Check out these eight fun and fantastic back to school activities for high school. Set your class up for success right from the start!
Welcome, welcome. It’s back to school time, or at least it will be soon. I’m writing this in advance so that all of you early-bird teachers stumble across this before classes resume.
Now, I’m not going to share back to school lesson plans for high schoolers, but I will share eight fun and fantastic back to school activities and tips for high school students. That way you can mix and match what you think will work for you.
Set up for success
Back to school is a great time to set your class up for success for the entire year. If you plan it well, you can set the tone for the whole year in those crucial first few weeks.
When I sat down to write this post, I tried to think about the things teachers think are the most important to establish at the start of the academic year, and then to find activities to get ? it ? done ?.
So, here are seven back to school activities for high school that span:
- getting to know you
- rules and expectations
- procedures and policies
- classroom organization and management
- course syllabus,
- and collecting a writing sample
Getting to know your students
Getting to know your students is one of the hardest parts of starting the new academic year.
Not only do you need to learn hundreds of names and faces over the course of a couple of weeks, but you also need to learn about students’ interests, home life, sport or work obligations, academic ability, and learning preferences.
It’s a lot.
Top tip for learning names
My number one tip for remembering names is to use a seating chart for the first few weeks. If you are terrible at names and faces (like me!) then a seating chart helps you locate a face to a physical place in your classroom.
You can write the chart down, have it next to you when you ask students questions, and refer to students by name right from the start.
This make it seem like you have superpowers. Man, she got my name right after one class!
It also helps you set the expectation that you are the boss. This can help enormously when establishing (and maintaining) behavior expectations.
While older students will be ready to sit in spots they choose early in the year, younger students may need to remain in assigned seating for a while. And that’s ok. The important part is that right from the start, students know that you expect them to do as you ask.
Students are savvy
Following on from learning names, getting to know your students is a crucial back to school activity for high school teachers. Students of this age are savvy and recognize when teachers are genuinely trying to build relationships.
Personally, I love to use the worksheets I created (below) to get to know my students. The worksheets include three worksheets:
- an about me (or us if working in pairs, or them if asking students to meet and get to know another student),
- a student survey of their top 5 (books, movies, songs etc), and
- a find someone who (an ice-breaker-move-around-the-room activity).
These activities are low-key and low-stakes. Students get to be creative and colorful. They can do the activities individually, in pairs, or in groups. And students get to know each other.
On top of that, you get to know a little about them and their situations. You get to learn about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, learning preferences, and home life. And if you create your own worksheet, your students can learn a little about you.
Another back to school get to know you activity is
This lesson by Laura Randazzo. This group work and station activity gets your students up and moving. It scaffolds student discussions and helps you work out your students’ motivations and goals, teaching styles they like, and how they want classmates to behave etc.
Laura Randazzo also has a funny video explaining why she hates name games and how to run the station activities in the lesson.
Rules and expectations
Establishing rules and expectations is another of those essential back to school activities for that can either be quick and fun, or unutterably boring. (I see you slideshow of all the school/class rules and expectations).
One of the best tips a mentor teacher ever gave me about establishing class rules was to have only three rules. This means they are easy to remember (and refer to when broken). But the rules need to be broad enough to cover most classroom situations.
The three rules I always had posted and referred to were:
- Be on time and prepared to learn
- Be respectful
- Do the work
These rules covered just about every situation. Forgot your book? Here’s some paper, next time be prepared to learn. Calling out? Show respect to your classmates by raising your hand. Wasting time? You’ll be here at lunch doing the work if you don’t work harder now.
Another fun way to cover rules is . . .
To use these great emoji puppets by Juliet Faulkner. The puppets cover common classroom scenarios and allow you to answer those questions quickly and on the spot.
Plus, it’s cute and fun, and students are more likely to remember the activity because it’s engaging and unique.
Procedures and policies
Procedures and policies go hand-in-hand with classroom rules and expectations. However, these are usually things that need to be done at a school-wide level, although you will obviously have them in your own class too.
Most of teachers will already have system for this if they’ve been teaching for a few years. But for all of you newbies out there, things to consider covering include:
- Attendance or absence policies (not only for the school but also for your class and catching up on missed work)
- Dress code
- Lateness to class
- Incomplete or late work or assessment
- Technology policies
- Homework requirements
- Behavior expectations and consequences
- School organization (who to see for extensions on assessment, permission forms, mental health or social group help, medical help . . . etc)
A great way to do this is a scavenger hunt. You can create a worksheet with the rules you want them to find/remember and then ask them to scavenge through the booklet/school website to find the right information.
