If you’re not already there, I know back-to-school time is quickly approaching. This year might seem a little weird after COVID, and it might be even more important to have lots of team-builders to welcome the kids back to school. For me, in my big district in the heart of the Midwest, teachers are just coming back to school, and our kids will start back tomorrow.
This year’s startup is a little different for me. I made the decision to move out of the regular classroom and fill a reading intervention need at our building. I’m so excited for what the year will bring, but I’ve also reflected on some of my favorite welcome back activities that I would normally be planning for but I probably won't get to do this year.
My absolute #1 favorite back-to-school activity is Saving Sam. I think some teachers also refer to it as Saving Fred or Helping Harry. Different name, same activity.
Saving Sam is a team-builder. Students are presented with a problem. Sam, the worm, was in a boat that capsized. Obviously, this is a problem because worms can’t survive in water. (That’s why they go above ground when it rains. The soil is too wet for them to breathe.) Sam needs his life jacket.
Each team receives a gummy lifesaver inside an upside down cup and a gummy version of Sam sitting on top of the upside down cup. The teams are instructed that they can’t use anything but the paper clip (one per child) to get Sam into his life jacket and safely into his boat.
Fortunately, this is not a one man job. If they don’t use teamwork, they’re not going to save Sam. It requires at least two or three kids to pull on the lifesaver and another kid pushing the worm through the hole.
These lovely second graders from a few years ago are posing with their winning chain. This is another team-builder I like to do at the beginning of the year. AND it takes very little prep.
I hand each of my groups a piece of construction paper and tell them their goal is to make the longest chain. Of course, I show them a picture of a chain and remind them how to connect the loops. I give the teams a chance to make some decisions, like how long and how wide should we cut our strips. It can also be helpful to encourage them to assign jobs, like who will do the cutting and who will glue the strips to make a chain.
After they have a plan, I set a timer, and they get to work with their construction paper, glue, and scissors. At the end of their work time, we lay our chains out on the floor to compare and see the different ways the groups made their chains. For example, some cut their strips along the long length and some along the short length. And it makes a big difference.
But I'm not going to reveal the secret of which makes the longer chain...
I love doing little get-to-know-you activities at the beginning of the year, too. This past year, I had an in-person class. Because of COVID, we didn’t get to do as many team-builders, but we did make a little poster (in AVID schools, it’s called a one-pager) about ourselves.
I made a little checklist on anchor chart paper. The checklist included things like ‘draw a border using your favorite color’ and ‘write your name in BIG letters.’
I enjoy doing artistic things myself, so I loved getting to talk about what a border is or how to make bubble letters. I love that I get to learn something interesting about them, and I also get a snapshot of how well they can write on their own. (We put a caption underneath our illustration, and they wrote a sentence telling me something about themselves.)
If you haven’t already guessed, my school is an AVID school. One of the activities we make sure to do in the first week is called Successful Student. I give each of my kids a blank outline of a body like is pictured above. Then, I have the kids discuss in small groups the habits that help them be successful. You can see some of the ideas my kids came up with on the poster.
The great thing about this is that you can add to this anchor chart throughout the week or month as kids realize or learn more things that help them be successful.
I hope you have a great back-to-school time. I hope setting up your classroom is more fun than a chore. I hope you enjoy those first moments of meeting the kids.
If you decide to use any of my ideas, I'd love to hear about it!
Cheers to a great year!