ACTIVITIES & LESSONS
Returning to school can be exciting for some students but nerve-wracking for others. (Or a mixture of both!) Kids will encounter so much, from gaining knowledge to getting accustomed to unfamiliar spaces. Plus, they’ll more than likely meet new classmates. To help kids get to know their classmates on their first day of class, we’ve come up with a range of back-to-school getting-to-know-you activities for all ages.
First Day of School Get-to-Know-You Activities
Use these classroom get-to-know-you activities on the first day of school or anytime during that first week. Though we’ve categorized based on school level, feel free to adapt these ideas to use across grade bands. Your students will feel engaged while getting to know their classmates!
Activities for Elementary Students
Learn about Each Other with Bingo
Have your students play bingo to learn new facts about their classmates. You can have them try to complete one row or column of five spaces with names. Whoever finishes first wins the game! If you have enough students for a longer game, have them attempt to fill out as many spaces as possible. Afterward, take the activity further by having your students discuss the descriptions that fit them. For example, they can share why they love science or the names of their siblings (all featured in the game).
Guess True Statements about Classmates
Have your students come up with statements about themselves—two that are true and one that’s false. Ensure that these statements are educational by requiring that they connect back to a subject. For example, in a math class, a student could include a number:
- I’ve lived in two countries.
- I have one cat.
- I can do 200 jumping jacks in a minute!
Then, the other students must determine which statements are true. How students guess the correct answers is up to you. Have them vote or you can call on one student at a time to answer. Try to get your students to come up with more challenging statements, such as:
- I’m younger than my sister but taller than her.
- My dog’s age is greater than the age of my younger brother.
- My birthday is 10 days before Halloween.
A Venn diagram is a graphic organizer that notes similarities and differences between concepts. Have your students pair up and fill out a Venn diagram with their partners. Each pair should compare different features about themselves, for example, how many siblings they have, what languages they speak, and what foods they like to eat. Then each person should list their differences in their respective circles. In the intersecting section of the Venn diagrams, students should list similarities shared with their partners.
After filling out their Venn diagrams, have your students give a presentation about their partners. This activity is a great way for students to learn about their classmates’ backgrounds and see how they may be similar to their own.
Activities for Middle School Students
Build a Virtual Escape Room
Participating in an escape room experience is an exciting way to test skills—and patience! In this game, participants confined to an enclosed setting must find a way to escape by uncovering clues and solving puzzles—sometimes within a certain amount of time. A virtual escape room has the same idea, but players take part online.
Group your students based on shared interests, and have each group build a virtual escape room based on a theme. For example, students interested in space can create an escape room featuring space-related questions and puzzles. There are various sites your students can use to build their virtual escape rooms. Here are the steps they can follow:
- Depending on your class size, have your students pair up or get into small groups based on a common interest, which will be the theme of their escape room.
- Then, have each pair or group create a set of questions that must be answered in order to unlock the escape room. Stress that they come up with a mix of questions, from math-related to riddles. The more questions, the better for a challenging game! They should also decide on the order of their questions.
- Now, they can start building their virtual escape room. Ensure students select the correct settings for a multiple-choice quiz. Then, they can add their questions along with the answer key (this video covers the basics for building a Google Forms quiz).
- Google Forms also allows users to fill out other details, such as a title and description for the quiz and a description per question. Users can also include photos and multimedia to add more excitement. Therefore, students should create a storyline with a finale at the end for anyone who’s able to escape and include relevant visuals.
- Another important detail: students should ensure each question is required—meaning players must select the right question before moving on to the next.
- After they create their escape rooms, have your students share the links to their games so that everyone can have the chance to play them all.
Search online for videos and resources to help you build a virtual escape room, such as this video by Vestal’s 21st Century Classroom that covers how to make a multiple-choice escape room and this video from The Tech Train that teaches how to build an advanced escape room.
Swap Personal Word Problems
Have your middle school students learn about their classmates through math word problems. They can write a few and trade their word problems with a classmate. Here are examples of word problems they can come up with:
- My family owns three dogs—two Labradors and one pug. One lab weighs 72 pounds, the other lab weighs 55 pounds, and the pug weighs 15 pounds. What’s the average weight of my pets?
- I like to do yard work from time to time to make money. I’m saving up for a special edition video game that’s $150, and I make $10 per hour. How many hours would I have to work to purchase this video game?
Conduct a Show and Tell for All Ages
Show and tell doesn’t need to be restricted to the youngest learners. Showcasing an item that’s meaningful to us can be a chance to reflect on our relationships with objects, memories, and people—not to mention an opportunity to practice our oral presentation chops. Invite students to bring an object to class that means something to them and discuss it with the class. The object could be something they’re wearing, something in their pockets, or one of their school supplies.
Let’s say one of your students loves music. They might present a set of headphones given to them and discuss their love of music or tell a story about the first time they heard their favorite song or musical artist. Your students can take plenty of directions to stretch their creative muscles when presenting. This activity also allows students to practice speaking skills while sharing a bit about their lives.
Activities for High School Students
Encourage Deeper Thinking with Writing Prompts
Responding to writing prompts can allow for self-reflection. Students can learn more about themselves through writing and see how they connect to others. Have your students pick one or more of the following prompts to respond to below. They can freewrite or express themselves using whatever format they prefer, such as a poem or story.
- What quote from a book, movie, or poem can you relate to the most? Research the exact quote before writing about it.
- What recent news event affected you the most? Why?
- If you could witness any historical event, what would it be? How would you react, and what would you tell people today about it?
- What’s a mathematical topic you understand now but didn’t understand last year?
- Reflect on this time last year. How much have you changed?
- World-building is the process of building an imaginary world. What would it look like if you could construct a world, and who would be in it?
- What sport do you love, and why? What athlete do you look up to the most?
- What would the theme be if you were responsible for creating a museum exhibit?
- What’s your favorite app, and what makes it impactful?
Afterward, students can share their writing in a group or with the entire class. This will allow them to see how much they have in common—and what makes them stand out!
Have an Informal Debate
The benefits of learning to debate for students are extensive. According to the American Debate League, while only 50% of urban high schoolers graduate, 90% of urban high school debaters graduate. At the beginning of the school year, you can hold an informal debate with light-hearted topics, such as “winter is better than summer” or “one cinematic universe is better than another cinematic universe.”
Later in the school year, you can have your students develop topics to vote on for debating. Then, after choosing the winning topic, have them pick their side. Every student on each side should have the chance to state one or more reasons for choosing their side. This activity allows both students and teachers to realize that even if they share a common fundamental belief, the reasoning for having that opinion can vary from person to person. Plus, they’ll be able to develop a deeper understanding of people who might not share their beliefs.
Pair Up for an Interview
Have your students pair up for an interview. Each student can prepare a list of questions to ask their partner, such as:
- What did you do over the summer?
- What goals do you want to accomplish this year?
- What club, sport, or extracurricular activity would you like to participate in?
Afterward, students can introduce their partners to the class, such as:
- This is _______. She loves to sing and plans on joining the show choir this year. If you need any help with math, she tutors, too.
Share Your Getting-to-Know-You Activities
View more get-to-know-you-on-the-first-day-of-school activities on Shaped to get to know your students better!
Zoe Del Mar