Back to School Activities Part 1

Here are some Back to School ideas I have used in the past.

Descriptive Name Tags
Before the first day of school, I prepared a series of cut-out block letters, a black construction paper strip to mount the letters on, glue sticks, and thesauruses. I made sure I had enough letters so that each student in my class would be able to spell out their first name. Students glued their letters onto the black construction paper strip and then used the thesaurus to come up with adjectives that described them starting with each letter in their first name. They wrote their adjectives inside each letter and then presented their descriptive name tags to the rest of the class. This turned out to be a great get to know you activity. At the end of the activity, I collected all their name tags and posted them around the room.

Name Alliterations
This is another great get to know you activity for the beginning of the school year. I distributed sentence strips (one per student) and gave the class a brief introduction to alliterations. I used well-known tongue twisters like “Peter Piper” or “Sally Sells Seashells.” I then asked the students to write an alliteration sentence using their first names. The alliterations didn’t have to be real, but they had to be creative and they had to make sense. Here’s an example of my alliteration: “Mariely makes magical moments.” I had the students present their alliterations to the class and we ended up having a great time. The alliterations where then posted around the classroom.

Autobiographical Poems
I introduce the basic format for an autobiographical poem to my students and ask them to complete an autobiographical poem about themselves. Once students finish their poems they are allowed to share it with the class. I have attached a copy of the Autobio Poem Handout for your use.

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Another great activity to do the first week of school is to share this book with your class. If you’ve never read it, check it out and see why this is a great story. The first time I read it I cried. When I shared it with my students last year and was chocking up at the end. It’s a wonderful story to share with your students as they begin a new school year. This is how I used the book:

  1. I created a Learning Log for the students to complete as I read the story. I have attached a copy of the Learning Log below. I passed this Log out first and had the students write their names on it.
  2. I then instruct students to turn to page 1 and do a Quick Write on everything they know or think they know about the word “Journey.”
  3. I then pass out one graham cookie on a plate for each student. I tell them not to do anything to it until I tell them what to do. I also have a bottle of honey ready. See, the story starts out with the little girl’s grandfather taking a book and drizzling the book’s cover with honey. He then asks the little girl to taste it. She says its sweet and the grandfather responds, “Yes, and so it’s knowledge. But just like you have to chase a bee for the honey, you have to chase knowledge through the pages of a book.” This is the introductory page of the story. As I’m reading it, I am acting out grandfather’s actions. When he drizzles the honey on the book, I drizzle it on their cookies. When he asks the little girl how it tastes, I have my students mimic the little girl’s actions by having them taste it and tell me how it tastes. I really love this activity and the students have fun doing it.
  4. Students are then told to go to page 2 in their Learning Logs are write about their reaction to the first page (the one we just read about the book and the honey).
  5. Then students write down their prediction for the rest of the story in Page 3 of their Learning Log.
  6. Then I proceed to read the story, a little bit each day of the week. I make sure I stop at different intervals to have students write down their reactions on page 4. You can choose various events from the story that might trigger various reactions from your students. These events can be your stopping points so students can share their reactions. I only chose three places to stop in the story.
  7. When we finish reading the story, I have students complete the “Somebody, Wanted, But, So” graphic organizer on page 5.
  8. Then I have students go back and look at their original prediction and then readjust their prediction on Page 6.
  9. We complete our Learning Logs with a Visualize activity on page 7.

File Download:
“Thank You, Mr. Falker” by Patricia Polacco – Learning Log
Autobiographical Poem Handout


Learning Centers

Learning Centers is a topic that comes up from time to time. So, here’s some information about centers.

I’m actually going to try my best to explain how we do centers in our district. Being that I was the Intermediate Reading Coach a few years back, I can offer a bit of what we have shared with our teachers.

For one, centers should be a part of your differentiated instruction time within your reading block. We have a total of 90 minutes of reading instruction in our district. Of those 90 minutes, 50 minutes are for direct instruction or whole group instruction and the remaining 40 minutes are for your centers or differentiated instruction time.

You start planning for your centers by first placing your students into groups according to their reading needs. We sometimes tell teachers to have 3 or 4 groups depending on the amount of students in the classroom. Each group should have no more than 7 students, 5-6 students preferably.

After you have your student groups, you can start planning out what type of center activities to provide for the students. Now, the centers should not be places the students go to just to go to them. You actually have to give students accountability for going to each center by providing:

  1. Rules and Expectations for attending the center
  2. An activity for the students to complete that is meaningful and differentiated according to their abilities
  3. An organized system where students know where to get the activities and where to turn them in

The key to implementing centers is ORGANIZATION. You really need to think about every little detail. In addition, because these learning centers are occuring during Reading time, all centers should be geared towards reading instruction and should reflect one of the Big 5 components of reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). You can also have centers during other subjects such as math, but be sure that the learning centers focus around the subject that you are teaching at that time.

