First Week of School Activities | Facing History & Ourselves
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Students sit around a table working on a big paper activity while receiving feedback from an educator.

Activities for the First Days of School

These first-week-of-school activities create welcoming learning environments that prioritize care, relationships, and community.


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At a Glance

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English — US


  • English & Language Arts
  • History
  • Social Studies


  • Culture & Identity
  • Equity & Inclusion


About These Back-to-School Activities

The first week of school is an important time for building community and focusing on students’ social-emotional learning. Students will be more likely to engage, take risks, and support each other if they feel a sense of trust and belonging among the group members and with their teacher.

The first-week-of-school activities in this collection address three important goals for the beginning of the school year:

  1. Reorienting students to school
  2. Getting to know each other and building relationships
  3. Creating classroom community

This collection is designed to be flexible. You can use all of the activities or choose a selection best suited to your classroom. It includes:

  • 2 activities to welcome students back to school
  • 5 activities that help students explore identity and get to know one another
  • 4 activities to build community

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

The activities are designed for teachers to use in conjunction with Opening and Closing Routines. Teachers can choose from multiple activity options and coordinate with colleagues who may teach the same students to avoid repetition of activities or readings. Each activity includes an extension activity to help students apply key concepts to their own lives in meaningful and creative ways. Teachers should also review our Journaling and Contracting teaching strategies before teaching these introductory activities.

If you choose to implement a get-to-know-you activity not included in Facing History’s Back-to-School Toolkit, we recommend that you choose from activities that are fun, don’t require students to be vulnerable in front of their classmates, and don’t require any special knowledge or skill, while at the same time providing opportunities for students to meet each other in pairs and small groups. Name games can be anxiety producing for many students, especially games that put them on the spot to think of something clever, require them to remember and recall new information, or involve a coordination challenge such as catching a ball. When meeting a new group of peers, what many adolescents desire most is to fit in and not stand out by saying or doing the “wrong” thing. By selecting appropriate activities for the start of the school year, your students will be more likely to engage in authentic and meaningful conversations, while at the same time retaining what they are learning about their peers.

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Inside this Collection

Materials and Downloads

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Download an overview of these back-to-school activities in PDF or Google Doc format. 

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