Student-Centered First Day of School

-I think this was the best first day ofToday, when one of my students left for pickup, I overheard him sharing, “I think this was the best first day of school ever.” My heart warmed and it got me thinking…what was so different about this first day than those in his previous years? 

Well, traditionally, the first day of school for elementary students involves A LOT of listening – listening to the teacher introduce herself, listening to the teacher talk about the rules, listening to the teacher talk about the classroom and explain how it will operate, listening to explanations of procedures, etc. And let’s not forget the first day getting-to-know-you ice breakers. When I was younger, I dreaded the first day of school routines. Although I always felt ready for the first day and I was always eager to see my friends, I just wished I could skip the humdrum of the first day of school. In an effort to prevent my students from feeling as I did, I work to involve my students as much as possible on the first day of school (and always). I intentionally choose activities that get them up and out of their seats.

Today was the first day of school for me and my 5th grade kiddos. At the end of the day, my students left the classroom with energy, excited and eager to come back for Day 2. They left with energy because they had a first day that included a lot of movement and they played an active role in getting to know the classroom. Instead of being talked at throughout most of the day, they were involved and responded to.

The most successful and engaging part of the day was when my students toured the classroom. I recommend you give this a try!

Student Centered Classroom Tour

I begin by asking my students if they think someone would be able to learn about them if that someone visited their bedrooms. This leads to a great discussion about what we can learn about someone by noticing things around his or her room. We can learn about what they like, what they value or what they find important. I then ask the students if they think the same applies to a teacher’s classroom – do they think they can learn more about me and the classroom by looking around and making observations. They, of course, determine that they can.

I hand my students a piece of paper and a clipboard. At the top of the page they write, “Observations:”, and about two-thirds of the way down the page they write, “Questions:”. Then, I explain that they will have the opportunity to tour the classroom. They, on this occassion only, are invited to open up any cabinets they’d like and look around. Besides the one locked drawer I have, everything is fair game. This alone excites them. I explain that I want them to make as many observations as they can and I want them to try their very best to come up with two questions.

Now, they are allowed to talk during this activity, but for about 15 minutes my room was nearly silent. They loved it and were fully engaged! They really took their time to check things out thoroughly and had fun trying to guess the purpose for different things around the room. During this time, I didn’t answer any questions. I’d invite students to write them down and explained that we would get to them later.

After about 15 minutes, I called my students back together. First, they shared their observations. During this time, I was also able to share expectations for group conversations without being preachy; it happens naturally as students discuss. Then, the best part! Time for questions. During this time, students will ask every question that you’d want to respond to in order to give them an overview of the room and your policies. The class eats this question and answer session up! Throughout it, they are smiling, laughing, and asking follow up questions. I believe they particularly like this activity because they own the time; they’re leading the questions and it makes them feel important. Really, they’re just giving me an opportunity to share all the information I’d want to share anyway, but now, they’re participants instead of recipients. It takes a maximum of two minutes to respond to any questions and then the floor belongs to the students again.

This student-centered approach to a typical first day energizes students. They also remember much more than when using the alternative approach – talking at the students as you go over the important first day info. Rather than getting that glossed-over-tired look, you get smiles, participation and ultimately, retention; they’re involved, so they remember.

For those of you who haven’t yet had your first day, I wish you the best!

Wonder WebQuest for 5th and 6th Graders

Wonder WebQuest

EXPLORE THE WORLD OF WONDER using a WebQuest that I created for my class.

Purpose: In this WebQuest, students will get to know R.J. Palacio and learn more about the creation of her book, Wonder. They will also learn more about facial differences and explore themes in the novel. Students will complete a number of tasks, separated by topic, and ultimately create a Public Service Announcement that shares a lesson they learned from the novel. As students progress through the tasks, they will complete the Explore the World of Wonder packet.

Below is an overview of the objectives in the Wonder WebQuest. Click on the images to explore the tasks further within the WebQuest.

Task 1:

Wonder WebQuest Task 1

In this task, students will…

  1. watch a video interview with R.J. Palacio.
  2. read an article about the author
  3. visit R.J. Palacio’s blog to read her response to a Thank You from a fan
Task 2:

Wonder WebQuest Task 2

In Task 2, students will…

  1. read a letter from a 5th grader who R.J. Palacio calls her “real-life Auggie”.
  2. watch a video called Imagine This: A World Without Bullies from the Children’s Craniofacial Association.
  3. visit the Children’s Craniofacial Association website and research two syndromes of choice.
Task 3:

Wonder WebQuest Task 3

The 3rd task requires students to…

  1. review the definition of theme in literature.
  2. explore the main themes of Wonder by clicking on an interactive image.
  3. read a list of quotes from Wonder and choose a favorite.
  4. decide whether they’d like to take the pledge to CHOOSE KIND.
Task 4 / Final Challenge:

Final Wonder WebQuest Challenge

In the 4th Task, students will…

  1. watch three PSA examples and determine the message shared in each.
  2. determine a message to share from Wonder.
  3. determine how to best share that message in a PSA.
  4. determine a call to action.
  5. plan and film their own PSA.

