow circle.

Put colored dots at each seat to easily put students into groups by color!

While students work on the activity, walk around the room and talk to them – start building a relationship. Cheer them on as they work, ask them questions about their thought process, practice using their names.

I also like to take pictures. I take pictures of students all year but on this first day of school I focus my photography mostly on student work – the tall noodle towers they made, or the stack of cups, etc.

If students want to be part of the picture, and they sometimes do, I happily oblige. These photos then go to a special place on my class website – as well as other places though out the semester!

A few minutes before the bell rings have students clean up and make their way back to their seats. It is very important that you establish your expectations for leaving the classroom – just as you did for entering the classroom.

My students may be standing by their desks, but they must be within arms reach (they can not crowd the door!).

And that’s it! You rocked the first day of school! You are off to a great year!

What do you do on your first day of school? Share your tips and tricks in the comments below!

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4 Replies to “Five Step Game Plan for Teaching the First Day of School: Middle and High School”

  1. These are great ideas. I’m taking a few. 😄 I have my students make “name plates”, like you would see on a professional’s desk. They write their first name in large dark font on a piece of 6”x9” construction paper that has been folded like a hot dog bun so it will stand up. They decorate the extra space around their name with their hobbies. While they work I circulate around the room learning names and trying to make connections based on their artwork.

    1. That is a great idea! Do you use the name plates again or just for the first day? I bet the kids really enjoy making them.

  2. Glad to know others get first day butterflies too! We are in a pretty small community and I’m involved in youth sports, so I have an advantage to know a little about several students so I always try to bring that up. They like knowing that I already have taken an interest so maybe they will return the favor. I moved up a grade level last year (4 days before school started) but the great thing was that I had already had several of the students. I honestly gave a quick run down on the rules but nothing formal. We stuck to the marshmallow challenge and I even let them pick groups with a little help from me and I took note so I could see how they interacted for my seating chart to come. Who would be too social, too talkative, who were buddies, and who could be helpful maybe as tutors. Last year we started on a Friday so by 8th grade,honestly, some will skip and get one more long weekend knowing that “all we’re doing is going over rules”. I saved that for the next class period on Monday and I use memes to help assis in this, they seem to like the entertainment of that too. If they bring their papers back signed within one class period, they start off with extra credit (or that free 100). They boosts many to get the paperwork returned and I don’t have to drag it out as long.

    1. Shelby, That is a great idea to take notes of how they interact, really good information to have as soon as possible. I love the idea of using memes! Have you ever used Quizizz in your classes? Its a fun digital review game, and they put memes between each question, so fun. You can even load in your own memes. Thank you for sharing!

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