Getting-to-know-you activities

My favorite first-day-of-school activities aren’t particularly unique or creative. They are intended only for fun and to be helpful to me as I get to know my new students. Let’s jump right into our first circle activity.

My name is _____, and if I were an animal I’d be a _____ because….
I demonstrate for my students: “My name is Mrs. H., and if I were an animal, I’d be a turtle,” I say, “because I’m always rushing around. Sometimes I wish I could slow down.”

Then I give the students a little time to think about what animals they might like to be — and why. I encourage them to be creative, to be different and unique. The first student to one side of me in the circle starts out. After the first student finishes, I say, paraphrasing, “My name is Mrs. H., and if I were an animal, I’d be a turtle because I’d like to be able to slow down. This is Emily, and if she were an animal, she’d be a hyena because she likes to laugh a lot.” Then it’s on to the next child. After each child speaks, I try to repeat all the other kids’ name-and-animal combinations in order. That’s always good for a laugh or two — shows the kids right from the start that the teacher isn’t perfect!

Next, I ask the kids to draw themselves as their animals, leaving space at the bottom of the drawing for their first writing assignment. I ask them to write at the bottom of the page a complete sentence following the form “If I were an animal, I would be a(n) ____ because…” When we’re all done with the activity, I know all the kids’ names and a little something about them.

As I call on students during the day, I always repeat their names — and their animals! But I learn a lot more about my new students from this little activity. I find out who is able to follow simple directions. I learn about their writing abilities and their creativity. And I have a hint about which students might be independent workers.

We are all unique!
Each day throughout the school year, I introduce a Word of the Day. The first day’s word is unique. I write the word on the board and ask students to read the word. (I don’t recall any of my third graders ever identifying the word without a few clues. My last clue, using proper emphasis, is usually “This word is a unique word!”)

Then I use the word in several statements, the last of which is “Each of us is unique.” We talk about ways in which we’re each unique. I’m the only one more than 6 feet tall. Mia is the only one who’s wearing a pink shirt. Sam is the only one of us who has a pet ferret. (I learned this from the previous activity.) And so it goes.

Next step: Out comes the roll of white mural paper. I tear off a sheet about 10 feet long. Sometime during the day, each child goes out into the hallway and uses markers to draw his or her name on the mural paper. “Make it unique!” is my only direction.

I start out by writing “Mr. H” in big bubble letters inside an explosion design such as you see declaring NEW! or IMPROVED on product packaging in the grocery store. I draw colorful polka dots inside the bubble letters. When completed, this colorful mural makes a great hallway bulletin board under the cutout-letter headline We Are All Unique! I can also see from this activity who some of the truly unique characters will be in my new class!

Let’s play detective.
I hand out a Clue Sheet to each student. We go over the statements on the sheet, and then I ask the students to find a quiet spot where they can fill in the blanks in statements such as

  • “My favorite hobby is ________.”
  • “When I grow up, I want to have a job as a _________.”
  • “The most fun thing I did all summer was __________.”

I preface this activity by telling the students that this will be one of the few times this year that I don’t want them to put their names on their papers. As the students finish filling out their Clue Sheets, each picks up the sheet and a book and joins me on the rug for a class meeting. They hand the sheets to me and read quietly while the rest of the class finishes the task. Then I introduce the activity. I hand an anonymous Clue Sheet to each student. If a student ends up with his or her own sheet, we make some switches.

“I want to see whether you’re good detectives,” I tell the students. Then I invite them to move around, asking questions of their classmates, narrowing down the list of “suspects” until they find the one person who matches all the clues they hold.

Note: If it’s a nice day, you might move this activity outdoors. Set up boundaries — the basketball “court” — if that isn’t carrying the detective-suspect theme too far! — for example, or the base paths on the ball field. When all the students have located their “suspects,” each student takes a turn introducing the guilty party, telling others in the class a little about that boy or girl.

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