First Day Back to School: Lessons Plans & Activities to Plan Your Day

The first day back to school jitters are real. My anxiety would always start a few weeks before school and ramp up before the first day. For me, the only way to sleep well at night was to plan out the entire first day. I don’t know how you’ve been running your first day back (or if it’s your first classroom, maybe you never have), but I like a nice, low-key type of day to get to know my students . I do my best to keep it fun and easy, while still offering my kids a little glimpse into my personality. In this post, I will share how I prepared for the first day of school and how I was able to put an end to my first-day jitters.

One of the tools I used was the lesson plan shown below. You can grab my free first day back to school lesson plan HERE.

Lesson plan first day back to school

As you start planning your first day back to school, keep your classroom management plan in mind. Your students won’t know how to properly handle unique situations because they haven’t been introduced to your expectations yet. You want to give students the correct cues and set the tone for the year, so don’t plan activities that are totally out of line with your normal routines and expectations. You can read more about how I explicitly teach classroom procedures HERE.

Ask yourself: Do I want encourage students to sit quietly and work independently throughout the year? Do I want students to have the freedom to get out of their seats and mingle with their classmates throughout the year? If you prefer a collaborative environment with lots of movement (and noise), plan activities that set that tone on day 1. If you prefer a quiet or independent work environment, plan activities that set that tone.

1. Before Student Arrival

Have your classroom set up and ready to go. I’m not necessarily talking about comfy furniture, lighting, and decorations (although you can totally have that set up!). What I mean is having all of the functional, important parts of your room set up for students. This means that your daily schedule is posted for students to clearly read. Students’ desks or tables are set up with chairs already at them (Students will not know your unstacking chair procedure yet). All your seating is arranged to foster collaboration, independent work, or a mixture of both. If students are bringing supply items in, have a designated space ready to accept those items (a large, cleared off table with clear signage). Also, make sure all clutter is put away (or hidden in a closet or behind a curtain).

Have students’ desks set up and ready to go. Make sure each student has a place. I always a few extra desks and chairs on the first day in case we get a new student. For the first day back, set out student name tags on each desk so they are clearly visible. Each desk should also have a welcome letter for students. Click HERE to grab this editable welcome letter.

Student desk first day back to school

This welcome letter will serve to greet students, introduce you to them, and get them set up on what they need to do right away. This letter will give explicit, step-by-step instructions for students to follow as they sit down. I completed a letter for you that you can grab for free. Just modify it to fit the needs of your classroom.

welcome letter first day back to school
student instructions first day back to school

Have a lunch choice card at each desk. On this first day, you may have to forget about that lunch choice station you spent hours setting up on your white board. Students do not know your lunch choice procedures or routines yet. You can’t expect them to know how to find their popsicle stick and make a choice, or move their magnet picture to their lunch choice. Instead, make “lunch choice” one of the steps of their welcome letter. Instruct students on how to fill out the lunch choice sheet. Then have a clear procedure on how you will collect these lunch choice cards. Organize them when students are working on their independent activities.

Click HERE to grab the free editable lunch choice card.

lunch choice first day back to school

Have an independent activity (or 2) at each desk. The last step of the welcome letter should instruct students to start the activity on their desk.

First, instruct students to complete the name tag you set out for them.

Click HERE for the link to the free editable name tags.

name tags first day back to school

Then I recommend having a few easy, risk-free activities set out for them. When I say low-risk, I mean activities that have no academic standards tied to them. You don’t know your students’ strengths yet. So try limiting most reading and math activities on that first day. Instead, focus on team building and get-to-know-you activities. If you have Volume 2 of my Back to School Activities resource, the “Abstract Coloring” and “Social Media Profile” would be perfect for students to complete during this time. You can check these out by clicking HERE.

first back to school student coloring
all about me social media profile first day back to school

2. The Morning Entrance

Now that you have everything set up. You are ready to focus on your new students.

As students arrive, stand outside your door to greet them. If necessary, tell them to find their seat, and instruct them to carefully read their welcome letter. At this time, it’s important to keep yourself at the door. There will be a lot of questions, nervous students, and maybe even parents walking in. You don’t want to get bogged down giving instructions, repeating directions, or walking around the room answering questions.