Click HERE to view and download the packet that goes along with the WebQuest.

I created this WebQuest to use over the first few days of school since my students read Wonder over the summer. Last year this novel let to such great discussions and set us up for a great year. We continued to discuss the novel as issues came up in class; so many 5th grade troubles can be related to the events in the novel. We will use the Explore the World of Wonder packet during discussions that follow the completion of the WebQuest, and the PSAs will be shared with the class. After watching the PSAs we will develop our class mission statement and discuss how the PSA messages fit into the expectations in our school and classroom. I’m looking forward to using this WebQuest for the first time next week!

Wednesday Haiku: SLEEP


Sleep. Something I enjoy more than anyone I know, yet throughout my life, I’ve gone through bouts of insomnia. Laying in bed trying to wish myself to sleep is the most irritating feeling, the absolute opposite of the euphoric sleep heaven I wish to enter. And that’s exactly what I did last night – layed in bed for hours, wishing myself to sleep, trying anything possible to shut my mind OFF. I’ve reached moments when I remained awake in bed so long that I said “screw it”, got up and got productive. Last night, I was so tired and determined to sleep, to melt into my bed and drift off into my weightless world. The last time the light from the alarm clock assaulted my eyes was at 4:02am, and I’m sure I fell asleep shortly after. Those two and half hours of sleep were glorious. Ah to feel weightless, suspended and untroubled, free of conscious thought. 

Use an Interactive Game to Hook Students to US History

I thought I’d made the greatest find of the summer when I discovered BiblioNasium a few weeks ago. Little did I know, I’d discover a free interactive online program for American History, chock-full of supplemental materials including a teacher’s guide, learning goals and national standards alignment. Mission US is an interactive role-playing game that can be used with your US History class. I ran through the game myself, reviewed the teacher materials, and plan to use it with my 5th grade kiddos in class this year. Read on to learn more about the game and how it can be used in your classroom.

Mission US Promo Video


The purpose of Mission US is to engage students in 1770s Colonial America through a first person experience. Students learn vocabulary and meet important historical figures along their journeys. As students navigate through the game, they make choices that affect the outcome. So, students will experience different outcomes depending upon the choices they make within the game. Fun!


For Crown or Colony Screenshot

Mission US: For Crown to Colony is set in prerevolutionary Boston and leads up to the Boston Massacre. The game is split into 7 sections, including the prologue and epilogue.

Each gamer assumes the identity of Nat Wheeler who leaves his farm to become a printer’s apprentice in Boston. Through Nat, students learn about prerevolutionary Boston by interacting with characters, completing tasks and making decisions on Nat’s behalf.

Below is a breakdown of the story, taken from Teacher’s Guide: Mission 1: “For Crown or Colony?” At a Glace which is available within the extensive supplementary teacher materials on the Mission website. With the exception of the epilogue, each section contains a task for students to complete and tackles new vocabulary and concepts.

Mission US Story Guide

*Story breakdown was taken from the Teacher's Guide "For Crown or 
Colony?" available on the Mission US website.

As suggested within the teaching materials on the Mission US website, Mission US is best used as a hook or jumping-off-point of a new unit of study. Used in this way, the game will engage students and expose them to new vocabulary, events and important people of the time period.

I’m fortunate to have access to a laptop for each student in my class, so I plan to install the downloadable version on each student’s laptop (to allow for better streaming) and continuously use it as a hook as we progress through our unit on Colonial America. You could also place the game at a station and have students cycle through, have students work in pairs and make decisions together, or assign it for homework. Though, I’ll speculate that the potential for this program to improve student engagement and the quality of class discussions would be far greater with in-class use.

Here’s a video that shows how one teacher used the game with her middle school class.


Make sure to consider the benefits first. Not sure if this program will actually benefit your student’s learning? Use the When to Use Technology checklist to better evaluate whether Missoin US may be a good fit for your class.

