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Start off the School Year Strong
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Where did summer go? Schools across the country are gearing up for another school year, and while I am sad to see summer come and go so quickly, I am looking forward to another school year and the promises it brings.  In preparation of the back-to-school season I wanted to share five of my favorite activities to build community and prepare students for a successful year in READ 180 Universal.


1.  Escape Room Syllabus Challenge

Last year I started using escape room challenges to get my students working collaboratively and thinking critically. During a challenge students have to solve a series of clues to escape the classroom. I have used these challenges to practice skill sets and review for our state test. This year I am kicking off the school year with an escape room on the very first day. Students will be broken up into teams and will have to solve a series of clues about our syllabus, course expectation, classroom structure, and demonstrate understanding about our class goal. You can find this resource as well as a template of my syllabus already uploaded in the Educator Community. Check it out as sharing matters to me.

2.  Building Classroom Community through "Speed Collaboration " Discussions

If there is one thing I have noticed in my classroom it is students continue to struggle with conversational skills even during structured discussions in the workshops.  I was fortunate to attend ILA this past summer and participate in a pre-conference institute that focused on strategies to get students talking in the classroom. One of the strategies was to have students build their conversation skills through low-stakes conversations with a partner similar similar to quick ways that are structured to meet as many people in a given time. Have students form two lines facing one another and take turns answering prompts on the board.  Some possible prompts you may want to try are:


  • What do you like to do in your free time?
  • What classes do you love and hate the most in school? Why?
  • Describe your favorite teacher.  What types of things did you do in that class that you loved?
  • What sports or activities have you participated in the past?  What do you plan to do this year?
  • What are your greatest talents or something people do not know about you?
  • Do you like group work or individual work?  Why?

The trick is one line will move one conversation partner every 2-3 minutes. This gives students a chance to begin practicing speaking with peers. It also serves as a great way to start building community early on in the school year.

3.  Mindset Matters

Even if students have been with you in the past, starting the year off reassessing their mindset is a great way for students to see how they have grown and where their current thinking is. If students have already taken the quiz in their workbooks their are blank copies available in Resources on Teacher Central

4.  Thinking and Inking

Another session I attended at ILA was with Linda Rief about the power of quickwrites. I have utilized the READ 180 QuickWrites in the past and have found them to be a great resource to get students writing about what they have been reading. But this year I want to take that to the next level. Students need opportunities to write within the first few days of school not only because it will give you a strong baseline of student abilities but it is also a great way to get to know who they are as individuals. I will be using a series of prompts from Linda's new book The Quickwrite Handbook:  100 Mentor Texts to enhance writing during independent reading.

5.  Get Students Interacting with Your Classroom Library and READING

The READ 180 library will become the heart and soul of your classroom so do not hesitate to get students exploring. Student interest inventories, scavenger hunts, book blind dates, and teacher-led book talks are some great ways to get books in students hands. I have also found that starting the year off with a high-interest, short class novel, to be a great way to get students engaged in reading and talking about books. This year we are going to start off by reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park focusing on book discussion and community. As the year progresses, I am going to highlight books in our class room library through student led book talks and a book recommendation bulletin board, but more on that later.

What are some of your favorite back to school activities?

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Tiffin, OH

"If you do not like to read, you haven't found the right book" - JK Rowling.

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