21 Awesome First Day of School Activities for Elementary

Make the first day of school a success using these fun first day of school activities for elementary students.

Incorporating first day of school activities for elementary students reduces jitters, encourages dialogue among classmates, sets the tone for a solid classroom management system, and helps students break the ice during introductions.

This is a very important step towards a great school year!

So pencil into your back to school lesson plans a few of these fun and memorable first day of school activities for elementary students.

Related: first day of school checklist for teachers

First Day of School Activities for Elementary Students

These fun first day of school activities work best with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders.

1. Assess the Day Using an Exit Ticket.

With the help of a “parking lot” exit slip, quickly determine what learners’ “took away” from a first day lesson.

Here’s how to do this…

On a post-it note, each child responds to a teacher-assigned exit ticket question or prompt.

After class, review the answers and take note of any interesting responses.

Use this idea also as one of virtual first day of school activities.

2. Break the Ice With Icebreakers.

A few favorites….

  • Five Nouns – Students use five nouns (or verbs, adjectives) to describe themselves.
  • Mystery Bag w/a Partner – After clues provided by the teacher, learners, in pairs, try to guess the object in the bag.
  • Interview and Introduce – Students interview and then introduce a classmate.
  • Make Up a Story – While sitting in a circle, start a story with an introduction such as “Once upon a time…”. Clockwise, the next student adds a few more words to the story. The third strings her words along with the previous ones, and the sequence continues as such until everyone has added a brief part to the story. No repetition of events allowed.
  • The M & M Game – One of the best get-to-know-you games, this fun ice breaker eliminates those first-day awkward moments.

3. Create an All About Me Book.

One of the classic first day of school activities for elementary, the All-About-Me book provides students the opportunity to creatively share who they are.

4. Collect Artifacts for a Time Capsule.

A time capsule captures moments in time.

Instruct students to collect artifacts about themselves such as the following items:

  • Current photo
  • Recent writing sample
  • Copy of grade level S.M.A.R.T goals
  • Height (Students love to see how much they’ve grown in a year!)
  • Etc. 

They place these artifacts into a shoebox, putting the boxes away for the remainder of the year.

At the very end of the school year, students revisit these mementos, analyzing the before with the present.

See how to do time capsule activity.

5. Decorate Reader Response Journals.

Before officially launching reader’s workshops, provide students an opportunity to decorate the covers of their reader response journals and/or writer’s notebooks.

6. Distribute Morning Work Packet. 

To lessen the chaos during the early morning, provide a morning work packet (along with a pencil) of grade-level appropriate worksheets that students can complete independently.

Doing so prevents them from asking you too many questions as you’re assisting new arrivals or chatting with parents.

Suggested worksheet ideas include basic math facts, simple fill-in-the-blank exercises, and crossword puzzles.

7. Estimate Grains of Rice.

Include this fun math exercise as one of your first day of school activities for elementary.

All that’s needed is a mason jar, measuring spoon, and rice.

On a sticky note, students write their guess as to how many scoops or spoonfuls of rice it will take to fill the jar.

Now fill the mason jar with rice using the measuring tool. Discuss the results as a class.

8. Explain Classroom Jobs.

Underscore the importance of teamwork by having each student apply for a classroom student job

9. Explore the Classroom Library.

Take time during the first day of school to review with students the type of books in the classroom library, the procedure for checking out books, and how to choose a “just right” text.

10. Gauge What They Know Using a KWL Chart.

A K-W-L chart is a fantastic tool for assessing learners’ background knowledge in addition to gauging their enthusiasm about a topic.

Use a K-W-L graphic organizer to determine what elementary students already know and what they want to know about science/social studies in general. 

This strategy is a gentle way to incorporate social studies and/or science on the first day without getting too in-depth just yet.

11. Help Students Draft S.M.A.R.T Goals.

This list of first day of school activities for elementary students would not be complete without a growth mindset activity.

With guidance from you, students write 2 to 3 S.M.A.R.T goals.

Consider mounting their goals on a back to school bulletin board or have them place a copy in a time capsule. (See earlier explanation about how to do time capsule activity.)

12. Incorporate a Foldables™ Activity.

Foldables™ enliven teaching by transforming topics into hands-on projects.

