Back to School Ideas for Building Community and Capacity

Sunday, August 26, 2018


"Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success"
-Edward Everett Hale

It's back to school time again, so I wanted to share some BTS activity ideas that I have collected over the years.  My goals for the beginning of the school year include: 
  • Creating a classroom community. 
  • Building tech skills and the capacity to be successful students once the content starts rolling in. 
Note: I've included 2 categories: Activities that need student devices and activities that do not need student devices. Even though my class has devices, I mix in device-less activities because I value that balance and I know that it can take time to get accounts, devices, and Acceptable Use Policies up and running!


Back to School Activities Ideas


With Access to Student Devices: 
  1. Collaborative Profile Slides- I got this idea from Lisha Brunache at CUE Bold last year.  Basically, you create a slide deck like this one or some version of this based on your school context. (To add this one to your drive, click File > Make a Copy). Then, you assign each student a slide number, and post the slide deck to google classroom, giving all students edit access.  All students will hop on the slide deck, creating their individual slide.  When students are finished, you can have them present to each other. The bonus feature: as a teacher you have a reference guide to learn names and personalities quickly! I preface this activity with a brief interactive discussion about digital citizenship norms and the great responsibility that comes with the great power of the collaborative slide (ie they can choose to change each other's slides). We are going to use this power often during the year, so I want to start that convo as soon as possible.  This activity also lets me gauge the class's google skills and start our mantra for when we aren't sure how to use a tech tool: click around, google it, ask a friend.  
  2. Growth Mindset Escape Room/ Breakout:  I bought this Growth Mindset Escape Room from TpT.  (I know TpT is controversial for some, but that's a blog for another day!) This was an easy, fun, no prep option that students really enjoyed.  As purchased, it does not require tech, but I created an answer verified google form for the answers so that students could check themselves along the way. I also used this as an intro to breakouts and plan for student groups to create breakouts for each other after this.  
  3. Google Slides/ Google Docs Scavenger Hunt: Catlin Tucker, one of my teacher heroes, created google slides and google docs scavenger hunts which are a brilliant way to help students explore the tools before the content. Check out her post, which has links to add her scavenger hunts to your google drive. 
  4. Hyperdoc: Lisette Williford and I worked together at Oxnard U to create this hyperdoc, which helps us get to know our students as readers and writers. (Click the link to open it and the File >Make a Copy!

  5. Worst Preso Ever: Watch this video from Jon Corripo and get your students making hilariously awful presentations, having fun, and learning how to create quality presentations in the future! PS This is one of the Smart Starts from the EduProtocol Field Guide.  I highly recommend this book to teachers who are looking for ways emphasize the 4 Cs in their classrooms.   

Without Access to Student Devices: 


  1. The Scared is Scared- I like this activity from David Theriault.  Read the blog linked in the previous sentence to find out how to get students drawing, telling stories, and setting a risk-taking mindset that will serve them well all year.  
  2. Growth Mindset Paper Activity- Our very own OUHSD English LDC, Mona Piñon taught me this slick growth mindset paper task at Oxnard U this summer!
    When students come in, have models of the paper task set up (see image) where each group of students can see one and plenty of paper/scissors ready to go for students.  Students must try to create the paper task without touching the model.  They can talk about it with classmates and try multiple times.  Afterward, debrief with students about their struggles, strategies, and feelings- leading to a discussion of growth mindset and failing forward. Here is the secret to accomplishing the paper task. I encourage you to reach out to Mona Piñon at the DO for a more detailed explanation!                                                                                                                                 
  3. Pens of Destiny- This is a very fun team activity that I learned at the AVID summer
    institute this year! I highly recommend you go to the AVID conference next summer even if you are not teaching the AVID elective! There are great workshops for content area teachers!
    1. Give each student a pen with a cap (or new, unsharpened pencil) and ask them to stand in a circle.
    2. In the circle, students will suspend the pen or pencil between their index finger and the index finger of the classmate next to them at about shoulder height. (see image)
    3. Then, have the circle of students complete simple tasks, such as:
        • Rotating the circle- and then switching directions.
      • Moving to a goal line
      • Standing up and sitting down
      • Standing on one foot
      • Jumping (very difficult!)                                                                                                                                                                    
  4. Post it Gallery Walk- Here is another solid activity from Laura Randazzo that gets
    kids up moving in the classroom, talking with their classmates, and delving into metacognition.  I did this last year and enjoyed the information students shared in the discussion.   
  5. Forced Choices- If you are looking for a mixer that gets students out of their seats and talking to classmates.  Try projecting these forced choices (or some like these).  Students must pick one side or the other.  Ask students to go to one side of the room or the other depending on their answer.  Once at a side, students pick a partner and explain why they selected their answer. Call on random students to share their partner's reasoning.  
What are your favorite back to school activities? Leave a comment, suggestion, idea, or question below! Thanks for stopping by the Persistent Teacher Community! 



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