10 Low-Prep Activities for the First Week of School

The first week of school can be both overwhelming and exhilarating. We meet anywhere from thirty to over a hundred new faces, learn names, and start building relationships with our students. But we cannot forget what it is like to be a kid! They are meeting new teachers, sitting with new students, and feel just as overwhelmed and exhilarated as we do.

This year, I wanted to think of some new activities to try with my students and revamp some that I have used in previous years! Here are 10 activities for the first week of school that are low prep, engaging, and fun!

1. Investigate the Teacher

I used this one last year and had a lot of fun with it. Students can look around the room and, based on your decor and personal items (I also put some pictures on the screen), they get to practice making inferences about you. You can use this to get the kids writing, discussing, up and moving about, and making connections with you. Do they have similar interests? Opposite?

Add on to this activity by having them move to different areas of the room based on if they have similar interests as you or opposite interests. Those on the similar side now have something in common with others, and the opposites can explain what they like to do or enjoy instead.

Check out Investigate the Teacher on Teachers Pay Teachers to take out the prep work!

2. All About … 

The first week is crucial for getting to know your students and establishing relationships. In years past, I have passed out handouts that I end up skimming or giving back or holding on to and then secretly recycling in December…

I want to make the “All About Me” activity more beneficial for all my students this year, so I redesigned it! This year, I have a series of 7 questions that I want to ask my students. This helps me guage their current interests, activities, hobbies, and future career interests. After I take the time to read through this, I plan to have them put their answers in their journals so they have future writing topics for later assignments. If they have already identified areas of interest and curiosity, they have less to brainstorm in the future when they are “stuck” on coming up with a topic. 

I have two All About Me products ready to go for you! 

  • All About Me is a more guided handout.
  • All About BLANK has a basic handout and the option for students to design a page on their own that reflects them and their answers. (This is what I’ll use this year!)

3. Reading Self Assessment

I am big on collecting data during the first week of school. So I gauge the student’s confidence and reading ability with this reading self assessment. This has been completely revamped and improved from last year!

I will hang up twelve different fiction and nonfiction reading passages that range in complexity from 6th to 12th grade (based on vocabulary, sentence structure, and concept difficulty). Students walk around to each passage, read over it, and decide if the passage is too easy, just right, or too difficult. Once they have identified their opinions on all the passages, they write a short reflection paragraph about what they found easy and/or difficult about some of the passages. 

I use this information to get an idea of what level students are comfortable reading at, and then scaffold future articles and texts to meet them where they are and push their zone of proximal development at the same time.

Collect your own reading data with the Reading Self Assessment! Save it for future reference and even do this activity multiple times throughout the year to see if their confidence and ability have improved!

I’m really excited to use the new and improved Reading Self Assessment this year!

4. Persuasion Investigation

Don’t forget the writing baseline! Persuasive writing is a big proponent of 10th grade English in Texas. But it is also an important skill for all students to improve on as it transfers directly to adult life. 

Last year I gauged their starting writing abilities by using one prompt. This year, I put together 24 prompts that students can rifle through. With several prompts (or your limited choices) students have more opportunities to write about something they already know. Once they find one they can form an opinion on, all I ask them to do is identify their opinion and support it. This will tell me what strategies they are already using, strengths and weaknesses as a class and individually, and give insight into grammar and writing structure that can be future targeted mini-lessons.

So much data can come from this activity and it is invaluable information that helps me plan the rest of the year.

Use these prompts or the blank template to write your own and get a sense of your students’ writing right away! This activity can also be saved and used several times throughout the year as formative assessments, formal essays, thesis practice, quick writes, or debates!

Persuasion Investigation is going to be a much better way to gauge my student’s writing in the first week!

5. Syllabus Day

Although we may try to avoid it, there is always some information that must be shared about our rules, expectations, and the year ahead. 

You can do a syllabus scavenger hunt where students look around the room for the important information. This helps them get acquainted with the available materials and identifies where important information is posted.

For the rest of the important information, consider doing a fill in the blank with your syllabus so they are actively listening or chunk it up in manageable sections. Make sure to give breaks, even 30 or 60 seconds, and allow for discussion so that you don’t talk AT your students for the entire period.

This year, I plan on doing Investigate the Teacher and Syllabus Day together. Lots of moving around the room and discussing my expectations at the same time.

Check out my Syllabus Day Freebie on TPT so that students have an organized way to write down your important information! Make them keep this in their journal, binder, or planner.

6. Blindfolded Puzzle Challenge

My teacher friend and I did this last year and the kids absolutely loved it! We found this suggestion online, but I cannot remember who originally posted about it.

Each of us bought simple puzzles from the dollar store (don’t break the bank!). In groups, one student was blindfolded and the other students had to “instruct” them on how to put the puzzle back together WITHOUT touching the pieces themselves. It was very high energy and so comical to watch. 

Afterwards, we had a discussion about communication and the challenges they had faced during the activity. Then we switched partners and tried it again. They couldn’t resist!

This would be great for students of all grade levels.

7. Why Write? Why Read?

I think these are two very important questions to discuss with students. I shape a lot of my teaching philosophy around skills that will help students outside of my classroom: functional writing and realistic reading. I know that many of my students will not be novel enthusiasts, no matter how much I would love that. BUT, they all need to be literate.

So I spend time letting the students brainstorm why we write and why we read. I ask them to start by defining what writing and reading is in their own words. Then I ask them to find real world examples of reading and writing outside of high school. This can be done in small group settings and then shared with the whole class. While they are brainstorming and working together, I can walk around, engage in discussions, and encourage deeper thinking.


This year I am going to collect their responses, definitions, and examples and make posters that I can display all year as a reminder of why these topics are so important. 

8. Library Day

Get books in your kids’ hands! As soon as I can get my classes to the library, I do. It is such a great way to get them excited. All of my students are expected to have something to read as we do independent reading every day (or at least 90% of the time) and we use our books for activities often. I also have a cart in my classroom where they can stack their books so they are always available.

Coordinate with your librarian when you get back to campus and see when you can take your classes. Then be sure to schedule a follow up day to return, renew, and search for another. 

9. Notebook/Material Decoration Day

Give students time to set up their materials. My classes are all expected to have a notebook so I offer them time to personalize the covers. I’ll put out stickers, markers, blank and colored paper, glue, tape, and other crafting supplies. Find some old magazines or newspapers and ask your colleagues to keep their eyes open for some as well. 

Also take this time to establish how you want these materials organized. Every year I have students designate sections in their journal and create a table of contents. Taking a few minutes to set that up during the first week ensures that they are prepared and ready to go for Week 2.

10. Set Goals

I think goal setting is so important and helps establish a positive mindset for the year ahead. Usually I have students tailor their goals to match English, but this year I am leaving it wide open. I want them to explore and set a realistic and achievable goal, without it being too easy, and then see the value in working hard to achieve it. Be sure to discuss your expectations and the value of setting goals before you set them loose.

Be creative in how you set this up and display them in the room if you can! (Put student’s names on the back to maintain some privacy.) Coordinate shapes with your theme, or just use circles or squares. Kids can color them and put them in their journal if you don’t want to hang them. 

Here is a tentative look at how I want my first week to go this year. Other activities will be saved for Week 2 and 3 to continue building a positive classroom culture. 

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFriday
Investigate the Teacher & Syllabus DayAll About BLANK. 
Get to know the students!
Reading Self-Assessment
& Why read?
Persuasion Investigation
& Why write?
Material Decor/Prep Day
& Set Goals

What are your favorite first week of school activities?

Happy teaching!

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