Some ideas for centers during Reading instruction include:

  • Computer/Technology Center: If you have enough computers in your classroom and a differentiated reading program like Reading Plus!, Achieve 3000, or other, you can assign students to attend this center. Since the program is already differentiated, you don’t need to do anything else other than assign the student groups to the center.
  • Classroom Library Center: In order for this center to truly work you need to have your classroom library leveled and labeled. You need to inform the students which books they should read while they visit the center. You should also display a chart that informs the students how the books are leveled (whether it’s by colored dots and what each dot represents). This center should work like this: (1) students come to the center and choose a book on their independent level, (2) students read the book for 10 minutes (for example), (3) students complete an activity for the remaining 10 minutes related to what they read in the story that day, (4) students turn in their activity to their learning center folder or to another area chosen by the teacher so the teacher may review how students are working in the centers.
  • Listening Center: Pretty much works the same as the classroom library with the exception that the students are listening to books on cassette, CD’s, or through Leap Pads.
  • Skills Center: The teacher may choose to have students work on a particular reading skill for the week. The teacher will first teach the activity to the class as a whole, have them practice the activity, and then place it in the skills center for each student group to practice.
  • Teacher-Led Center: This is the center where the teacher works with each individual group while the other students work independently at the other centers. When students visit the teacher-led center, the teacher works with students by helping them with good reader strategies, fluency, as well as various reading skills.

These are just a few center ideas. The most important thing to do before having students use centers is to introduce one center at a time to students. You can start this in the beginning of school. The first week you introduce one center, go over the rules and expectations, the activities to be completed, model the center to the students, and then have them practice using the center. The next week you introduce another center, and so on. It’s important to note that you should not place a new center or a new activity at a center before introducing it and teaching it to the entire class first.

So, once you do all this, how do centers work? You create a schedule which informs the students and visitors when each group is visiting which center. You should see your lowest group every day. Your medium group should be seen three times a week and your highest group is seen twice a week. So, you could have your teacher-led center see two groups a day (if you are doing 20 minute sessions) or three groups a day (if you are doing 12-13 minute session, which in my opinion is not a lot of time).

While the teacher is working with an individual group, the other groups are working independently in the other centers. Again, in order for this to run smoothly students should be taught each center separately and told what to do if they have a question. For example, students may be told to “Ask 3, Before Me” where students will ask three members of their group the question before they ask the teacher. The teacher-led center should also be placed in a part of the room that allows the teacher to view all students working independently while she is working with the individual groups in the teacher-led center.

Where do you ge the center activities from? Is there a resource book I can use? Or do I need to create them from scratch?

Well, let me start by saying that all centers don’t need to be created from scratch. If you have a classroom library center, there’s not much you need to create here other than the rules, what students are expected to accomplish while they are visiting this center, making sure all the books are leveled and labeled, and an organizational method for collecting the work. The activity you have your students complete can be a simple handout, log, or activity that you provide for them. It could be something simple like a reading response log, drawing your favorite part and writing about it, making predictions, answering some general comprehension questions, etc. Two other centers you don’t have to create yourself are the Listening Center and the Computer Center. In the listening center you will need to make sure you supply students with books on tape or CD that are again, leveled and labeled. If using a Leap Pad make sure the books are also leveled and labeled. In the computer center, you just have to make sure students are using a meaningful software program usually provided by your school.

How about other centers? Well, don’t forget that the Teacher-Led Center is also a center. When you meet with your students you will choose skills your students are lacking and then choose activities that will help your students practice those skills. Whether it’s making words, working with vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, etc. Some of these activities you can come up with yourself. Some you can search for on the Internet or by looking through your own teacher resource books. This is the same for the Skills Center. You decide which activity to use with your students so they may practice a particular skill. A place I go to find some more ideas and activities for Student Activity Centers is the Florida Center for Reading Research. Their site has two sections one for K-1 and one for 2-3. Even though they don’t include 4th grade, you can search through their activities and modify them to suit your students. The activities are also divided among the Big 5 components of reading. Here are the links to both of these pages:…Activities.htm…tivities23.htm

Make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the different sections of these student activities. Don’t forget to also check out the Teacher Resource Guide at the bottom which is filled with ideas on how you can start centers, organize them, and ideas for setting them up.

Another resource I use for centers to help my students with phonics and vocabulary are the books by Patricia Cunningham which include: Making Words, Making More Words, and Making More Big Words. If I remember any other resource I will let you know. I know that Evan Moor has a variety of Take to Your Seat Centers. I purchased some of their books but I haven’t used them yet.

How do you manage and keep track of who goes where and when?

Well, at the beginning of the year the school usually tests students using DIBELS. That usually gives you an idea of how students are doing based on their Oral Reading Fluency (ORF). But since DIBELS only tests ORF in fourth grade, I’m going to do something a little different next school year. I am going to test students using an Informal Reading Inventory to see how they are overall. Since I will also be implementing centers during my math time, I will also give my students a Math Inventory to see where they are. Once I know where my students are academically, I place them in different learning groups. I give each group a name, whether it’s a color, a letter, or another name, and then I create a rotation chart. I usually make about 3 or 4 groups based on the number of students. I try to have more learning centers available than I have groups just in case a particular group finishes early and they need to go to another center. Along with my center rotation chart I also develop a weekly schedule which shows which groups are going to what centers on each day of the week as well as what skills they will work on when they attend the Teacher-Led Center. One thing to think about is that your student groups are not going to remain the same throughout the year. As students move up in their learning abilities (which you do want them to move up) you will need to rearrange them in various groups.

As far as what type of system I set up, last year I used a wheel rotation with velcro spots for my groups. After each 20 minute interval, I rang a bell, rotated the wheel, and the students moved to their next center. I also posted my weekly schedule so students knew in advance which centers they would visit daily. I have posted some pictures showing ways teachers have set up their center rotations.


It is my intent to share useful tips, strategies, and ideas I have used in my classroom on this blog. I also wish to have a place where I can gather various classroom resources to share with fellow teachers. This blog is a mirror of the blog I have on ProTeacher. I wanted to make the content of my ProTeacher Blog more accessible to any teacher who is interested. I look forward to adding posts on various topics I encounter throughout the year. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