Calm your 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders’ first day jitters plus keep them engaged using ideas from this list of first day of school activities.
Related: For more great tips on starting the school year smoothly, see our back-to-school resources page.
First Day of School Activities for Elementary Students
1. Assess Using a Parking Lot Exit Slip.
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, you review the answers and take mental note of any interesting responses.
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 – The kids interview and then introduce a classmate.
- Make Up a Story – While sitting in a circle, you start a story with an introduction such as “Once upon a time…”. Clockwise, the next child 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.
3. Create an All About Me Book.
A classic back-to-school activity, the All-About-Me book provides your little ones the opportunity to creatively share who they are.
4. Collect Artifacts for a Time Capsule.
A time capsule captures moments in time. For this back-to-school activity, instruct your elementary learners 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 (Kids love to see how much they’ve grown in a year!)
They place these artifacts into a shoebox or similar storage, putting the boxes away for the remainder of the year.
At the very end of the school year, your 3rd, 4th, or 5th grade kids will revisit these mementos, analyzing the before with the present.
5.Decorate Reader Response Journals.
Before officially launching readers’ and writers’ workshops, give your elementary students an opportunity to decorate the covers of their reader response journals and/or writer’s notebooks.
Consider assigning this fun task as homework on the first day of school.
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 they 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.
Furthermore, if you include pages in your packet that require coloring, provide the crayons or colored pencils as well. This is easily organized with plastic table caddies.
7. Estimate Grains of Rice.
Here’s a simple, yet thought-provoking activity that ignites students’ guesstimation skills.
All you need 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 child apply for a classroom helper job.
On the first day, explain each role, and ask each child to complete a “ classroom job application” .
So that students can begin their jobs as soon as possible, try to make your final selections by the end of the first week.
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 your 3rd, 4th, or 5th graders 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 will write 2 to 3 S.M.A.R.T goals related to academics or conduct.
Consider mounting their goals on a back-to-school bulletin board or have them place a copy in a time capsule. (See an explanation about the time capsule activity in this post.)
12. Incorporate a Foldables™ Activity.
Foldables™ enliven your teaching, and the concepts that you can cover using Foldables™ are limitless.
For back-to-school, consider using them to teach virtues such as kindness and respect in addition to “being a good citizen” lessons.
13. Introduce Calendar Math.
Performed daily, Calendar Math consists of a wide array of math tasks based on the number of days in school up to the current date.
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. This first day of school activity for elementary students is a great way to teach elements of measurement.
- 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 kids, make each day worth a quarter or half dollar.
14. Launch Writer’s Workshop With Writing Prompts.
If you’re ambitious and ready to tackle writing workshop on day 1 (or the first week back), officially launch with writing prompts.
After independent writing, urge your young authors to share their writing during Author’s Chair.
15. Make Interactive Graphs.
Encourage discussion using simple, interactive graphs.
Your kids will love these special first day activities 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.
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 your 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.
This is a simple activity that sparks discussion on the first day of school and helps you learn a bit about the personalities of your young learners.
Following are a few other “getting-to-know-you” fun graph ideas: (You can simply 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?
Reference: 50 Problem Solving Lessons (Marilyn Burns), About Teaching Mathematics (Marilyn Burns)
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.
If you’re still deciding whether or not to distribute supplies individually or as a classroom community, refer to this article on community vs. individual supplies.
17. Pair a Read Aloud Book with Rivet Game.
Kids love Rivet, and it makes a perfect back-to-school game. See how to play Rivet.
18. Plan a School Scavenger Hunt.
In pairs, guide your elementary students in learning about or revisiting important areas of the school using this fun, riddle-based first day of school scavenger hunt.
19. Review Rules and Procedures Interactively.
- Create an anchor chart about classroom/school rules and procedures.
- Practice what appropriate procedures and behavior look like/don’t look like. (e.g. eating/sitting in the cafeteria, walking in the hallway, waiting at carpool, storing backpacks, submitting homework, playing friendly at recess, what to do when finishing class work early, hand signals for questions/bathroom, morning routines, etc.)
- Refer to the C.H.A.M.P.S classroom management plan for guidance.
20. Share Back-to-School Read Aloud Books.
Your first day lesson plan isn’t complete without sharing a couple of back-to-school read alouds.
21. Survey Your Learners Using Multiple Intelligences.
Weekly, you’ll plan a variety of lessons that teach to students’ different learning styles.
To determine what learning styles dominate in your classroom, have your little ones take a kid-friendly multiple intelligence survey.
This big list of multiple intelligence classroom activities includes tasks to try.
22. Take Headshots for Class Décor.
Snap headshots of each learner on the first day of school. For older grades, consider having them take each others’ headshots, if possible and permissible.
Place the photos on a bulletin board, and caption each image with the respective names.
Throughout the year, showcase work samples underneath their pictures. Change samples every so often to keep work current.
Grab a Few of These First Day of School Activities for Elementary Kids
These first day of school activities for elementary students keep third, fourth, and fifth graders engaged, interested, and on-task the entire day.
Also be sure to check out this first-day-of-school checklist for elementary teachers so that you know how to prepare before students arrive.