Once students are quietly working and parents have left, you can use this time to assess what needs to get done. Do a quick walk of the room to make sure students are doing what they are supposed to be doing. On this first day, most students will be too nervous to raise their hand and ask for help. Watch for students looking around, confused. Once you can see that everyone is okay, use this time to take attendance and input lunch choices. Make sure you also feel settled and complete your own tasks. Once you feel good and settled, that’s a good time to greet your entire class.

*Side note: by setting this expectation of students getting right to work when they walk in on the first day of school, you are setting the tone for the entire year.

When I would greet my class, I would give students a friendly smile and a warm hello. I would introduce myself, repeat my last name a few times so they knew how to say it, and then tell them a bit about me. Even though a lot of information is on their welcome letter, I liked to also tell them this information. I would also start the year out by telling students some fun things we will be doing that year, and I also made sure to tell them how excited I was to have them in my class.

At this point, I also told students what to do with the task they were working on. So have a plan for students who finish and students who do not finish the independent activities. Is it important if they finish the independent activities? If it is, how will you have students finish them? What will you have planned for early finishers? Some ideas for the early finishers include: having a basket of picture books or graphic novels set out on each table for students to read independently, set out blank sheets of paper for sketching/drawing, set out more independent activities from my Back to School Get To Know You Activities resource, set out coloring pages and crayons, etc. The key here is to be over prepared.

Now that students have been sitting for some time, you have to get them up and moving. I typically like to pull my students to the carpet to do a whole-group team building activity. Don’t have everyone come all at once. Call small groups a few at a time so it isn’t pure chaos getting to the carpet. This helps bring everyone together. With everyone seated at the carpet, it’s a great opportunity to complete a team building activity that requires students to talk, move, and interact. One of my favorite, easy-to-implement activities is: Switch-a-Roo from Volume 1 of my Back to School Team Building resource. This resource is now available in both a digital and paper version.

These icebreaker activities help students feel comfortable with classmates and help them shake off their own jitters. These are a must on your first day back to school. I usually go into the day with a mix of low-prep or more involved icebreaker activities ready to go depending on how the day is progressing.

3. The Rest of the Day

The two most important things you need to remember for the first days are:

  1. Building community and allowing your students to get to know one another (and you!).
  2. Establishing rules, procedures, and expectations.
  3. Teaching and modeling positive behaviors through SEL and character education.

You can see in my lesson plans how I try to find short, five-minute time blocks to teach, model, and practice procedures and routines. There are SO many to cover, and you can quickly overwhelm or bore your students. You don’t want to do that. Remember, teaching and modeling your classroom procedures for students will take time. Make a plan for this and set aside some time specifically for this each day. I typically break this out over a few days so that I have time to model, teach, and repeat. If you have my Classroom Procedures checklist, you can see how I group the various procedures based on when and where they should be carried out. You can read more about how I do that HERE.

Now that students have had the chance to do some independent activities, get-to-know you activities, procedures and expectations, now would be a great time to bring them back to their seats for an “I Believe in Myself Selfie” activity from Volume 2 of my Back to School Team Building Resource found HERE.

first day back to school growth mindset selfie

If time allows, you can even allow students to share their selfies. These will look great hanging in the hallway. Put some colored cardstock or construction paper on the back and tape them up for others to see.

Next, I would pull my students to the carpet to do a read aloud and conversation about character education. Below are some first-day read aloud recommendations. I always like to read books that center around character education traits. It’s a great message to kick the year off with. After your read aloud, have a light discussion with your students about what you read. The “I Believe in Myself Selfie” is a perfect activity that will allow you to transition into these great character education discussions. In this blog post, I highlight some of my favorite character education read aloud picture books to use with your students. In addition, each picture book comes with a free writing prompt that you can have students work on.

Click HERE to check those out.

The writing prompts come in both a paper and a digital version.

I hope you have a great first day!

Below are the links to the free resources in this blog:

1.) Editable Name Tags

2.) Editable Lunch Choice

3.) Editable Welcome Letter

4.) First Day Lesson Plan


  1. Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. This new and different start to this school year has me feeling anxious… and reading this is so helpful.

    1. Kristine Nannini says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Lisa! I am so glad it helps!

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