Or you can use this editable activity by The Color Thief to do it.
Other great back to school activities for high school include:
- asking students to create a flowchart with lines from common topics/problems/policies to who they need to see to address them
- finding images of who to see for problems on the school website or intranet and creating a cute poster show who does what
Classroom organization and management
Establishing how you organize and manage your classroom can save you so much time and energy if you do it right from the start. Again, this takes time to work out what sort of systems work for you, but things to consider include:
- where do you keep students’ work
- what materials will you provide for students and where are they stored
- will you have a class library (if in ELA) and how will you organize it
- where should students hand in completed work or assessment
- will you set homework and how will you track completion
- how will you reward positive behaviors and how will you track it
- where and how do you allow students to contact you
- how will you contact parents and how will you record contact/discussion
- where and how will you record attendance
- how do you like your classroom to be set up
- what sort of tech will you use and how will students keep track of devices/logins/passwords etc
- how and when will you give feedback on student assessment
Other tips for classroom organization & management
Other tips a about organizing and managing your classroom include:
- However you decide to organize things, ensure your students know and are clear on your expectations and boundaries
- Try to be systematic about things you need to track and keep it in the same place (a planner/diary/spreadsheet – whatever works for you)
- At the start of the year, print out a list of parent contact information and pin it near your desk – it will save you hours of searching for contact information throughout the year
- Set boundaries – your time outside of work is precious and you already spend lots of it on planning and assessing student achievement. Protect the remainder like a mama bear protects her cub!
Some of these considerations are for you to decide and maintain, but some of these considerations can be your students’ responsibility. Tasks such as keeping track of logins and passwords – that job belongs to your students.
A great resource for beginning teachers to help you work out your classroom management style is this product by Education is Lit. While this isn’t really a back to school activity for high school students, it is an important back to school activity for teachers.
The bundle has a checklist of things to think about in terms of policies and procedures for before, during, and after class. It also has information about how to create a classroom management plan.
Creating a positive classroom environment can be a balancing act. You want students to feel as if they can speak their opinions without judgement or shame from their peers, but you also want students to remain respectful.
Much of this work happens at the start of the year, with setting and enforcing expectations. But you also need to help students get to know each other. To do this you need some back to school activities for high school that act as ice-breakers.
A great option to do this is Cult of Pedagogy’s Icebreaker games.
These fun activities get students talking and moving. The first game, Concentric Circles is like student speed dating. The second game, This or That gets students up and moving. And Blobs and Lines gets students to discuss things they have in common and arrange themselves in groups (blobs) or order (lines) accordingly.
A second great option is Write and Read’s Four corners game.
This fun back to school activity gets students moving too. Students have to answer funny, no-pressure questions and move to the applicable corner of the room.
Through this, students start to see who they have things in common with in a light-hearted way.
The above fun back to school activities for high schoolers are aimed at teachers from all disciplines. However, the final activity is aimed at teachers who have lots of writing in their subjects, such and ELA or humanities.
A final thing that you might like to do during back to school is to get your students writing. Collecting student writing samples may not be the most exciting back to school activity for high schoolers but it is important.
Writing samples can help you work out what level you need to pitch your content at, how you can scaffold students’ work to ensure they improve, and give you ideas about which students may be good to pair up/work together in group work.
A great way to get students to give you a sample of writing is using The Daring English Teacher’s back to school stations. The book recommendation writing sample activity is one part of a series of activities, so students are feeling the pressure of writing an essay on the first day of school.
Plus, students also decorate the spine of a book to go along with their recommendation. So it’s a fun, no-pressure, and creative activity that helps you collect a sample of their writing.
Want other back to school tips?
Check out some of my other blog posts:
- 3 FREE videos with examples of study skills to watch at the start of the year
- 9 quick and easy study skills lesson plans for high school
- 5 Time Management Tips For Tired Teachers
- 8 awesome reasons to focus on study skills in ELA
- CrashCourse: a powerful way to teach high schoolers digital research skills
- 1 easy, effective classroom reward for high school students