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It’s a rarity to find such a purposeful, user-friendly, educational game like this available for FREE. Usually the catch is that free resources are packed with advertisements, but that’s not the case with Mission US. Another great summer find! We won’t be ready to use this program in my class until December, but I’ll let you know how it goes!

How to Get to Know Your Students BEFORE the First Day of School

Each school year, I begin the year with an “About Me” form and end the year with a 5th Grade Evaluation form. The first is completed on the first day of school and the latter is completed anonymously on the last day of school. I also ask parents to complete a Child Learning Inventory form before school begins. I find the feedback from all three of these forms to be incredibly helpful and I KNOW my school year wouldn’t be the same without them.

I’ve posted about my 5th Grade Evaluation form HERE, and I’ll be posting my About Me form soon. The purpose of this post is to focus on the Child Learning Inventory form which has three huge benefits.


A Child Learning Inventory…

  • Helps you get to know and understand your students’ needs and motivations.
  • Opens up communication between teacher and parents.
  • Allows teacher to adapt lessons or projects to best engage students. (This is particularly helpful when planning for the first month of school)
What’s a Child Inventory form?

The Child Inventory form is sent to parents a few weeks before the start of school. It gives me a jumpstart on getting to know the kiddos in my class and helps me plan for the first trimester. For example, I may see that a particular group loves to draw, and as a result I’ll probably incorporate drawing into more projects and classwork.

All of the questions on my form are purposeful and provide me with information that will help me teach each child. It allows me to understand the student’s learning style before entering the classroom and create lessons that will best engage my new class.

What Does it Look Like?

See below to view the Child Inventory form that I’ve used for the past two years. I created it in Google Drive.


I created my form in Google Drive. Creating forms with Drive is easy and painless. Log into your Drive account and click the red “NEW” button in the left hand column. You’ll need to select “More”, and then you’ll see an option for “Google Forms”. Select it. You’ve just created your first form! Now, all you have to do is add your questions and share it. If you’re more of a visual person, see the image below or click here to view a previous post with a more detailed click sheet.

Creating a Google Form

How Do you collect the data?

When parents submit the form, all of their responses are automatically collected and compiled in a response form. To view the responses, you can open the form in Drive and click “View responses”. The numbers are also counted and shown so you quickly see if new responses have been submitted (see red circle below).

Viewing Form Responses

I believe I make more progress with my students during the first months of school as a result of the feedback from this form. I also feel that it helps me establish working relationships with parents. Perhaps you’ll see benefits to using such a form a well. Maybe give it a try? See how it goes 🙂 .

If you have any questions about the purpose of a particular question within the form I created, please feel free to ask in the comments. I’d be happy to respond.

Because of Mr. Terupt: Free Novel Study Guide

61Ktetz+JQLOverview: Because of Mr. Terupt is a realistic fiction novel written in the first person from the perspective of seven students in Mr. Terupt’s 5th grade class. Mr. Terupt is a new teacher at Snow Hill School, but the students quickly learn that he is a special teacher. The book is separated into two parts. In Part One, we get to know Mr. Terupt through the eyes of seven of his students. Part Two begins after a tragic accident at school. After the accident, the class copes with their teacher’s condition and their role in causing the accident. The accident brings the class together and teaches each of the seven main characters an important lesson.

Themes: change, forgiveness and personal responsibility

This novel can be a great tool to teach narrator’s voice, point of view, figurative language, foreshadowing, and themes of change, forgiveness and personal responsibility.

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This upcoming school year, I’ll be using Because of Mr. Terupt as a novel study in one of my realistic fiction book clubs. Since I didn’t find a guide that met my needs, I created my own. Click HERE to view and download my free guide. This guide contains vocabulary, figurative language, and comprehension and inference questions for each section. Graphic organizers are also included and can be accessed within the pdf.

A suggested sequence is provided with the guide. The assignments in bold show the chapters I’ve intentionally chosen to read with this realistic fiction reading group. When you schedule your guided reading sessions, I recommend you schedule to meet with your students on the bolded assignment days. Areas highlighted in blue indicate that a resource is included within the pdf (blue page numbers refer to the pages in the pdf, not novel pages).

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This novel has been broken up into 10 sections. Each section is limited to one page to keep it easy-to-use. A chapter summary, vocabulary list, list of figurative language, as well as comprehension and inference questions are included in each section. Also, a page number is included for each vocabulary word and sentence of figurative language to make it easy for you to find in context. Page numbers are included for the comprehension and inference questions as well.

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The guide includes several optional assignments that target figurative language, foreshadowing and comprehension.

Mr. Terupt Assignments

Click HERE if you’d like to view or download my guide. I hope you find it helpful!