As one of your first day of school activities for elementary, consider using Foldables to teach virtues such as kindness and respect.

13. Introduce Calendar Math.

Performed daily, Calendar Math consists of a wide array of math tasks.

Activities build upon each other, providing a “spiraling” type of review where a variety of learning objectives are consistently put into practice throughout the week.

Calendar Math favorites…

  • Begin counting the days of school for the 100th day of school.
  • Teach inches/feet using small paper clips. Show a paperclip, and emphasize that it’s roughly an inch. Each day, connect another paper clip, counting the inches along the way. Once you have 12 clips connected, explain that those 12 represent 1 foot. Use a foot cutout to help students visualize. Continue adding paper clips each school day, exchanging for feet and yards.
  • Count money/practice decimals using the days of school. On day 1, show a penny cutout. Record what that looks like in decimal form. Each day, show an additional penny. After 5 days, exchange those 5 pennies for a nickel. At 10 days, the previous 5 pennies exchange for a nickel, and the 2 nickels become a dime. Continue as such throughout the school year (along with the written decimal form). For older students, make each day worth a quarter or half dollar. 

14. Launch Writer’s Workshop With Writing Prompts.

If you’re looking for first day of school activities for elementary that involve writing, this one is it.

Launch writer’s workshop on day one or the first week back with these fun back to school writing prompts.

Students may share writing during author’s chair.

15. Make Interactive Graphs.

Encourage discussion using simple, interactive graphs. 

Students love these type of first day of school activities for elementary because they’re absolute fun and a bit different from most back to school tasks. 

Example 1: How Many Syllables Are in Your Name? graph

As a class, students decide into which column to place their names based on the number of syllables.





first day of school activities for elementary

Afterwards, deepen the discussion with questions such as…

  • Which names have ⅖ vowels?
  • What percentage of the names have 2 syllables?
  • What fraction of the names begin with a consonant? 

Customize the questions according to the math curriculum.

Example 2: What Age Would You Like to Be? tally graph

On a chart, write “younger”, “older”, and “same” as the 3 options.

Students mark a tally next to their choice. 

first day of school activities for elementary

This is a simple activity that sparks discussion on the first day of school and helps teachers learn about students.

Following are a few other “get-to-know-you” fun graph ideas: (Create these graphs using an anchor chart or on the board.)

  • Is your last name longer, shorter, or the same length as your first name?
  • Are you left-handed or right-handed?
  • Did you bring your lunch today or will you eat from the cafeteria?
  • Are your earlobes hanging or attached?
  • On what day of the week were you born? (Great for 1st day of school homework!)
  • Do you have a younger brother or sister?
  • How many times do you think a string equal to your height would wrap around your head? (Then actually do it to see!)
  • What is your birthday month?

16. Organize School Supplies.

Putting away backpacks full of supplies is a big task all on its own. It takes time to label, strategically place, and store everything.

So weave this first day of school activity into your elementary students’ first day of school schedule.

Discuss expectations for storing materials in desks, cubbies, backpacks, etc.

17. Pair a Read Aloud Book with Rivet Game.

Rivet is one of the best first day of school activities for elementary students because it is a game-based activity that motivates students to actively participate.

See how to play Rivet

18. Plan a School Scavenger Hunt.

In pairs, guide elementary students in learning about or revisiting important areas of the school using this fun first day of school scavenger hunt

19. Review Rules and Procedures Interactively.

  • Create an anchor chart about classroom/school rules and procedures.

20. Share Back-to-School Read Aloud Books.

Your first day lesson plan isn’t complete without sharing a couple of first day of school books.

See 2nd grade first day books, 3rd day first day books, and 4th grade first day books.

21. Survey Your Learners Using Multiple Intelligences.

To plan lessons that teach to students’ different learning styles, have students take a multiple intelligence survey.

See multiple intelligence lesson ideas.

22. Take Headshots for Class Décor.

Snap headshots of each student on the first day of school. Place the photos on a bulletin board, and caption each with the respective names.

Throughout the year, showcase work samples underneath students’ pictures.

Final Thoughts

Now you have a collection of fun first day of school activities to try with your elementary students.

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