Preparing for the First Days in Secondary ELA

Whether you’re coming into a new classroom for the first time or coming back to the same one, the beginning of the school year can be an overwhelming and stressful time! I always take a few minutes to sit at my desk before touching anything and prioritize what needs to be done before my new students walk through my door for the new school year. Here are some things you can consider doing to feel prepared!

Organize Your Space

If you’re anything like me, my brain can’t function in a messy classroom, so one of the first things I do is organize my space.

  • Arrange student desks: Usually my desks were stacked against one wall during the summer, so it’s a great time to consider where you want the desks to go. Table groups? Rows? Groups of 3? Think about your style of teaching and what would work best!
  • Update bulletin boards: What’s most important for students to see and reference visually on a daily basis? I always have a wall set aside to display student work. I also have a personal bulletin board by my desk so that students can see that I’m a human being too (haha), as well as a bulletin board that displays our vocabulary words. By my classroom library, I also have a fun “Reasons to Read” bulletin board. Check out these bulletin board kits for a start to your classroom!
  • Teacher Desk: Where will you put your teacher desk? Some teachers argue that having your desk in the back of the room is better because you can more easily monitor your students (especially with 1:1 technology!)

Update Classroom Procedures/Policies

The beginning of the school year is a great time to reflect on what went well last year and what didn’t. How are you going to change your procedures or policies? Here are some tasks to consider.

  • Edit syllabus: Your syllabus should be a quick 1-2 page document that details your contact information, overview of your units/content for the year, and a few basic classroom policies. You might also want to include a place for a parent signature at the end!
  • Communicate to students: Communicating procedures and policies to students can often be a tedious (boring!) process. I like to switch it up with some movement using a classroom procedures scavenger hunt!
  • Communicate to parents: How will you let parents know all about you and your classroom? I usually send a quick message introducing myself and my classroom, along with a calendar of events or special dates happening using the resource below!

Get to Know Your Students

If you teach secondary, you probably have well over 100 students. Familiarizing yourself with their names is a process, but here are a few tasks you can do to help you feel like you know a few things before you even meet them.

  • Who is SPED? Who is EL? You can work with your education specialist and/or EL coordinator to find out who these students are and understand their needs before they step foot in the classroom.
  • Create a seating chart: Once you know the information above, you can create a seating chart. Maybe there are some students that need preferential seating. I know the jury is out whether or not seating charts are essential on the first day, but I’ve always found that they set the tone for my class and that they have a place to be.
  • Calling cards/sticks: Having a way to randomize students names is essential to participation. Some teachers do the old-school popsicle sticks. I write student names on playing cards so I can easily shuffle names. You can go new-school with Google classroom too – it has a student name randomizer!

First Two Lessons

Your first lessons of the school year should focus on building rapport with your students and getting to know them as people before diving into your content and/or procedures. I always feel better when I have at least the first two lessons planned out with some fun activities!

  • Student Surveys: This is very first paper sitting on the student desks when students come into my classroom for the first time. I also include a free pencil for them to start. This gives them something to do immediately and I can get to know them from day one!
  • Icebreakers: I am not an extrovert, and I know many of my students aren’t either. I always have my students play this Roll an Icebreaker Question game on the first day so that they can get to know each other without any pressure to come up with topics off-hand. You can get this resource for FREE by clicking on the picture below!

Have a great school year!


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