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Back to School 2021

Updated: Mar 18

With everyone heading back to school what better time to focus on a book all about settling into a new school. Although this book was added to Learn From Play a while ago it is perfect for anyone with new students or those starting at a new school for the first time. But this wouldn’t be a Learn From Play article if it wasn’t about gamification so I have also added some physically active ice-breaker activities your students are sure to love.


The Day You Begin by National Book Award winner Jacqueline Woodson is the story of a young girl who feels different from her new classmates. It is the story of discovery as she realised that actually she has things in common with others and if she just begins to accept her differences then so too will her classmates and they may even become her friends.

A great book for the first day of school with activities that include a find-a-word, drawing pictures of a perfect holiday and a perfect summer, an activity to build camaraderie between classmates by finding things they have in common, a world mapping activity and a graphing activity to find out other people's favourite things.

In addition to these book activities it may be a great time for students to complete some other fun bonding games to help them get to know each other. These will also help create a safe environment for your students and set a precedent that students can be brave in your classroom. By creating this sort of a classroom environment your students are encouraged to work beyond their comfort level and it is at this point that true learning can take place. But you can’t ask students to be brave before they feel safe.

If new students are asked to stand out the front of the classroom and talk about themselves they are likely to feel scared and self conscious. If this is done with a whole group of new students you may well find that by the end of the activity most students were too focused on what they were going to say to actually listen to anyone else before them and thus little has been achieved.

As an alternate students could be asked to stand in a large circle with 1 student self-selecting to come into the middle of the circle. This student places their hands on their hips and shares with the group information about themselves. When another student hears a piece of information that relates to them they move into the middle of the circle and joins arms with the first student. The new student takes over sharing information until a 3rd student joins the 2nd and links arms and takes over sharing information. Using this activity students are actively listening to what is being shared rather than thinking about their own information and once they are joined onto the student chain they can relax and listen to others.

As a similar, but again slightly different version of this same activity, students could play “Get To Know You Bingo”. A simple game where students write a set of 9 things about themselves in a 3 x 3 grid. They then walk around the room and try to find students that share the same traits, family background or hobbies. When a match is found the student writes their classmates name in this square. Students may only use each classmate’s name once on their card. Each student is trying to find 3 matching characteristics in a row to finish the game. At the end of this activity the bingo cards can be collected and an outline created for the students in the class and the 9 things they each found worth noting about themselves.

While there are loads of other ice-breaker style games that can be used on the first day of school to allow students to get to know each other these two are most appropriate for The Day You Begin. They will allow students to share the experiences of the children in Jacqueline Woodson’s story as they find things they have in common with their classmates and will start to build a classroom where real learning can take place in a supportive environment which is what every teacher wants.