As students approach our classroom door, I greet each one with a special handshake (hand slap and fist pound) and ask each student to tell me his/her name. I tell them to pick up a "Who I Am" paper on the shelf and select a seat where they will be comfortable.
Once everyone is seated, I explain to students that I will be waiting at my door for them every day to greet them. I also explain that if for some reason I am not at my door, they should wait for me. I reiterate our school policy that students should not be in a classroom without an adult present.
This greeting procedure helps to establish our positive classroom climate, especially after a few days when I have learned the students' names and can greet them individually. As the year progresses, I use this greeting time to check-in with students ("How was your game last night?", "How is your grandmother doing?", etc.). I want to continually build my relationships with my students and this procedure is a powerful one for helping to do that!
Students have also been introduced to the procedure of picking up the day's paperwork (if any) which is always located on the shelf just as they walk in the door. This routine saves me time, which is essential since my classes are only 45 minutes long.
Once students are settled, I go over the class syllabus. I explain each section briefly, but specifically explain my "non-negotiables" in detail which includes my requirement of all students to maintain a "C" or better average in class at all times. Students whose grades fall below that level are required to come to before or after school tutoring. If they choose not to come on their own (and there are always a few!), I call and personally invite them via their parent/guardian. I have found that holding my students accountable for their learning early on in the year establishes an essential climate of high expectations to which the students rise.
After finishing our discussion on the syllabus, I introduce my students to another essential procedure: The talking box.
The talking box is a space on the classroom floor that is marked off with purple masking tape. When I, or anyone else, step into that box, that person has the floor. I explain that means that everyone else is expected to be listening to that person. I then practice the procedure by posing a question to the group (e.g, "What was the best movie you saw this summer?") and asking the students to talk to the others at their tables. Then, I wander around, eavesdropping and then nonchalantly step in to the talking box and wait for students to notice and stop talking. To add some encouragement, I time them to see how long it takes for them to notice. Our goal is three seconds and it typically only takes a few attempts to reach this goal. I practice this procedure every day for the first few weeks so students are very clear about the expectations.
Occasionally, I have had students who intentionally continue to talk, even with peer encouragement. When this happens, I go to that student, lean down and whisper: "It seems like the talking box procedure is difficult for you. I am willing to give up my lunch to practice with you if you would like. If that is not necessary, please show me you know what to do." I've never had a student stay for lunch practice. Problem solved!
In an effort to learn all students' names within the first two days of school, I end the first day's class playing the Name Game.
The name game begins when I say a student's name and throw him/her a ball. The student then picks another student sitting on the other side of the room to throw the ball to by saying his/her name. The ball then comes back to me. I must say each student's name before the ball can be thrown to him or her and the pattern must repeat in the same order each time a name is added.
For example, if I start with Autumn, Autumn will say she chooses to throw the ball to Miguel. She tosses the ball back to me and I say "Autumn" while passing the ball to her, and then say, "passes to Miguel" (Autumn throws the ball to Miguel), "who will pass the ball to....?". Miguel will say the name of the person who he plans to throw to and the ball comes back to me.
Each time a student is added to the pattern, the ball starts back with me. In that way, I am repeating each student's name 20+ times during the game. Once every student has caught the ball and the pattern is complete, you attempt to recreate the whole name pattern without anyone dropping the ball. If the ball is dropped, we restart the pattern.
Variation: You can play this outside in a large circle. Once the pattern in well-established, you can add additional balls to be thrown, keeping the same pattern.
This game is a win-win: Kids love to play it and I learn everyone's name in the first few days of school.
The final lesson I teach of the first day is exit procedures. I explain that I expect students to push in their chairs and wait for me to release the tables by number. When everyone is ready and standing behind his/her chair, I make end of class announcements like homework or other reminders. For today, I explain that the "Who I Am" form that they picked up on their way into class is their homework and is due no later than Friday.
I use this procedure later in the week to honor collaboration and hard work by saying statements like, "I loved the way table 4 and table 7 collaborated so well today. Great job! You are released." Or "Table 1 really persevered today on the task. You are released." Of course, I can only make positive comments to tables that are ready, so this encourages students to push in their chairs and show they are ready to move to their next class. This also ensures the tables are ready for the next class coming in.