The First Day

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SWBAT to express their expectations for the year.

Big Idea

Before we tell students our expectations, shouldn't we listen to theirs?

What should you do on the first day?

This is really a section of thoughts and ideas on the first day. The actual lesson follows in the other sections. So here we go:

What should you do on your first day? What is a great icebreaker? Where did the summer go? My room isn't ready what do I do?

As the summer ends, the panic always begins. Class is about to start. There wasn't enough time over the summer to get "everything" done. You have a new group of students and you want to deliver a relentless series of awesomeness in all your lessons. Where do you begin?

Beginning the year is profoundly difficult for any teacher that cares. Its not that you don't have great ideas or that you haven't thought about this before. Its that every idea just can't live up to the standards to which we hold ourselves - and if you are feeling inadequate as you start, I think that is a good thing. That means you care. That means you want to be the best and now you can do better than you are doing now.

So to new teachers and to those looking for any kind of fresh perspective, I say take it easy. You will figure out what to do. Only you understand your vision for teaching. Only you can understand the needs of your community. Only you can craft the lessons that your students need. My goal here is to give you an immense amount of resources and basic suggestions, like don't sweat it, but you need to believe in yourself and adapt these resources to your needs.

Everyone's first day is different. We have different teaching styles, student populations and schedules. For example, many teachers play name games with each of their classes. However, this is something I couldn't do. In our school, the students stay together in each class. They play name games in the first period and then they move on. With the schedule and structure of my school, there is no need for a typical ice breaker or name game.

So what choices and resources do you have? 

Lets start with the range of choices. I have scoured over 100 fantastic blogs and grabbed a bunch of wonderful first day games, posters, activities and ideas for room layout. They are all given as links in the last section called "Great First Day Ideas." It will take you about 30 minutes to read through them. But copy and paste things you like and by the end you will have enough for the first few days. 

What do I do on the first day?

I do not think that my first day routine is the best routine. I just think that its the best routine for my students and I. My hope is that you will find a few things in here that you like. 

On my first day, I keep it as simple as I can. Our students are meeting all of their teachers and getting 8 different sets of goals, rules and curriculum. By the time they reach me they are already overloaded. So my focus has away shifted from asking "how do I get everything ready and perfect in time for them?" Instead, I think about things I don't need to do on my first day:

I don't need to hand out my syllabus on the first day.

I don't need to hand out any details about grading, projects, homework, supplies,  books or content for the year. 

I don't talk need to talk about the layout of the room or any of the rules that are unique to my class. 

I don't need to set the room up (beyond some basics like cleaning, moving desks and setting up a presentation area). 

I don't need to hang up quotes, word walls, class rules or anything else. 

I don't need to make a door sign or a bulletin board.


So what do I do? To figure out my first day, I always ask myself, "What do the students need to succeed in math this year? What do they need at the most basic level?" Here are some of the fundamentals that I have come up with: 

They need to know that this math class is a safe place.

They need to know that I will support them.

They need to know that I will help them support each other.

They need to know that mistakes are a valuable part of learning.

They need to know that I am there to help them succeed in any way that I can.

They need to know that a classroom is built by the community, not just the teacher. 


Perhaps this is a bit sappy, but I believe it is one of the most important parts of my class. My class is about collaboration, creation, hard work and kindness. It is a small math community in a big city and we need to rely on each other. There is nothing wrong with handing out a syllabus or going over class policies on the first day. But I found that it distracts me from getting to the most important aspects of my class. You ned to find what works for you, but whatever the plan, don't let it get in the way of the most important parts of your class.




Name Cards

20 minutes

So how does the class start? I talk to them about the room and ask them to look around. "The room isn't set up yet. I want you to see what it looks like without you. I could have set everything up for you. I could have put up the posters and quotes (I really love posters and quotes), but I want you to understand that this room will grow as we grow. The posters and quotes on the walls will be ours. The ideas and concepts will be ours. We will leave footprints of our learning all over this class. And it will brighten as the year goes on. People will come in and be amazed by all the color and style in the room. But you and I need to remember what it was without us. This is just a room in a school, but with you here it is a community."

