9 of Our Favorite Back-to-School Activities and Resources | Facing History & Ourselves
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9 of Our Favorite Back-to-School Activities and Resources

Try these classroom activities and resources at the start of the year to build a foundation for learning all year long.

School is back in session in most districts. As you get to know your students and map out the year you’ll have together, we’re here to help. From classroom community-building activities, to versatile teaching strategies, to engaging current events lesson plans, these are some of our favorite teaching resources for the back-to-school season and beyond. 

Getting to Know Your Students

These beginning of the school year activities and resources will help you get to know your students so that you can create a learning environment where they’ll thrive.

Student Goal-Setting

Setting goals with students at the beginning of the school year offers a valuable opportunity for students to share what motivates them in their learning with you. Studies show that goal-setting helps with academic performance and increases ‌engagement in the classroom. This goal-setting activity guides students through a series of reflections to create a personal goal and set short-term S.M.A.R.T goals to work toward it.  

K-W-L Charts

K-W-L charts are graphic organizers that help students assess what they already know about a topic and what they want to learn. They can be used to engage students in a new topic, activate prior knowledge, share unit objectives, and monitor students’ learning. These charts are a great way to evaluate student interest and understanding in the topics you plan to teach this year. 

Exit Tickets

Exit tickets are a simple way to gauge students’ understanding of a topic, learn about their preferences and needs, and gather student feedback on your teaching. Just ask students to respond to a question or prompt on a piece of paper they hand to you on their way out of class. At the start of the school year, using a teach the teacher exit card may be especially helpful. 

Classroom Community Building 

These classroom community building activities will help you establish a class culture where all students feel like they belong and have something to contribute. 

Invite Students to Co-Design Your Classroom

This mini-lesson asks students to start the school year by designing their ideal learning space. In collaborating on a vision for their shared space, students get a chance to practice working together. You will also gain valuable insight into your students and the community that they hope to build over the upcoming school year.

Explore the Meaning of Community

This collaborative activity invites students to consider what community means and how their class can be an intentional learning community. Defining the class as a community can build the sense that students are responsible not only for their own learning but for nurturing the learning of their classmates as well.

Create a Classroom Contract

Creating a classroom contract roots your class community in mutual respect, helping foster an inclusive and welcoming learning environment. Contracting is when you communally set expectations for how classroom members will treat each other. Your classroom contract will lay the foundation for a learning environment where all students feel seen and heard.

Responding to Current Events

These resources will help you discuss topics that are in the news with your students. Teaching with current events helps students develop the capacity to examine issues from multiple perspectives and think critically about the world around them. 

We selected a few current events resources that may be particularly helpful at the beginning of the school year to highlight here. Browse our current events collection for more ways to bring current events into your classroom.  

Current Events Toolkit

This toolkit provides flexible and adaptable tools and strategies for integrating current events into your teaching. If you haven’t addressed current events with your students much in the past, this toolkit can help you think about how and when to teach with current events. Teachers who are looking for new ways to engage students in discussions about difficult topics may also find these resources useful.

The Ethics of Generative AI in the Classroom

This mini-lesson helps students learn about what generative AI is and consider norms around how it should (or should not) be used in schools. Each activity can be used on its own or taught in any combination best suited to your students.

Protecting Teen Mental Health

Depression, self-harm, and suicide rates have all been rising among adolescents and young adults over the last decade. This mini-lesson helps students understand what’s causing the trend, generate ideas for protecting mental health, and consider ideas for how schools can promote students’ wellbeing. Each activity can be used on its own or taught in any combination best suited to your students.

Check out our Back-to-School Toolkit for more great back-to-school activities and resources.

Get Toolkit

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