Looking For Some First Day Biology Activities?
I taught for 31 years but I don’t think my first-day biology activities were ever the same from one year to the next!
I’ve tried just about everything … reading the syllabus out loud to the kids, ice breakers, demos, videos … I changed my first-day plans just about every year.
My problem was that for a while I felt like I had to get ALL of the important information out to them on THE FIRST DAY and if I didn’t, I was going to have terrible problems for the whole rest of the year! Of course, it doesn’t really work that way and I did eventually realize that it was so much better to spend several days on all of that procedural stuff instead of trying to cram it all in on day one.
And really, from the kids’ point of view, the first day is pretty stressful for them too, no matter how much they try to act all cool! So I relaxed about some things. I did learn what really helped the most. With that being said, all teachers have their own philosophies and strengths. But I hope that this list of ideas will help you lower your stress level on the first day of school, whether this is your first year or your twentieth!
1. Have students’ names at their seats before they come into class.
As a secondary teacher, you may or may not prefer to use seating charts. Personally, there was never a time when I didn’t use them. So I like to have my seating charts ready before the first day.
At the high school level, we have multiple classes per day. I found the easiest way to set this up was to write each of my student’s names on a 3 x 5 index card prior to the start of school. I would also have my seating chart form (made in Powerpoint) made ahead, usually just alphabetically to start.
So then it was a simple thing to walk around the room with my chart and place each student’s name card at their seat. It only took a few minutes, so I was able to do it in between any back-to-back classes. Sometimes I’d do it even with the current class still sitting there and would just tell them what I was doing and why. They seldom paid any attention!
The other payoff to writing each name on a card was that now I had my cards ready for random questioning or quick grouping activities for the rest of the year.
2. Greet students at the door with a smile and a hello!
They’re nervous and unsure what you’re going to be like. It’s great to smile and welcome them to class as they’re walking in the door.
This is also a good time to tell them to find their name at their seat. And just a side note here … have your seating charts out for yourself to check. I’ve had several instances of a student moving his/her index card to a different seat while I was still in the hall!
If you’re hesitant to use a seating chart with older students, you can always tell them that it helps you to learn their names much faster and that you’ll be changing seats in a couple of weeks.
3. Take attendance out loud!
Once everyone is in their seat introduce yourself and the course. Just about every year I hear an “oops” from someone who is in the wrong place at the wrong time!
At this point I always like to take attendance out loud … some names are hard to pronounce and I like to hear the kids say their names. It’s also a great time to ask if they prefer to be called Daniel or Dan or Danny, for example.
As I’m calling out names I’m consciously looking at the student so that I can immediately start placing a face with a name. The kids are always impressed when I can use their names right away!
4. Spend just a FEW minutes talking about the course.
This probably isn’t the best time to cover your course syllabus. They will be overwhelmed because most teachers will be doing that on the first day.
I spend between 5 – 10 minutes just talking a little bit about what they can expect this year. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll definitely be covering expectations and behaviors. We just won’t be doing it on the first day.
It’s just a quick intro about myself … how many years I’ve taught here, some of the fun labs and activities we’ll be doing, etc.
5. Give them a Biology Pre-Test!
This may sound like a strange first-day biology activity, but this is the one thing that I’ve hardly ever changed in my first-day agenda over the years.
This isn’t a test that I grade. It’s just a series of no-pressure questions that cover very basic background knowledge of the course units.
I’ve used this for years and have passed it along to other teachers. If you’d like a copy yourself, click here to get one for FREE! I even tell the kids up front that I won’t be grading it like a test … I will, however, be checking it for completion tomorrow so they DO still have to do it!
I ask them to work on it quietly and to just guess at an answer if they don’t know it. I encourage them not to leave any blanks, but I also don’t want them looking up answers either. This is just for me to get to see where they are in their background knowledge.
As an aside … I’m pretty old school in the sense that I don’t like a lot of background noise from my kids when they’re supposed to be working. And this is the perfect opportunity for me to start setting that expectation right away while they’re working on this test. I walk around, making eye contact, leaning down to answer a question, or even asking for quiet if need be.
6. Have students pack up in an orderly way and remind them to bring their finished pre-tests tomorrow.
The class has been low-key and relatively non-stressful. I like to set the tone here as well by letting them know when it’s ok to start packing up … one of my pet peeves is when kids start packing up 5 minutes before the bell rings!
Remind them to bring their completed pre-tests back with them tomorrow.
Wish everyone a great day!
You can now spend a few minutes setting up your index cards for your next class or take a well-deserved 3-minute break!
What are some of your favorite “first-day activities” for your biology class? Comment below and let us know your ideas!