I often want to set the perfect room, but I need to remember than an unfinished room with a little bit of mess is fine. I think of Einstein's quote on this, "If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what then, is an empty desk a sign?"


We need to remember that the room is more than its looks. It might look wonderful one day, but I hope to build it with them. 

I would talk about this for the entire period, by my 8th graders don't want me to stand their and talk about my philosophy on class decour. This lesson is meant to kick off the year in all the right ways. I like using this next activity from Rachel Rosales. I think it is perfect for my class: 

Day One Activity

Students fold their paper length wise and write their name on one side with a few images that help me know them better. On the other side of the fold, they cut the paper in three strips. 



(Notice how Rachel has them label each strip for a day of the week. This is important.)

Under each flap they write one thing about themselves or something they are hoping or wondering about math class this year. At the end of class, they turn in these cards and I bring them home and respond to all of their comments (just as Rachel suggests) She describes the importance of this process:

"Is it hard? Not really. There are some comments/questions that are difficult to respond to, but not many. Is it worth it? ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY. My kids get a little bit of one-on-one time with me. Even if its just to say “Good idea.” They know I’ve read their thoughts. And made them feel important to me. From day one."

As they write their names and draw these pictures and write their comments and questions, I circulate, say some hellos and memorize all their names. I don't tell them I am doing this and don't give any hint that its happening. The memorizing here is a big feature of my first day. My room isn't perfect and colorful yet, but they will understand my dedication to them as the lesson unfolds. This recitation of names is a friendly reminder that I care about them and respect them as individuals. 

Once the name cards are set, we build a class contract. I ask kids to think about their ideas and rules for the perfect math class. Then we talk about each of them. At this point I start to use their names. At this point they are curious as to how I know their names, but I still don't reveal what I have done. I move forward and I write down the ideas and quote them on the board. We edit and look through them until we think we have a good list. Then we put that list on chart paper and we all sign it.




15 minutes

Here we tell graphing stories. 

These can be super funny but also reveal quite a bit about their understanding of graphs. If the class is stuck on how to do this, you can show them some demo graphs (see below).

The goal here is to get them excited about graphing. A real challenge is using Dan Meyer's Personality graph style is fun: 

Students pick one of four dots and then label the axis. I agree with Dan and I ask students to leave out anything embarrassing like physical traits or anything else that could be degrading. Otherwise I encourage them to be as creative as possible. Dan Meyer elaborates in his blog post : Dan Meyer Blog

Another alternative comes from Mary Dooms. The video she uses is also great and also mostly appropriate:

 Mary shows students a few samples:


I drew these out by hand on paper and made copies. I then cut the sheets in half and included ablank graph in hopes of seeing some students use their own creative energy. Most of all, I love her take away from this activity:

Mary Dooms Quote


Say goodbye

5 minutes

As students get ready to leave, I ask them to put their name cards face down and then I recite their names. Its a fun moment and everyone cheers. I say goodbye and collect their cards on the way out. The first day is often my favorite. I get to hear their thoughts and ideas, I get to laugh with them and I get a small chance to show them how dedicated I am to the success of our community. I didn't hand out a syllabus or have any posters, but that will come over the next few weeks and we will set that up together.


Great first day ideas

There are so many great teachers out there. The challenge isn't finding them, the challenge is keeping up with them. I follow lots of teachers in the math twitter blogosphere and wanted to share a few gems. There are many more, but I wanted you to see some of my favorites. They are all in the links in this section. 



Growing Exponentially 

Confessions of a Multi-Tasker

Mr. Piedras Classroom

Educational Aspirations

Math Blog 

Hodges Herald

Day Zero getting the Room Ready

Getting to Know you Survey

Teacher Leaders 

Math Tech Tips

Day 1 Learning About Eachother

 Teacher Leaders 2

 Ice Breakers

 First Day Activities

 Everybody is a Genius 

Multiple Intelligences

 New Course Guide

 Mr. Meyer Blog

 Snowball Fight Icebreaker

 First Day of School Plans

 Day One